My name is Lungelwa Tyali. I was born in the Transkei (now known as the Eastern Cape) in a small town called Elliotdale/ eXhorha. My village is upper Mncwasa, Mbola location and has roughly about 800 households. Overnight population however, increased dramatically as a result of our local high school school Ngangolwandle producing excellent matric results. This school boasts a figure of 3 421 pupils, with 1900 matriculants (900 of which are study Mathematics and Physical Science).
Why am I telling you all this?
With a 100% increase in population numbers (for about 9 months of the year), the community’s social dynamics changed. Suddenly from a mundane day to day world as rural areas go, we found ourselves converting into a student village; however, without any government services such as basic electricity, decent access; roads, water or sanitation.
Sensing the urgent gap and frustration especially on the issue of electricity, I met up with James van der Walt (Concept owner and designer of the SolarTurtle) and Mr David Mfebe from Cofimvaba. James had come up with a brilliant and smart idea pertaining to a solar battery charging station in a shipping container.
The container housed a shop that supplied clean electricity to learners, whereby learners could purchase electricity, recharge their cell phones or purchase bottles of electricity to power their lights and charge their phones at home. This bottled power supply was cleverly designed in that it contained a battery inside of a plastic milk bottle, with 20 hours of usage. In essence, this battery could last for up to a period of five days or less, depending on the usage (charging phones, lighting or playing music). The bottle was costed at R150.00 as opposed to its original cost price of R450.00, thanks to the Department of Energy, Science and Technology and its affiliates such as TIA and SANEDI, who subsidized the price to ensure affordability to the end user.
On the 15 June 2015, I, Lungelwa Tyali became the first Turtlepreneur – an owner of a solar kiosk business called the SolarTurtle.
SolarTurtle’s aim was and is to empower women in disadvantaged off-grid areas. We set up a solar electricity spaza shop in Mbola inside the Ngangolwandle High school. The learners, who lived without the basic electricity could come in and leave their phones to charge whilst they attended school and collect them once classes were done. Teachers were also able to charge their laptops and tablets at this facility. This solar kiosk spaza shop then expanded its services and sold airtime, offered a fully-functioning internet café, inclusive of print and copy services, as well as supplied consumable goods such as iced lollies and cold drinks. This was all possible due to the clean solar energy being used. The business has from the onset been able to sustain itself, paying salaries of 3 employees. In addition 5 youths were trained in the installation of solar equipment and they were able to service a number of the households in the community that had no access to electricity, including household solar systems for R7500, which comprised of 5-6 rooms lights, a phone charging station and a solar compatible 15inch LED TV set. This project created not only hope but unity in our rural areas in respect of their electrification needs.
As the business owner for the first solar energy pilot project, I have benefited personally as I have not only gained an electrification based skill, but have now a better understanding on the social benefits of renewable energy. We have been able to empower small businesses and supplied our school with renewable energy when the ESKOM lines were down.
We are in the process of expanding and including other alternate energy solutions such as gas, petrol, water purification, etc to our portfolio.
In October 2015, the SolarTurtle enterprise was tasked to build and launch a safe and secure solar system that could empower a junior school in the Palm Ridge Informal Settlement, Kathlehong (a community with no electricity). The school comprising of prefab class rooms made use of a diesel generator, which emitted fumes and a fair amount of noise pollution, at a cost of R3500 per month. The area was riddled with crime and solar panels could easily be stolen. Our container based solar solution ensured a safer and more secure way of providing the school with electricity. This project was called the PowerTurtle and has been in operation since March 2016 without any glitches or security issues thus far. It continues to provide electricity to the school and also has enough energy to power the surrounding community. A solar kiosk business can be added at a later stage and an entrepreneur, technicians and shop assistants could be appointed and trained, creating more jobs for the community.
Our vision for the future is a South Africa in which where every school produces its own power plus that of the learners’ homes. This distributed model is ideal to service those hard to reach places that Eskom cannot serve, creates much needed employment opportunities and spurs on the green economy.
Notwithstanding the above, these small solar power solutions cannot happen without support. We need government subsidies and financing to support schools in need. With your help we can make a sustainable impact to the lives of millions. Our future is green and we strive to make this a reality.