Small-scale hydropower becomes a reality in the Eastern Cape

The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), in partnership with the Water Research Commission (WRC) and the University of Pretoria (UP), has handed over a small-scale hydropower plant to Mhlontlo Local Municipality in the Eastern Cape.


The plant, which demonstrates the potential of renewable energy to benefit rural communities and municipalities, will provide electricity to 54 households in Kwa‑Madiba village, northeast of Mthatha.


The plant generates power by drawing water from the top of Thina Falls, located near the village, and routing it through a penstock drilled through the mountain next to the waterfall. The diverted water drives a cross-flow turbine installed in a modular containerised room at the bottom of the waterfall. The turbine generates 51 kW of electricity or more, depending on the river flow at the time.


The project forms part of the DSI's contribution to the government's District Development Model. The model aims to improve the coherence and impact of government service delivery, focusing on 44 districts and eight metros around the country as centres of service delivery, economic development and job creation.


Speaking virtually during a hybrid event held at Walter Sisulu University in Mthatha on 4 October, Mr Imraan Patel, Deputy Director-General for Socio-economic Innovation Partnerships at the DSI, said the project represented an important milestone for the Department.


"We are encouraged by the partnership developed by the Department, UP, the WRC and the local municipality, working together to look at how we can use new ways of thinking to support key requirements that are confronted by municipalities in terms of service delivery," said Mr Patel.


Dr Mandla Msibi, Acting Chief Executive Officer of the WRC, also hailed the collaboration, describing the project as "a good illustration of what can be achieved through partnerships".


Dr Msibi added that the project represented a very proud moment for the WRC. "The project is bringing much-needed service to our community. Energy is one of the key requirements, especially in rural households, and a prerequisite for economic and social development. We as a country need to embrace technological innovations and recognise them as game-changers."


Speaking on behalf of Mhlontlo Local Municipality, Ms Zibelekazi Petse, Director for Institutional and Social Development, painted a picture of the challenges of high unemployment and low literacy levels faced by the municipality, and of how the provision of energy would assist in improving the situation.


"Generally, the municipality has addressed the electricity installation backlog and all the villages of Mhlontlo Municipality have been electrified, but affordability remains a challenge," Ms Petse explained. "The cost of electricity is steep for people who depend on grants."


She said the electricity generated by the hydropower plant would help the municipality by reducing its spending on electricity subsidies, while helping the community by reducing the cost of electricity.


"The plant will also improve tourism, increase employment, and help with marketing our municipality," Ms Petse concluded.


Issued by the Department of Science and Innovation


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