Six biogas production operations in rural KwaZulu-Natal were approved this week by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa).
Biogas is produced when organic matter breaks down in the absence of oxygen, and can be used as a renewable, clean energy source, especially in rural areas that are often off the national grid.
In terms of national legislation, the owners of biogas operations not connected to the national gas pipeline grid do not have to be licensed, but they are required to register with Nersa.
The biogas production operations that were registered are at Izimpongo Village, Melmoth and Mgwabi Village at Eshowe.
Twenty-one similar operations in Limpopo and one in Pretoria have already been registered this year. This brings to 38 the total number of biogas operations registered in South Africa since 2011.
"Most of these biogas operations are in rural areas and consist of a fixed dome plant that uses bio-digesters to produce biogas from waste material, which will be supplied to heating appliances in peri-urban and rural dwellings," Nersa said in a statement this week.
Gas production technologies open up energy options and help address the challenge of access to energy in South Africa's most rural areas.
As these projects use cow dung, pig manure, kitchen waste and agricultural residues to produce biogas through anaerobic digestion, they "enjoy wide support from communities, as waste material is readily available to many in rural and urban areas", the regulator explained.
Communities are able to use the technology to produce energy for their own needs, such as cooking, lighting, warmth and even generating electricity. This helps improve South Africa's energy mix and alleviates some of the pressure on the national grid.
Biogas also contributes to a cleaner environment as it reduces the need for wood fires. This reduces greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and prevents the inhalation of smoke from woodfires which can cause health problems in rural communities.