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South African teenagers build solar-powered train

Amid South Africa’s power cuts, a group of students built the country’s first fully solar-powered train. The power outages have caused disruptions affecting poor and working-class commuters relying on trains.

A group of 20 South African students from Soshanguve Technical School recently showcased a fully solar-powered train at a university event.

The prototype, which has taken approximately two years to build, is set to redefine railway travel not only in South Africa but the entire continent, as it is a cheaper alternative long-term.

In 2020, during the Covid-19 economic hurdles in South Africa, there was a rise in cable theft which saw 60% of train users swap to buses and taxis.

For two weeks now, South Africa’s electricity crisis has worsened, affecting the country’s economy and production caused by hours of power outages. Factories and offices have shut down for hours at a time.

Eskom Holdings, the country’s power company, has been accused of poor management and corruption, leading to debt and constant blackouts.

The regular power cuts have disrupted networks in some regions. Mobile operator companies such as Vodacom and MTN are currently facing high fuel costs to keep their towers running.

Similarly, battery theft is on the rise, affecting company relay network in some places. The ongoing cutouts mean batteries are only charging for 5 to 6 hours when they normally require a minimum of 12 hours to fully charge.

According to Eskom, the country could witness higher stages of scheduled blackouts to save energy. This means going up to 9 hours without power.

Last week, the country hit the level 6 record which was implemented during the June winter. This allowed for approximately 6,000 megawatts to be cut to avoid total blackout.

The rotational power outages have affected the majority of the poor population who need to plan ahead on tasks such as cooking and making sure candles are available during darkness. Many small businesses are forced to close early, affecting the most industrialized country in Africa.

Rail traffic has slowed down due to cable theft challenges and the constant power disruptions.

The students from Soshanguve Technical School look forward to showcasing their solar-powered train to the government for further research and adoption as it is environmentally sustainable.