Illuminating Tomorrow: Pioneering Solar Initiatives in African Schools

Nokuthula Msiza

Monday, August 7, 2023

In the heart of Africa, the Superpower Africa Fund is pioneering a transformative initiative to tackle a pervasive issue – the lack of affordable loans for individuals and businesses. This challenge not only hampers business growth but also impedes the adoption of renewable energy technologies. Put another way, many  people and organizations in Africa can’t afford the high upfront costs of solar panels. The Superpower Africa Fund is designed to solve this exact issue. The Superpower Africa Fund employs sophisticated algorithms to analyze data from green businesses, identifying stable and growth-oriented enterprises and provides loans based on these stable payment streams.

One of the initiatives housed under the Superpower Africa Fund is  the Smart Schools project, a visionary initiative that not only supports the installation of solar panels in schools,  but also establishes a sustainable financial model  that covers all maintenance and creates lasting, multiplying impact.

Superpower Africa Fund's Smart Schools Initiative

The struggle with high electricity costs is one that affects many South African schools, especially those in disadvantaged areas. The Smart Schools project focuses on schools as key beneficiaries. The initiative funds the installation of solar systems in schools, enabling them to transition to clean, secure energy at a lower cost than traditional grid electricity.

Sustainable Financial Model

The historical approach to philanthropy involves short-term interventions, allocating funds for specific goals like installing solar panels in a set number of schools. However, this traditional model has limitations, including a finite lifespan and challenges in sustaining projects due to a lack of ongoing finances for maintenance. The Smart Schools project offers an alternative. Instead of providing free solar energy through a one-time donation, it bills schools for the energy used. This revenue covers ongoing expenses, ensuring the system's longevity and breaking the cycle of well-meaning projects being abandoned due to a lack of maintenance funds. The Rocklands School Solar Project, is the pilot project and a stellar representation of this initiative and how well the Smart Schools model works. See the pilot in action  here.

Environmental and Social Impact

The environmental impact of such projects is profound. Upon being operational for 11 months, The Rocklands School Solar Project had already generated 19,637.4 kWh of clean electricity, resulting in:

  • 21.3 tonnes of CO2 that have been averted;

  • 562.9 kg less sulfur dioxide levels in the atmosphere;

  •  7,019.9kg of coal burning savings;

  • This is the equivalent of planting 12 trees. 

The initiative not only addresses environmental concerns but also has significant social implications, ensuring schools in disadvantaged areas can provide uninterrupted education without daily power blackouts.

Increased Impact

Further unique features of the Smart Schools include the Pay-It-Forward Fund and the School Improvements Fund. 

Pay-it-Forward Fund: With the revenue received from a funded school, a new school can receive a solar system every few years. This way, the initial investment doubles its impact every few years as one solarised school becomes two, then four and onwards. This doubling of impact is truly unique and shows how investment, in the long term can be truly regenerative.  

The School Improvements Fund: The School Improvements Fund uses the revenue received to pour back into the school, allowing them to buy new computers, library books etc.

Long-Term Impact

The long-term impact of adopting solar energy in schools is substantial. Over a decade, a project similar to the Rocklands School Solar Project is expected to offset 232 tonnes of CO2 and prevent burning of almost 80,000kg of coal - this is the equivalent of planting 131 trees.

Financial Overview

The financial structure of the Rocklands School Solar Project demonstrates its self-sufficiency. The school pays a reduced tariff for solar electricity, resulting in substantial savings. Revenue generated is allocated transparently, covering maintenance, debt repayment, School improvements Fund, and the innovative Pay-It-Forward Fund.

Addressing South Africa's Challenges

In addition to the environmental impact, the project aligns with South Africa's evolving energy landscape, contributing to the nation's goals of incorporating independent energy producers. Simultaneously, it addresses socio-economic challenges in resource-poor communities, providing employment opportunities and improving access to essential services.

A Growing Trend

Expanding the narrative of solar empowerment in schools, Hoërskool Nylstroom's collaboration with Solarise Africa is another beacon of hope. Commissioning a state-of-the-art solar power plant with a total capacity of 49.05kWp, the school is set to replace 40% of its energy consumption with clean, renewable sources. In a statement, Solarise Africa says the solar power installation has a total capacity of 49.05kWp and will produce 83MWh annually. This will result in an estimated 3 333-tons of CO2 emissions saved. “The solar plant will allow the school to replace 40% of its energy consumption with clean, renewable sources, and over the course of the contract tenor, the school anticipates cost savings of R639 000.”

Project Partners

Thanks to a successful application by SEED, a grant for putting solar on Rocklands School was provided by AB InBev. The system was installed by partners RePower.


Superpower Africa Fund's Smart Schools initiative represents a holistic approach to addressing energy and socio-economic challenges in Africa. By combining financial innovation, environmental sustainability, and community engagement, the project serves as a model for transforming communities and building resilience in the region. Through these endeavors, the Superpower Africa Fund is not just providing energy – it's empowering communities and lighting the way for a brighter, sustainable future in Africa. To read up on the Rocklands School project and other Smart Schools projects, check out the Smart Schools website.

Share this post

Nokuthula Msiza

The Fixer,