College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

Study Examines the Impact of Solar Technology on Rural Households

Ms Deanntha Kanniah graduated with a Master’s in Environmental Science cum laude.

After completing her secondary education at Queensburgh Girls High, Kanniah knew that she would follow in the footsteps of her family who are UKZN alumni. Motivated by her passion for conservation and the motto, ‘Leave the world a better place than you found it,’ she registered for a BSc in Environmental Science.

Her Bachelor of Science Honours project examined the attitudes and perceptions of middle-income households (non-adopters) to solar PV systems in eThekwini Municipality. This inspired her to pursue a career within the energy industry.

Kanniah’s master’s research was titled: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Solar Technology Impacts on Rural Households: Experiences from the Global South. It examined whether research undertaken in the context of developing countries over a 20-year period has led to improved energy access and if it is a reflection of changing energy narratives.

The study also explored how solar technologies impact livelihood outcomes. This involved an extensive review of the literature in this field.

The study identified the types of solar technologies installed and the influence of major international events on solar energy research.

Kanniah found that there has been increased awareness of the impacts of climate change as well as calls to transition towards cleaner sources of energy. South Africa has the added challenge of trying to eliminate energy poverty in low-income and rural communities.

The study concluded that there is insufficient evidence on solar technologies’ impact on the livelihoods and energy needs of rural households due to the different methods used to quantify such impact. It recommends increased investment by governments, industry and research organisations in research on solar energy technologies in the Global South, the use of multidisciplinary and mixed method approaches for impact assessment, and sharing of experiences of solar energy technologies. Finally, the study highlighted the need for increased operation and maintenance of solar energy technologies provided to rural households.

The highlight of Kanniah’s master’s journey was representing South Africa as one of two student delegates at the 2019 International Student Energy Summit in London, where she presented on the state of the energy industry in South Africa.

She thanked her supervisor Dr Suveshnee Munien who ‘is so passionate and incredibly knowledgeable about the projects she works on that you can’t help but also be enthusiastic.’ She also thanked her family for their support. Munien commented: ‘Deanntha has shown tremendous growth as a postgraduate student and emerging researcher and has the potential to make valuable contributions to the field.’

Kanniah is currently a policy assistant intern at the Academy of Science of South Africa (ASSAf) where she works primarily on the portfolio of the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies. She hopes to establish a career within the renewable energy industry and is looking at possible PhD opportunities.

Words: Leena Rajpal

Photograph: Supplied