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Generating power: exploring local energy resource options with rural communities in South Africa


Energy supply issues are highly politicised in South Africa, and national government and municipalities are under pressure from both investors and the public. Government energy interventions promote ‘self-reliance’ but lack meaningful community involvement, while people often see energy provision as a free basic right.

In this context, many Eastern Cape municipalities cannot guarantee residents or investors adequate energy services, and the grid is unlikely to reach remote rural areas soon. These poor rural communities rely on biomass energy for cooking and heating.

At the same time there is great potential for developing community-scale biomass-to-electricity, using sustainably managed wood fuel, or agricultural or timber waste. Solar, wind and hydropower are also underutilised.



To promote the feasibility of community-driven renewable energy service delivery for lighting, cooking and space heating in rural off-grid South African communities, and catalyse long-term support from municipalities and investors.

Main Activities

  • Review replicable models, analyse existing community-driven access-to-energy projects
  • Survey of investors on challenges and opportunities faced in low-income, low-carbon energy markets
  • Conduct household and community-level energy surveys on development needs, energy usage and local energy resources
  • Hold workshops to practically present and demonstrate possible models and approaches, involving entrepreneurs, local and international experts, community leaders, municipalities, local industry and investors
  • Hold energy training workshops in partner communities, covering energy sources, energy usage, investment challenges, financial and ownership models
  • Develop menu of community energy options; identify and prioritise energy needs
  • Hold dialogues on energy options and feasibility of long-term support between communities, investors and municipalities
  • Conduct public outreach through work with local press and radio; hold participatory video production; develop briefing papers for policy and practice; and a project report on “Energy options and issues”

Expected Impact

  • Enhanced community awareness of energy options, local resources, and energy management issues
  • Changed perception from energy as a free service provided by government to community-driven effort at self-reliance
  • Productive dialogue established between municipalities, communities, the Eastern Cape Development Corporation (ECDC) and investors
  • Potential for concrete investment commitments achieved during course of project or after
  • Greater engagement by women, youth and other vulnerable and marginalized groups in local energy questions
  • Innovative ideas generated on how to address energy poverty by tapping into local resources and community-generated ideas
  • Increased awareness among civil society organisations and broader public about energy access issues and community-driven solutions
  • Documented evidence base on the feasibility, advantages and trade-offs of taking a community-driven approach to resolving energy access issues in a rural South African context
ZA/South Africa (consultant from the Energy and Resources Institute TERI, India, will play an advisory role)
Programme Sector
Renewable Energy (RE) (Business & Finance)
2012 - 2013
€ 176,610 including co-funding from IIED
Implementing Agency
International Institute for Environment and Development
REEEP grant funded by
United Kingdom
REEEP grant funded by