Change the world


In this professorial inaugural lecture* Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Mandela University, Russell Phillips, unpacked the role of renewable energy in de-urbanising post-COVID Africa. 

In his lecture, delivered virtually on 28 June 2021, Prof Phillips spoke of how the world is becoming increasingly urbanised with more than half of its population living in cities.

In many instances, urbanisation is seen as a positive phenomenon, however in Africa urbanisation has resulted in a large proportion of the urban population living in slum conditions.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated that many persons work remotely and has shown that this arrangement can be both cost effective and efficient.

The notion of promoting a remote work concept beyond the pandemic with a view to encouraging de-urbanisation is what Prof Phillips proposes in his research. To achieve meaningful levels of de-urbanisation in Africa, particularly in remote, rural areas, two major challenges need to be overcome, being internet connectivity and energy supply.

The imminent rollout of Low Earth Orbit Satellites (LEO) for affordable, remote connectivity coupled with the maturity of the current solar photovoltaic offerings, present seemingly perfect solutions to these challenges.

Additionally, the record low prices recently reached by Photovoltaic modules and lithium-ion batteries seem to present fortuitous timing for a mass de-urbanisation drive which may have the potential to improve the lives of many people on this continent.

In his lecture, Prof Phillips referred to some of the meaningful community work in this field that has recently been done by the University’s Renewable Energy Research Group in a remote area of the Northern Cape (as pictured below).

Read the full text of Professor Phillips’ lecture as well as view the recorded lecture on our Inaugural Lectures website.

*An Inaugural Lecture is an auspicious occasion for the University to acknowledge the appointment or promotion of new, full professors. It is a significant milestone in the academic career of a full professor and provides a platform to share past research and introduce new ideas to a diverse academic and non-academic audience.


Contact information
Prof Russell Phillips
Tel: 27 41 504 3609