As South Africans grapple with huge hikes in their electricity bills, the residents of an informal settlement on the outskirts of Cape Town have turned to the sun to provide for their heating needs in Africa's first project registered under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).
The almost 2,000 families in Kuyasa, a low-income informal settlement that is part of the sprawling Khayelitsha township, have not only managed to cut their electricity costs by 35 percent a year, but are also doing their bit to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions.
Each solar water heater helps save around 1.29 tonnes of carbon dioxide per household per year from being emitted, which equates to the total carbon emission in a flight from Lagos, Nigeria, to Surabaya in Indonesia.
The CDM, set up under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), allows industrialised countries to meet part of their commitment to reduce greenhouse gases by investing in projects that reduce emissions in developing countries, while also contributing to the sustainable development needs of the host country.
Projects registered under the CDM can earn saleable Certified Emission Reductions (CERs) credits, each equal to one metric tonne of carbon dioxide.
The Kuyasa project was developed by SouthSouthNorth (SSN), an NGO working to counter climate change, for the City of Cape Town's Environmental Resource Management Department and Urban Renewal Programme.
The project hopes to complete installing solar water heaters in 2,300 houses by 2010, with funding from the national department of environment and tourism and the Western Cape Province government.
The Cape Town City Council, owners of the Kuyasa project, have already sold CERs to the UK government and hope to generate and sell more credits so as to maintain the water heaters and invest in other community development projects.
Funding has come from national and provincial governments and the South African Export Development Fund (SAEDF), a non-profit organization has underwritten the project.
Eskom, a parastatal utility, generates most of South Africa's electricity in coal-fired power stations, and the cheap energy alternative presented by Kuyasa has stirred some interest.
Zuko Ndamane, the project manager, is pushing for integration of the solar power generator model into new low-income housing developments, because "It is more expensive to retrofit houses with energy-saving devices, like we did in Kuyasa." © IRIN. All rights reserved.