The iShack Project is a South African social enterprise that provides off-grid solar electricity to low-income residents of informal settlements who do not have grid-electrification.

This energy service is a spin-out from a much broader programme of applied research at the Sustainability Institute that explored the idea of incremental service-delivery for informal settlement households in South Africa who often wait for many years, if not decades, before receiving conventional basic services. The research question was: “what alternative services could be provided while they wait?”

The clients of the iShack Project join the energy service voluntarily and receive a Solar Home System which generates sufficient electricity to power lights and energy-efficient media appliances such as LED TVs, radios, tablets and smart-phones. All clients make some co-payments towards the service, but the goal is to subsidise their costs in order to make the service as affordable and as universally accessible as possible. First prize is a subsidy from local government (as has been achieved in the flagship utility in Enkanini, in Stellenbosch). However, the project also uses grants and donations to support clients in other sites (in Cape Town) where there is, as yet, no municipal subsidy.

The iShack operating model is underpinned by a long-term commitment to client-service, rather than a once-off, ‘drop-and-go’ intervention. The operations team includes groups of ‘iShack Agents’ who all live in the communities where they work. Regular training is provided at the Sustainability Institute, during which the Agents are given the skills necessary to deliver a high quality, durable solar energy service.

The primary mission of the project is to demonstrate, at scale, a viable and financially sustainable public-private model for the provision of incremental energy services to under-serviced communities. The iShack model is consistent with numerous existing laws and policies in South Africa that prioritise the delivery of subsidised basic services to the poorest members of society. The South African Constitution envisages ‘progressive realisation’ of services, and the iShack service is a working embodiment of that vision which can be adopted by municipalities throughout the country in order that they deliver on their statutory obligations to ensure universal access to basic energy.

The iShack Project is a project of SIIL: The Sustainability Institute Innovation Lab (Pty) Ltd. SIIL was founded in 2012 as a spin-out of the Sustainability Institute, but is now independent of the Institute.