Power to the people

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

Parkhurst residents want to turn their suburb into an Eskom free eco-hub within the next 5 years.

While most of us are cursing ourselves for delaying a generator-buying decision, others are making plans to ensure that they will never again be reliant on Eskom's erratic electricity supply.

The residents of Parkhurst in Johannesburg have big plans for their leafy suburb and will, according to the Saturday Star, be off the Eskom grid, be driving electric cars, growing their own food and turning their sewerage into biogas, all within the next five years.

That's the plan of Ryan Beech, who together with the Parkhurst Residents and Business Owners Association, plans to transform the suburb of more than 2 000 households, into a self-sustaining eco-hub by 2020. Many of Parkhurst's residents work from home and a lack of power obviously means a lack of production - something, it seems, residents are not willing to live with.

While it may sound like something out of a futuristic science fiction novel, the decision to create an environment that is not at the mercy of a parastatal that may or may not provide a reliable power source in the future is already beginning to appeal to those who live in neighbouring suburbs.

Converting to solar power isn't necessarily a cheap exercise, however the group is currently looking at 20 different solar packages that it's residents would be able to build on. By banding together the group is hoping to secure better deals and rates.

"We can use our numbers to stand together, to negotiate better deals and rates. A lot of companies are riding the load-shedding wave, ripping people off. As demand for renewable energy solutions shoots up, so will supply, and the prices will come down. We will make it work - and the rest of the country can do the same."

Interestingly, it's not the first time this suburb has come under the technological spotlight in recent times, having been chosen by Vumatel to be the first suburb to receive its fibre broadband network initiative. The system is 100 times faster that the traditional copper-based ADSL broadband available from Telkom.

Although it's residents undoubtedly play an important role in 'going green', local businesses in the area have also come on board. Beech notes restaurants in the area are interested in converting their oil into biodiesel and that BMW is installing charge stations for electric vehicles.

Rome wasn't built in a day and transforming to solar power will take time and money. However, Beech says that he believes that 80 percent of Parkhurst's residents will have mid-level solar power in the next year and as they secure the money to upgrade this systems, will be in a position to remove themselves from the grid entirely.

It's no secret that Eskom has a long, difficult road ahead and that South Africans are going to be faced with an increased number of power outages. The question is of course, should we sit back and complain or should we start regrouping in an effort to find a solution that will keep the lights on in the areas in which we live.

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