Forget about renewable energy, they said. It will never be as reliable as coal, they said. We South Africans know better. Coal has long been hailed as the cheapest and most accessible source of energy, while solar and wind were dismissed as untenable. But while coal power may (supposedly) be reliable, it turns out that the companies who provide it are not.
Getting off the grid
Eskom’s latest bout of loadshedding has many South Africans dreaming of a world where our professional and recreational needs no longer depend on energy providers being up to the task of providing energy. But would ‘getting off the grid’ be a sound investment in the long-term, and is it even doable?
As it so happens, this is not a national issue, but rather a global one. Leaders throughout the world are attempting to mobilise people in the fight against climate change, and the biggest obstacle they face is the complacency of those who question the urgency of such an endeavour. Well, here in South Africa, the topic of sustainable energy is not some far-off distant concept, but rather one that impacts our lives on a daily basis. As such, we have a powerful incentive to work toward energy independence.
So just how easy is it to take your home ‘off the grid’? It depends on a number of factors, such as:
- The number of people living in the home
- The amount of electricity the home uses
- How old the building is (newer buildings are more likely to be designed with energy efficiency in mind)
- Whether you want to be completely independent of the grid, or just ‘less reliant’ on it
The three primary sources of alternative energy in South Africa are solar, gas, and battery systems. A combination of all three is probably your best bet for achieving a cost-effective and reliable energy solution. Such solutions will help make your home more energy-efficient, and thereby a more valuable investment. ooba home loans can provide information on how the implementation of these technologies will affect the value of your property.
Solar is the go-to form of renewable energy, and it’s a viable option in South Africa, which is ranked highly as a location for solar concentration. Solar panels are the key component of a solar-powered system, consisting of photovoltaic (PV) cells that receive the sun’s rays and generate direct current, which is converted to alternate current by an inverter.
Journalists from Business Insider approached providers of home solar systems to find out what it would cost for the standard South African household to implement a solar-powered system, and they came up with a price range of around R150,000 to R350,000. It’s certainly not cheap, but energy efficiency is all about the long-term benefits.
That said, going 100% off-the-grid is not the only approach you can take. There’s also the option of implementing a back-up system powered by solar energy. According to Björn Potgieter of SolarConnect, this would cost around R120,000, or R49,500 for a basic back-up that excludes the stove, geysers, and air conditioning.
Aside from the cost, another concern regarding solar energy is the reliability. Angus Fleming, Director of Sustainable Building Solutions, recommends that any solar-powered system include a battery storage unit, which will provide power at night, and in poor weather conditions. The flipside is that battery systems usually need to be replaced every five years, thereby adding to the cost.
However, if the purpose of your solar-powered system is to function as a back-up, rather than replace the grid entirely, it’s a different story. According to Angus, a basic solar system, consisting of panels and an inverter, would be adequate to fulfill that function, and could be implemented for an estimated cost of around R30 000. He adds that “if you know when load shedding is taking place and you can plan for it, you only need a system capable of running for four hours at a time.”
Should you DIY a solar-powered system?
Attempting this is not recommended, as installing a solar-powered system is not a simple endeavour. According to Grahame Cruickshanks, managing executive for market engagement at Green Building Council South Africa (GBCSA): “In order to get the best performance and pay-back period it is important to ensure that a solar system for energy or water, as an example, is correctly sized, specified and installed”. Those who are not familiar with such criteria should rather enlist the services of a professional; and seek the advice of ooba home loans on the potential impact of any renovations you may need to undertake.
Bottled LPG gas is an affordable option, and relatively simple to implement. There are also gas generators available on the market now, which according to Angus, are “relatively cheap and cost-effective to run, as well as being far quieter than a diesel generator and with none of the fumes”.
A gas-powered geyser will go a long way toward freeing you from dependence on the grid. Geysers usually consume about 60% of household electricity, and as such, are the first port of call for homeowners seeking to improve energy efficiency. Gas-powered stoves are another helpful and affordable addition, making it possible for you to cook food and boil water without fear of Eskom interference.
The go-to option for restaurants and shopping centres that intend to remain open during loadshedding, although homeowners may be put off by the high cost of implementation.That said, a relatively low-end battery system can be implemented for around R15 000, according to the Western Cape’s guideline. This would be enough to generate 1 000 Watt (10.5A) continuously and 1.2 kWh energy (to put that in perspective, a TV and a decoder use about 30W when off, and 150W whilst activated).
A high-end battery system, generating enough power to keep large houses fully operational during loadshedding, would cost an estimated R50,000 (excluding installation); and there are mid-range options that attempt to balance power requirements and cost.
The value of ‘getting off the grid’
Implementing some of the technologies mentioned here would not only benefit your electricity bill, but the value of your home as well. Energy-efficiency has become a buzzword for house hunters, and not just because of loadshedding; homeowners all around the world are trying to go green. So a home that is less dependent on the grid makes for a sound investment opportunity.
For more advice on buying or selling a home, and how the technologies mentioned above will affect your home’s value, you can contact ooba home loans, which is South Africa’s leading home loan comparison service. They offer a range of home loan calculators to help determine what you can afford. Start with ooba’s free, online prequalification tool, the ooba Bond Indicator. Then, when you’re ready, apply for a home loan.