Amarasta Celebrates Access to Electricity Through Microgrid Project

BY: Jubilant Cheyeza Baloyi

For years, the community has been living in darkness, relying on dangerous and expensive alternatives such as candles and paraffin lamps. Residents of Amarasta are celebrating after finally gaining access to reliable electricity through a microgrid project. Amarasta, an informal settlement in Alexandra, Johannesburg, is the first such settlement chosen by the City of Johannesburg to participate in the microgrid project.

The microgrid project, implemented by the City of Johannesburg in partnership with the University of Johannesburg and other stakeholders, has brought much-needed light and power to the community. The microgrid consists of solar panels, batteries, and a generator, providing a clean and sustainable source of electricity.

On Wednesday, March 20, 2024, the City of Johannesburg launched the first microgrid in Gauteng, which was activated on Wednesday evening, benefiting 200 households and 500 people. The residents were elated because Amarasta had never before been legally connected to electricity.

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CEO of City Power, Tshifularo Mashava, told the Daily Maverick that they are not going to rectify illegal connections to communities who have connected to electricity illegally. “You are not going to solve illegal connections when people do not have access to electricity,” he emphasized.

City Power stated that R60 million would be used to install the microgrid, including security features, boundary walls, paving the dirt roads to prevent dust from affecting the efficiency of the system, electrifying households (lights, poles, streetlights, cables), and installing smart meters to protect the microgrid from damage.

The Amarasta microgrid project has not only improved the residents’ quality of life but has also brought economic benefits to the community. Small businesses can now operate after dark, and residents can save money on electricity costs. It was difficult for small businesses to operate without formal electricity.

The CEO of City Power has emphasized that besides the basic need for electricity, this community faces many issues such as violent rifts and conflicts between neighboring communities in Alexandra over illegal connections, which also overwhelm the infrastructure, costing City Power millions, especially in winter.

“We’re going into winter, and all those houses would have no electricity because you’d have illegal connections to a mini substation down the road,” said Tshifularo Mashava.

The project is part of a larger effort by the City of Johannesburg to provide electricity to all its residents. The city has set a target of providing universal access to electricity by 2030. Amarasta informal settlement was chosen because the community never had electrical infrastructure before or a legal connection to the grid.

According to Gauteng Premier Panyaza Lesufi, many people did have electricity, but vandalism and cable theft left them in darkness.

“There were 2.5 million people who didn’t have access to electricity. Not because of load shedding, but because transformers were stolen, vandalized, the entire electricity network was not there,” he explained.

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