What contribution does the installation of solar water heaters make towards the alleviation of energy poverty in South Africa?

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Journal of Energy in Southern Africa

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Energy Research Centre, University of Cape Town.


University of Cape Town

The South African government has publicized plans to install one million solar water heaters in households throughout South Africa by the year 2014, with the goals of reducing strain on existing electricity resources, mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, creating employment and alleviating poverty. This paper examines two existing solar water heater installation projects with the aim of investigating the social contribution of the installation of solar water heaters in low-income households in South Africa. The Sustainable Urban Livelihoods approach (SULA) was adjusted to provide an analytical framework for the development of suitable indicators of social change in the context of renewable energies and energy poverty. Increases in household capital and the reduction of household vulnerability to shocks, stressors and seasonal variability as the result of solar water heater installation were investigated in projects in low-income housing developments in the cities of Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Data collected from paired household surveys (before and after installation) in over 600 households and qualitative information (Most Significant Change stories) show that the provision of a constant, cheap source of heated water contributed positively to the alleviation of energy poverty. Household capitals (categorised as Human, Social, Financial, Physical, Natural and Gender capital), including aspects such as health benefits and time and financial savings, were all positively effected by the installation of solar water heaters. In addition, improved energy security greatly reduced household vulnerability to shocks, stressors and seasonal variability. Comparison between the two projects revealed that the geographical setting (climatic conditions in particular), and the approach and strategies adopted by the implementers of the solar water heater installation project, greatly determine the extent to which benefits to the households are realised.