Vodacom base station powers rural village
Emfihlweni, a rural community in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, received electricity for the first time this week. But unlike other communities, it did not receive power from its municipality but rather from mobile operator Vodacom, who supplied green energy to the community through its solar-powered base station in the area.
Providing green power to Emfihlweni forms part of Vodacom's Community Power initiative, a pilot project which, if successful, could become the first in a series that will be rolled out over the next few years.
Vodacomm said in a statement that the move shows how mobile operators can bridge the energy divide in communities by oversupplying base stations with renewable energy which can be diverted to critical points within the community.
Powering rural communities with excess energy from Vodacom's green base stations is not only a game changer for rural areas that have no access to power, but it also increases the quality of education and promotes economic growth by increasing the number of hours traders can work.
25% of the total electricity generated by Vodacom's base station in Emfihlweni is being used to supply power to the community water pump, a local shop that will provide a cell phone charging station for people living in the area and the local high school; which today switched on the power to its computer centre for the first time.
Providing rural communities with electricity is a challenge facing most developing countries, but especially sub-Saharan Africa. While 20% of the world's population has no access to electricity, 95% live in sub-Saharan Africa or in the poorer regions of Asia and 84% live in rural areas.
In South Africa, 28% of the population has no access to electricity and the majority of these people live in rural areas. This is a challenge that has been brought up by a number of parties at COP17 in Durban over the last ten days.
"Access to electricity is a key enabler of social and economical development, so this initiative is extremely important to the community. Without electricity, learners at Emfihlweni High School would perhaps never have had access to computer training or the Internet, which could have severely hampered their ability to progress," says Sipho Maseko, Vodacom's managing director.
Vodacom says it is committed to using its mobile technology and its relationship with government departments, particularly the Department of Basic Education in this case, to help learners and teachers gain access to quality education and instruction.
In October this year, the mobile operator launched its Vodacom Mobile Education Programme, which aims to provide teachers and schools in South Africa with access to the best instruction resources and access to ICT.
As part of this launch, Vodacom introduced nine ICT Resource Centres, one in each province, that allow teachers to access teaching resources via cloud computing. Each provincial resource centre is connected to 200 schools in the area.
"Mobile education plays an important role in helping government to deliver quality education in South Africa. Access to technology, especially for learners, also increases their ability to succeed and helps to level the playing field for both learners and teachers in rural areas. In the case of Emfihlweni, we had to push the boundaries of our mobile education philosophy to include the provision of electricity. It is truly an exciting era for the quality of education at the school," says Maseko.
Vodacom will, as part of the project, supply the school with equipment to outfit its computer centre. This includes twenty computers for learners, computers and training for teachers, a server, access to the Internet via four Vodacom Webbox terminals and four monitors, data connectivity for a year and computer maintenance and support for two years.
"The fact that the first electricity that the community accesses is green is of course an exciting prospect, and so pertinent at a time when South Africa is hosting COP17," concludes Maseko.