It has been recognised that off-grid energy technologies are essential if the rural population of South Africa is to be provided with basic electrical supply. This article documents the development process followed during a pilot programme aiming to investigate the introduction of solar (photovoltaic) systems as an alternative means of rural electrification. The community of Maphephethe in KwaZulu-Natal was targeted for the project. This article seeks to share the experiences, both positive and negative, that have been gained since the project commenced in 1996. A model for technology transfer and local capacity-building is proposed and certain issues are highlighted, including the slow dissemination of solar systems and the difficulties of financing in a poor rural community.