WITS’ innovation for powering homes without electricity will launch in June


WITS’ innovation for powering homes without electricity will launch in June

In 2019, PeCo Power (Pty) Ltd was spun out of WITS University as an endeavour to commercialise an innovative Smart Mini-Grid. The Smart Mini-Grid was born from WITS University School of Electrical and Information Engineering as a solution to provide essential electrification to homes that don’t have access to electricity.

The product launch was initially planned for mid-2020 but was delayed by the COVID-19 hard lockdown. Despite this set-back, the PeCo Power team were able to successfully complete a field study which saw the Smart Mini-Grid tested and validated in a real-world environment. The team also used this time to industrialise the manufacturing and production processes in anticipation of the market launch, which will officially take place in June 2021.

During the field study, PeCo Power showcased and deployed systems at several sites in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape, Eastern Cape and the Free State. A system was also shipped to Germany for testing. There were zero technical failures, confirming the technology’s market readiness.
The Smart Mini-Grid was developed and refined over the past four years by a team of WITS innovators, headed up by Professor Willie Cronje. It has the potential for wide and meaningful socio-economic impact in rural and marginalised communities that don’t have access to electricity. The Smart Mini-Grid, which won the WITS University Vice Canceller’s Award for Innovation in 2020, is designed to be affordable for low-income households and robust enough to survive demanding settings. It is expandable, which means that households can start small and grow their system over time, without losing the value of their initial investment. It can also be configured for a number of different applications. Being a true plug-and-play solution, no technical expertise is required for installation, operation or maintenance. As the Smart Mini-Grid operates on 12V DC, it poses no risk of electrocution and is considered safe.
According to Professor Cronje, who is the Head of the Future Electrical Engineering Technology research group at the School of Electrical and Information Engineering, the system is flexible and modular, allowing households to build and customise their Smart Mini-Grid over time, according to their energy needs and budget.

“Think of the system as being built with LEGO blocks. We offer the user a range of Smart Solar Blocks and Smart Storage Blocks with which the customer may build their Smart Mini-Grid. The maximum useable power of a Smart Mini-Grid can be increased by adding additional Smart Blocks in a plug-and-play manner. This means that households can start with a small Smart Mini-Grid of a few Smart Blocks and then build onto it, block by block. This bottom-up, modular and expandable approach to electrification is what sets PeCo Power apart from traditional solar home systems,” he says.
PeCo Power’s launch product range contains two starter bundles of Smart Blocks: The PeCo Lite 50 and the PeCo Lite 80.

The PeCo Lite 50 bundle is described as an affordable entry-point into the PeCo Power lifestyle and contains a 50W Smart Solar Block and a 24Ah Smart Storage block. The PeCo Lite 50 builds a Smart Mini-Grid that can yield up to 190Wh of solar energy and store up to 140Wh for night-time use. The PeCo Lite 50 provides up to 330Wh of daily maximal power.

The PeCo Lite 80 is described as a bundle for those avid day-time users who need additional power during the day and hence comes with a larger 80W Smart Solar Block and a 24Ah Smart Storage Block. The PeCo Lite 80 builds a Smart Mini-Grid that can yield up to 320Wh of solar energy and store up to 140Wh for night-time use. The PeCo Lite 80 provides up to 460Wh of daily maximal power.
Customers can begin their journey towards energy freedom with either of the bundles on offer. They may also choose to purchase several bundles and connect them together to build a larger Smart Mini-Grid, capitalising on the expandability of the Smart Mini-Grid. Additionally, each starter bundle comes equipped with a wiring kit that contains three bright lights and a wall-mounted 12V DC outlet.

“We don’t want to box customers into using bespoke appliances with their Smart Mini-Grid. We believe in energy freedom and so we provide the customer with their own 12V DC outlet,” said Raees Dangor, the Business Development manager at PeCo Power and PhD candidate at WITS. “This gives the customer the freedom to choose what 12V DC appliances they want to connect to their Smart Mini-Grid. There is an entire market of 12V DC appliances out there, thanks to the rise in off-grid and solar electrification, which the Smart Mini-Grid leverages off. We have successfully powered lights, 12V DC televisions, 12V DC fans and charged radios, cellphones and other USB devices using the Smart Mini-Grid. The idea is for customers to join the PeCo lifestyle and customise their experience.”

The PeCo Lite 50 and the PeCo Lite 80 are available directly from the PeCo Power website: They will also soon be available directly from retailers and distributors across South Africa. Interested distributors and retailers are welcome to contact Raees Dangor, PeCo Power’s business development manager, at for more information.

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