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From the editor’s desk: Local developments using solar power
26 June 2019, News

It’s always great to see local developers doing good work, and Dataweek always enjoys getting a chance to feature them. Sadly, people seldom share with us the interesting things they’re working on, whether it’s out of humility or out of fear that somebody else will get wind of their great idea and exploit it for themselves, or just a general mistrust of the media. So when we do hear about something cool someone’s doing, I get a kick out of publishing something about it.

Recently we featured a product called PoolSense, a device that floats in a pool and monitors the quality of the water. Enabled by the Sigfox IoT network, the system transmits measured data to the cloud and supplies the user with instructions via an app on what measures they should take to maintain a healthy pool. We were so impressed with the idea that two of our staff members ended up buying one via the PoolSense Indiegogo page.

In this issue we have another two exciting developments to share with our readers. The first is a solution for tackling malaria, developed by two well-known names to the local industry, Quentin van den Bergh and Kevin Godfrey, in collaboration with the University of Pretoria’s Institute for Sustainable Malaria Control. In addition to protecting rural villages and homes from mosquitos, the system uses the solar energy it gathers to double as a charging station for mobile phones and other electronic devices.

The second is a bakery that runs on solar energy which is converted into electrical power and used for the baking process. Developed at the University of Johannesburg’s (UJ) School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering Sciences, the concept has given a remote village in Limpopo the ability to not only bake its own bread, but also to create a self-dependent community with a sustainable means of remaining economically active.

What the aforementioned two solutions have in common is power; the necessity of having a source of electricity to power industrial endeavours as well as the devices people use every day. An important facet of this is the use of renewable energy sources such as solar, which is often a necessity in remote areas but is increasingly becoming a critical environmental issue for more developed areas and countries.

Africa stands to benefit greatly from the renewable energy revolution. Many solutions have already been, and are being, developed that make use of solar energy – solutions that can be exported to the rest of the world. The continent is also blessed with an abundance of renewable energy sources, particularly sunshine, and investors are starting to sit up and take notice.

According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), Africa had 168 GW total installed capacity in 2016. 33 GW of that was installed renewable capacity – a figure which is expected to triple by 2025. With an African population that is predicted to double by 2040, that still leaves a long way to go and it’s estimated that around $65-90 billion per year will be needed to achieve universal access to electricity across the continent.

In the South African context, making better use of renewable energy sources would also greatly ease the pressure on Eskom’s strained resources, and reduce our dependence on its failing infrastructure. That is, provided government continues to develop the regulatory framework that will allow and encourage it to happen.

Brett van den Bosch


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Further reading:

  • Altron Arrow and Thingstream to boost IoT innovation in SA
    28 August 2019, Altron Arrow, News
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  • New African AI initiative at Wits University
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