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Entrepreneurs have solutions to SA’s electricity problems

Installation of solar panels.
Installation of solar panels.
Image: Fetola.

Loadshedding and ongoing electricity issues have forced South Africans to seek for renewable energy solutions. Two small business owners are helping people achieve energy independence and electricity security for their households or businesses.

RRT Green Constructions and Silicon Energy Technology are Eastern Cape based businesses that are doing remarkable things in the renewable energy sector.

RRT Green Constructions is a renewable energy and green construction company that was founded by Reshoketswe Molepo in 2014, in Queenstown. It specializes in the installation of solar systems and manufactures concrete block bricks from construction waste.

“When we started, we wanted to be a green building company, building greenhouses and buildings. It was a relatively new concept in South Africa. The circular economy was not a known thing,” said Molepo the Founder and Managing Director of RRT Green Constructions.

In 2016 as projects started coming in, the business became more defined and is now separated into two divisions, renewable energy and the manufacturing of bricks from waste.

Another business that is helping South Africans access electricity is Silicon Energy Technology, founded by Kwanda Jakalase in 2016, based in Gqeberha (previously known as Port Elizabeth). The renewable energy company specializes in the manufacturing and installation of industrial energy equipment on solar, wind, hydro and biogas for households and businesses.

In 2014 when South Africa was hit by loadshedding Kwanda Jakalase the Founder and CEO of Silicon Energy Technology was in university.

She recalls that they couldn't study when there was no electricity, and she used her knowledge about solar to find a solution. “I built a prototype of a solar-based portable power source, that grew into what we call a meter generator,” she said.

The success of this prototype led to a demand for the product which also led to the establishment of Silicon Energy Technology. 

While commercializing the meter generator, Jakalase and business partners; Randolph Meth and Asemahle Resana saw a business opportunity in solar installations and decided to add it as one of their services.

Affordable and accessible green energy solutions

The 2019 General Household Survey report by Stats SA showed that 85% of South African households and 89% of Eastern Cape households were connected to the national electricity grid.

With ongoing loadshedding since 2008, it seems like many people are considering getting a solar electric source. However, the reality is that the initial installation costs can be pricey even though it is a cost-effective long-term solution.

“We try to make our products more accessible by cutting costs; for example, in the meter generator, we manufacture most of the components ourselves. We do outsource some affordable but high-quality components,” said Jakalase.

By doing this, Silicon Energy Technology can price its products at an affordable price within the consumers' income bracket. During the pandemic, when money became tighter the business came up with a layby option to help clients afford their installations.

To make their products financially accessible for all RRT Green Construction makes power boxes. With the power boxes, consumers can switch on the lights, plug stoves to cook and be able to charge their phones. The power boxes are for people that cannot afford complete solar systems.

“They are for the people that live in shacks and RDP houses where there is no proper electrical wiring. They can use the power box when loadshedding strikes or if they don’t have electricity at all,” said Molepo. This innovative product is accessible for all South Africans, leaving no one behind.

The renewable energy market is quite challenging to get started due to the large capital needed to get started, the products are expensive and acquiring land also comes at a huge cost, and funding is not always available for the sector.

At the 2021 COP26 summit, South Africa submitted a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to reduce domestic carbon emissions by 2030 and secured a finance deal to support the transition to cleaner energy.

This financing should assist future and existing renewable energy companies with the financing difficulties that both RRT Green Construction and Silicon Energy Technology experienced earlier on in their businesses.

The world is moving towards green energy, and it is expected that the renewable energy market will grow by 8% annually between 2022 and 2026. Growth in the industry should open more opportunities for renewable energy entrepreneurs.

Both RRT Green Construction and Silicon Energy Technology have continued to grow each year, having survived the pandemic and they are looking forward to more growth opportunities.