Cato Manor’s “Green Street”: A Low-Income Project Proves the Value of International Climate Finance

Deliwe Nobekwa in her home. Photo: IUCN

DURBAN – The new solar thermal system perched on the corrugated roof of Deliwe Nobekwa’s small brick home isn’t just a convenience. It’s life changing. For the first time, Nobekwa can take a hot bath with the turn of a faucet.

“I’m living here with three kids. Before I had to boil many kettles of water to have a bath, and it took a lot of electricity,” says Nobekwa, speaking to a small group of visitors huddled in her home.

“It’s been three weeks, and I’ve already saved 90 Rand [$11 USD]. I do not work right now, so this is very important for me,” she says.

Nobekwa lives in Cato Manor, a township just outside the city of Durban, South Africa. She’s also the newest resident of the Cato Manor’s “green street” – a cluster of 30 homes that have received efficiency upgrades, solar water heaters, and rainwater collection systems to help residents of this working-class community reduce energy consumption by up to 50% and prove the value of a small-scale, localized approach to sustainability.

The project, funded by the British High Commission in South Africa and developed by the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) and the World Green Building Council, was only announced in October. Six weeks later, 30 households have been serviced with solar thermal and efficiency upgrades.

“We didn’t want to do something that would be ready many years from now, or ready in 2050,” says BCSSA Chief Executive Brian Wilkinson, speaking to a crowd of guests gathered for an event in Cato Manor to showcase the project. “ We wanted to do something now.”

Six weeks later, the Green Street is ready to show off to attendees at the COP 17 climate conference in Durban. Proudly greeting the hundred or so guests who’ve come to visit, residents cheer and wave as a delegation of folks from around the world walk into their community to tour the homes.

In celebration of the project, the residents of Cato Manor have named the street “Isimosezulu [climate] COP17 Place.”

But this is not just a one-off gimmick for the climate conference. The partnering organizations have raised additional government funding from the British and Australian governments to support the retrofit of 160,000 new houses in South Africa like the ones in Cato Manor.

The projects will support emissions reductions under the Clean Development Mechanism, a program that helps developed countries reduce emissions through projects in less-developed countries.

A view of Cato Manor

In the U.S., the term “green building” is usually associated with large commercial development. But in South Africa, they’re trying to bring it down to the local level.

“Standards and ratings have been written with large buildings in mind,” said Brian Wilkinson, CEO of the Green Building Council of South Africa. “We want to support this kind of sustainable development that can have the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time, while also dramatically improving quality of life.”

The GBCSA is working to create new standards that take job creation, training and local economic impact in under-served communities into account, said Wilkinson. Each retrofit cost roughly $3,800 (R 30,000) and was designed to “maximize employment” of local residents to make the retrofits, install the solar systems and work on the gardens planted along the Green Street.

When he opened the climate talks last week, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma reiterated the call for similar programs, saying “we also feel strongly that as an African Conference of the Parties, the COP 17 outcome must recognize that solving the climate problem cannot be separated from the struggle to eradicate poverty.”

With negotiators at the COP 17 conference working on developing a Green Fund that could deploy $100 billion in public and private funds by 2020, this project is a stark reminder of the value of such a mechanism to reduce emissions and improve quality of life.

Australia’s High Commissioner Ann Harrap, who came to Cato Manor to see the type of project her government is assisting, agrees:

“I’m a diplomat. And generally speaking, we don’t get to always see what happens on the ground level. I’m so amazed to see this work. Oh, and by the way, our Fast Start funding [the initial targets leading into the Green Fund] is on target and on time.”

8 Responses to Cato Manor’s “Green Street”: A Low-Income Project Proves the Value of International Climate Finance

  1. Raul M. says:

    Thank-you Stephen.
    They wanted to do something now!

  2. Leif says:

    Not only is Solar great for heating water but the accompanying UV radiation is also great for disinfecting water. Perhaps another cash cow that can ride along for free. Perhaps even a neighborhood laundry with hot water for increased quality control. Preheated water for faster cooking…. Once you have extra heat you have refrigeration. All ripe for the picking and deployment to the third world and that only creative engineering and first world industry can initially develop and manufacture inexpensively. Jobs and exports for us. Health improvements, fuel savings abound. Win-win. Fossil is Toast. Quit sending those container ships back empty that bring trinkets for consumption from exploited workers to enrich the rich.

  3. Colorado Bob says:

    I was always more interested in the heat of the sun, rather than the electrons.
    And this subject I researched a couple of years ago with the eye toward buying a container of solar water heaters. Forming a co-op , and getting a container price. At the time it was nearing $1,000.00 per house. These were the evacuated tube models . Invented here, developed by the Germans, and massed produced in China.

  4. Colorado Bob says:

    ” Once you have extra heat you have refrigeration. ”

    Speaking of extra heat, recently using nano-carbon fibers, a “perfect black body ” coating was developed. Almost zero light leaves this surface. Coating the focal point tube in the center of a vac-tube model , with this stuff will easily boil water.

  5. Leif says:

    Surely a lot less expensive for the modest needs of the third world. Again coupled with a small refrigeration unit and creative engineering (Hell, I could even do it with funding) you are talking real improvements in the quality of life for the third world.

  6. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    “Small is beautifull”
    Cheap but such a difference on the ground. More of this sort of thinking is needed.

  7. Mark Shapiro says:

    Solar, and especially PV, is perfect for the world’s poor, especially in developing countries.

    For the price of an electric meter, you can build a combination PV panel/battery/LED light/cell phone charger that provides high value electrical services (and communication and computing) to any family on the planet.

  8. Leif says:

    That package could be delivered for free and paid for with fossil fuel savings alone. Guaranteed return on investment in no time. All other benefits are quality of life improvements.