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Doornkop: Community Showcase for low carbon development and poverty reduction

Doornkop, part of the Urban-LEDS model city, Steve Tshwete Local Municipality (STLM), has been realizing its vision for a solar, off-grid future in a unique community pilot project to increase renewable energy and energy efficiency awareness through low-carbon solutions.

Identifying local challenges and setting low emission development priorities

The Doornkop community used to have electricity. However, frequent theft of power lines and load shedding (power outages) left the community and surrounding area with no connection to the national electricity grid.

After an initial public participatory consultation process, led by the Doornkop Communal Property Association (CPA) and the ICLEI Africa Secretariat under the Urban-LEDS project, the community, which already has ambitious plans to host a large-scale community owned solar photovoltaics (PV) project on its land, chose to pilot a range of low-carbon, decentralized solutions for renewable energy and energy efficiency in the local community centre that services residents. The local projects include:  

  • Solar PV system: An 18 kilowatt-peak (kWp) system was installed with 68 x 260 watt (w) panels, 32 maintenance free batteries and six inverters. This is used to provide electricity to the community centre, as well as the adjacent child and old age day care centres, which previously had no electricity. 
  • Solar hot water heating: Two low-pressure evacuated tube solar water heaters (150 litres) were installed on the roof of the community centre and adjacent caretaker’s home. Water is supplied from a borehole and stored in a tank that relies on gravity feed.
  • Solar street lighting: A 70 watt-peak (Wp) poly crystalline light emitting diodes (LED) solar streetlight was installed at the entrance of the community centre.  This is currently the only streetlight in the area and was received with great enthusiasm by community members.
  • Ceilings: Ceilings are needed to help to regulate the temperature in buildings and provide some insulation. Many buildings in South Africa don’t have ceilings. Ceilings were installed in the children day care and old age centres.
  • Simple solutions: In addition to the infrastructure upgrade, the community centre and local schools also received smaller cost effective items such as insulation cookers, mobile solar lights and composting buckets. These help to demonstrate what can be done at a household level to save energy and reduce carbon emissions.

Training, awareness and community participation

In a bottom-up multi-stakeholder effort, the community hosted a range of training and awareness workshops to educate and engage the local community in low-carbon lifestyles and technologies. This includes the Doornkop Renewable Energy Rural Expo, led by the Youth Co-op. Schneider Electric also provided training for the community on access to energy. Community participation is essential to ensure ownership of the process and an understanding of the importance of renewable energy as a viable option.

Doornkop Renewable Energy Rural Expo welcomes 300 participants


Four local soup kitchens indicated that they really appreciate the fact that they can now use fridges, as it reduces the need for travel and keeps food fresher.  The Community Work Programme workers need to use their cell phones to take photos of completed work, and are pleased that they can now charge their phones during the day. The community centre can now also be used in the evening and they finally have internet connectivity. The elderly are very pleased that they can listen to the radio, while the kids can watch television. The highlight is however the additional lighting that was installed, as it is very dark at night in Doornkop.   

This project showcases how the municipality can work with the local community and business sector to implement a viable renewable energy solution to give access to energy. The Steve Tshwete Local Municipality is a Model City participating in the Urban-LEDS project. It has focused on developing a baseline analysis, determining strategic objectives for the future, conducted staff training and compiled a GHG inventory, with support from ICLEI Africa. The local Green Building Guidelines are under development, and the local government is committed to making solutions that have a long-term impact.  For more on Steve Tshwete visit the Urban-LEDS website here, and for information on the Doornkop community visit: https://doornkop.wordpress.com