Solar power is quickly expanding across Africa with solutions that are accelerating the pace of development in several nations. Such is the case in the municipality of George, a township where the sun provides electricity to an entire airport. From the control tower to the passenger terminal and from ticketing systems to duty-free shops and restaurants, the George Airport is one of the greenest in the world thanks to its independent solar power station and its 2,000 panels, which produce 750 KW per day. It is interesting to note that the automated teller machines (ATMs) inside the George Airport terminal, which were installed in 2015, are not the first to be powered by the sun in South Africa. A year before the George Airport switched to green electricity production, the Mpumalanga province was already using solar-powered ATMs installed by Paycorp Holdings, a financial services provider based in Johannesburg.
Mpumalanga is a province ripe for solar-powered solutions such as ATMs. It so happens that the name of the province means “the land where the sun rises” in the Swazi language, and the local coal-fired power plant has experienced issues in terms of energy production. In 2014, when the first solar-powered ATMs were installed in Mpumalanga, the coal silo of the provincial power plant collapsed, thereby causing rolling blackouts that left traditional ATMs inoperable. The solar-powered versions of these cash dispensers were widely welcomed by the people of Mpumalanga, and there is a great potential to expand a network of these green machines across rural areas in South Africa.
ATM manufacturer Diebold, a market leader in this segment, has considered deploying more of these machines in South Africa, a nation where personal banking services are expanding at a very fast rate, and where economic development is starting to reach rural areas. The technology used by these ATMs is very similar to their traditional counterparts with the exception of solar panels and batteries. The data network connections can be wired or wireless, and there is an added advantage in the sense that these ATMs can be deployed on a mobile basis. In fact, this has already been implemented in Ghana, where rural account holders of Stanbic Bank receive mobile banking services whenever the electricity is not available in their communities or when they have transportation issues.
Solar-powered ATMs are more widely used in India and Pakistan. It is not certain whether South Africa will continue this trend; in 2016, economists noted that the M-PESA mobile banking system, which is very popular in Kenya and across Eastern Africa, failed to gain popularity beyond certain districts in Johannesburg.