In the context of South Africa’s increasingly unreliable electricity supply from power utility ESKOM, ever more South Africans are turning towards renewable energy sources, especially solar energy, for their household needs. This is especially true of middle-class and affluent South Africans, who have been installing solar panels en masse: Installed rooftop capacity has increased more than fourfold from 1000MW to over 4000 MW between March 2022 and July 2023. For the majority of poor South Africans, however, solar energy remains largely unaffordable: While many people in low-income housing have solar water heaters, very few rely on solar energy for appliances and lights. Solar Rain, a small business in Khayelitsha, is seeking to change that reality. Its founder, MK Blessing, a qualified electrician, started his company in 2021 after realising that there was a market opportunity to increase access to renewable energy for local residents. “We want to bring solar energy to the townships, at an affordable price, to help communities”. He also wants his SME to benefit from the broader growth opportunities that solar energy present in the coming decade, and tap into higher-income markets as well.
For the time being, Solar Rain is a small operation: So far, Blessing has installed only a few units and equipped two apartment blocks. “Our key issue is the cost of installations”, which puts solar home systems out of reach of many if not most households in Khayelitsha. The South African government provides tax incentives to purchase solar panels, but that is not sufficient. Figuring out how to make solar more affordable is one of the key areas that Blessing is focusing on. Another is how to market his products and services, and how to develop new markets within a reasonable radius.
Blessing’s ambitions go beyond solar home systems, however: “One of my ultimate aims is to develop mini-grids”, he explains, “so that we can gradually reduce our dependency on the ESKOM grid at a larger scale”.