Community-led socially-owned renewable energy solutions - A learning process

The just transition is gaining significant political momentum but what does this mean for our communities? How can communities access clean energy? Is it realistic for communities to contract with independent power producers to access clean energy?

Workers installing rooftop solar PV demonstration units

Workers installing rooftop solar PV  demonstration units at the SDCEA house in Durban. Image: Chris Louw

08 April 2022

After a series of workshops and dialogues with communities, the Urban Movement Incubator  Energy Democracy (UMI ED) learning process, coordinated by groundWork, has reached its pinnacle with the installation of rooftop solar PV  demonstration units.  The demonstration units will be installed at the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) located in Austerville and is intended for communities to learn and understand how community owned clean energy works.

The UMI ED project is key in enabling communities to change the dominant narrative around the current energy system and to give them the opportunity to voice their energy needs and map out the solutions they desire for their communities.  With the clean energy transition well underway, technologies like rooftop solar PV mean that energy can be generated within our local communities. Communities can now meaningfully directly engage with the government towards making this transition just.

The UMI Energy Democracy project is the first of its kind in South Africa and is conducted in a partnership with leading community-based and non-governmental organizations, namely SDCEA (South Durban Community Environmental Alliance), Vukani Environmental Movement (VEM), Abahlali baseMjondolo (AbM), Sustainable Energy Africa (SEA).  The project aims to empower communities to engage effectively in the Just Transition process with key stakeholders, and to access clean, safe, reliable, and affordable energy through pursuing community-led socially owned renewable energy solutions.

Renewable experts “Energy Capital Solutions” have installed the first rooftop solar PV system at the SDCEA  office in Austerville.  The system will serve as a demonstration unit for the community to see, learn and get a better understanding of how electricity is generated from the sun (solar energy).  The community will have full access to the demonstration unit as it is a learning tool of how clean energy works.  From this solar PV system, people will get to witness first-hand the benefits of renewable energy.

The installation of the rooftop solar PV system will be complemented by a training workshop and  will focus on an in-depth explanation of the solar PV system (the solar panels, the inverters, and the battery), the system’s capacity (what it can power such as, phone chargers, laptops etc.), as well as the concept of a grid-tied system versus an off-grid system.  The workshop will also cover aspects of maintenance and how the system operates.  Above all, the information shared at the workshop will be conveyed in a simple and easy to understand format and translated to IsiZulu.



Kershni Ramreddi, South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA):

This project is exciting and first of its kind.  I have learned so much and faced multiple challenges along the way.  As a non-profit organisation, in the heart of Austerville in the South Durban Basin, we have faced a few challenges and struggles with choosing the installation site as well as the actual installation process.  Due to the high crime rate, there was difficulty in finding a suitable and secure site in this area.  We needed something which was safe yet accessible to the community. Once we had found a suitable site we then faced challenges with installing the Solar PVs. In spite of these many challenges we faced along the way, we were able to overcome them all.  The Solar PV is currently being installed and the project is moving faster and greater than ever!  This is great news for communities because now they are able to learn more on Renewable Energy as well as Solar PV and how this works. We have come a long way from Community Dialogues and Workshops with communities as well as training on Solar PV’s.  No matter the challenge, nothing is impossible, and this is something you are able to see with the UMI Energy Democracy Project”

Yachika Reddy, Sustainable Energy Africa (SEA):
Renewable energy with its adaptability and decentralised nature, enables the development of more equitable, inclusive, and resilient economies and at the same time encourages increased citizen participation in the energy transition (IRENA, 2020).

Bathandwa Vasi, Sustainable Energy Africa (SEA):

Decentralised renewable energy systems (distributed renewables) are more dynamic and flexible, and therefore suitable to being locally managed and governed and including a range of public and private investors, owners, and operators, right down to the household.”

Avena Jacklin, groundWork:
Communities, and in particular, poor and marginalised communities face a myriad of energy-related challenges from affordability, accessibility and load reduction to health impacts from fossil fuel generated energy and being excluded from the energy decision-making processes. This ground-breaking project aims to tackle key questions around what a clean energy transition means from a community perspective, and through a democratic process where people get to understand what it means, how it works, and are capacitated to be able to make informed decisions and engage with government - from the ground up.”


Contacts for further information:

Mary Joy Masetlane, Project Organiser, UMI Energy Democracy Project
+27 83 729 4477

Kershnie Ramreddi, Project Officer, UMI ED Project, SDCEA 
+27 84 583 01232

Bathandwa Vasi, Sustainable Energy Africa (SEA) 
+27 81 780 4114

Tsepang Molefe, Media, groundWork
+27 74 405 1257