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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Energy efficient low income homes in South Africa: evaluation of international support mechanisms.

In the fifteen years since the end of the apartheid period, strong economic growth and freedom of movement has resulted in high levels of urbanisation in South Africa’s principal cities. The South African government has set an ambitious target to replace all informal settlements by 2014 requiring delivery of 300,000 subsided homes annually. Despite a mass electrification scheme and the low cost of electricity, South Africa’s urban poor continue to use more affordable dirty fuels such as biomass, paraffin and coal burnt directly in stoves or imbawulas. Such fuel poverty is exacerbated by the poor thermal performance of subsidy housing and shack dwellings.


Improvements to the standards of subsidy housing have huge direct benefits to health and prosperity of home owners. Efficiency measures also have broader economic benefits to society and contribute to the establishment of a cleaner development trajectory thereby also reducing growth in carbon emissions. Despite the real and tangible benefits and emerging policy support, donor funded pilot projects incorporating a range of passive thermal improvements and solar water heaters have failed to lead to wide scale implementation.


Through an evaluation of case study projects and interviews with those involved in the delivery of housing and energy efficiency policy, this research explores barriers and drivers to mass deployment of energy efficient measures in low income homes.


Whilst levels of funding are a significant obstacle, the analysis reveals a range of institutional and capacity related barriers which have impacts at each phase of project implementation. Furthermore political priorities are focused on delivery of numbers of houses without reference to broader aspects of sustainable development, including energy efficiency and poverty alleviation. The absence of a wider set of indicators is resulting in poorly conceived urban development.

Based on the analysis, recommendations to strengthen domestic policies are proposed for delivery of energy efficient housing with indicator sets to facilitate implementation. However these policies fail to address issues associated with capacity to implement policy and financial barriers.


The role of international mechanisms to support domestic policies are subsequently evaluated, specifically the Clean Development Mechanism and alternatives for Direct Funding. Under Direct Funding, three alternative arrangements are explored. Each involves similar financing implications but are targeted at different organisations involved in the delivery of low income housing. Direct funding mechanisms offer one way to support Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions. Mechanisms will be most successful where they are aligned with other development aspirations such as poverty alleviation and community empowerment. As well as providing funding, support should also target the removal of other systematic barriers.



Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.