In the next five years, thousands of residents of Parkhurst, Joburg, will be off the Eskom grid, driving electric cars, growing their own food and turning their sewage into biogas.

That’s the plan of Ryan Beech, together with the Parkhurst Residents and Business Owners Association, who plan to transform the suburb of more than 2 000 households, into a self-sustaining eco-hub by 2020.

Parkhurst will be the first urban area on the continent entirely off the grid.

Beech, who is leading the upmarket suburb’s green make-over, says residents, many of whom work from home, are “gatvol” with Eskom. “We are all gatvol with Eskom and all this nonsense of loadshedding and general unreliability. We need power, and we need reliability.”

Though in its infancy, their project is not only focused on inculcating a love for renewable energy.

“It’s about transport, recycling and growing our own food. We want to develop a model that shows the whole South Africa that it’s possible to do this, with the best and most affordable technology.”

BMW, he points out, is installing charge stations for the electric vehicles of Parkhurst’s future.

He predicts the suburb’s pioneering eco-drive could start an environmental wave. “Our neighbouring communities of Emmarentia and Greenside have contacted us, because they are interested in doing the same.”

Trendy restaurants in the suburb are interested in converting their oil into biodiesel. Most of the area is supplied by natural gas from Egoli Gas pipelines.

“I think everyone in the next year – let’s say 80 percent – will have entry to mid-level solar, and as people have money to upgrade, to completely come off the grid.

“Not everyone has the money to go off the grid. You can spend R5 000 to cut energy use, but we will have 20 packages, all solar, and build on them. We’re trying to get the best solution for our residents.

The suburb has set a precedent, by winning its battle with Telkom to get highspeed-fibre-to-the-home-broadband.

“We can use our numbers to stand together, to negotiate better deals and rates. A lot of companies are riding the load-shedding wave, ripping people off we can use our numbers to negotiate better deals and rates. As demand for renewable energy solutions shoots up, so will supply, and the prices will come down. We will make it work – and the rest of the country can do the same.”