UCT researcher wins prestigious Newton Prize 2020, Newsline

Cape Town – Novel research into using renewable energy in off-grid informal settlements in South Africa has won the Chair’s Prize at the prestigious Newton Prize awards.

The research team is jointly led by Dr Jiska de Groot, senior research fellow at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) African Climate and Development Initiative, and Dr Federico Caprotti of the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom.

There are reportedly 1.25 million households in informal settlements that rely on burning paraffin or wood to cook and provide light and warmth in their homes.

Not only do these methods of energy production create health and safety hazards, but they also limit the economic and educational opportunities of the people living in these settlements.

The award funding is a total of £500,000 (R10 million) , which will be used to provide workable solutions to address these challenges.

To overcome these challenges, the research team has developed a novel approach to electricity supply in off-grid areas.

Titled “Urban transformation in South Africa through co-designing energy services provision pathways”, the project focuses on providing clean, safe and reliable energy to those who live in informal settlements.

It involves using renewable energy in combination with sustainable, pay-as-you-go business models.

“Our project is trying to solve the global challenge of access to affordable and clean energy for all. Energy is an enabler of development. The lack of energy doesn’t just create health impacts, but also huge inequalities and opportunities for people to develop,” explained Dr De Groot.

Having identified off-grid informal settlements in Cape Town, the team worked with community representatives, non-governmental organisations and UK energy organisations to address the challenges in each settlement.

The researchers devised a system that paired solar-powered mini grids with app-based business models to provide energy for multiple uses.

This led to the testing of the minigrid in informal settlements in Cape Town, where the team was able to produce electricity that is up to 40 percent cheaper than that from current suppliers.

De Groot said safe and stable electricity through solar mini grids can contribute in a significant way to providing adequate and safe housing.

“This is because solar microgrid-delivered electricity enables the provision of safe lighting and safe electricity connections, which avoids the need to have illegal, unsafe electricity connections to the national grid,” De Groot said.

The Newton Prize is a £1 million fund that recognises the excellent research and innovation the Newton Fund has invested in since its launch in 2014.

Newton Prize 2020 celebrates projects with Egypt, Jordan, Kenya, South Africa, and Turkey.

African News Agency (ANA)