MAPHEPHETHENI, South Africa - In rural South Africa, where getting electricity isn't simply a matter of flicking a switch, Myeka High School is looking to its pupils to supply an unusual source of power.And as poor as they are, they won't have Western-style power distribution until the cows come home:
For several years, the school has only had solar power, but the system's output is erratic and computer classes can be held just two or three days a week. Now the school plans to add electricity produced by burning methane gas from decomposing sewage from the school toilets.
Such innovations could be vital to South Africa, where the government is trying to extend electricity to 300,000 more households each year. About 50 percent of rural families and 22 percent of urban dwellers now lack electricity — a total of 3.6 million households.
Greg Austin, an engineer who designed the school's biogas system, believes gas generated from cattle dung is also an ideal power source in rural south Africa where more than a half million households keep cattle and rely on fossil fuels to cook.
"With the dung from three cows, you can generate enough gas to run a fridge and cooker," he said.