Eskom has hogged its share of the news headlines lately – and for no good reasons whatsoever. The constant on-and-off threat of load-shedding, total destruction of our economy, the wasted money and the theft – over R139 billion related to Medupi / Kusile / Ingula contractors. When combined with state capture losses, we’re looking at what investigators refer to as an ‘orgy of looting’ – over R500 billion pillaged over the last couple of years.
Then there was the little thing about Eskom wanting to fire all of its skilled white staff – and then Eskom vehemently denying that it wants to fire all of its skilled white staff.
Then there was talk of Ramaphosa’s plans to split Eskom into three different parts. And now, as we covered in Part One of this article – Eskom has finally been granted three consecutive years of tariff increases, amounting to a total hike of over 25%.
So, not only is electricity about to become much, much more expensive, but we’d also like a continuous, reliable supply of it, thank you very much. Eskom can’t help us with that.
Let’s take a look at how to take your home or business off Eskom’s grid, and how much it’s going to cost.
It makes pure economic sense to move away from Eskom’s hapless grid. Not only is Eskom expensive, unreliable and doomed – no matter how much money we waste trying to save it – it’s also just plain bad for the environment.
As technology advances, we’ve begun to see more and more people moving their properties over to solar energy. Solar panels not only heat your geysers and run your homes, but enhance appeal, increase desirability and up the property value. The world needs to go green, and for the most part, your average working-class person is on board.
The only main deterrent in going green is the initial cost to set it all up, and the time it would take for your new investment to pay for itself. So, some of you may opt for an easier route, which involves changing your behaviour in order to reduce your electricity consumption.
• You can lower the thermostat on your geyser, switch it off when you’re not home and take shorter showers. Keep it to just two minutes.
• You could set your washing machine to use cold water, throw out the tumble-dryer completely and only iron what you absolutely have to.
• If you have a pool, those pumps are electricity-guzzlers, and you’ll want to reduce the time that they’re running.
These are your no-excuse, no-cost methods of saving on electricity. But of course, you’re still at the mercy of Eskom and there are so many more ways to save money in the long-run. For instance, you could:
• Replace all your incandescent light bulbs with energy-saver LEDs. Install motion sensor lights where possible – especially for outdoor security – so that you don’t have lights running all the time.
• Install a geyser timer that switches off during the day, and use a low-flow shower head to reduce the amount of water you use.
• Instead of using a heater to heat up the entire room, use electric blankets, or better yet – hot water bottles – to warm yourself up.
Again, these options are great to save a little bit of money, but you’re still at the mercy of Eskom. At some point you’ll have to kit your entire home out with surge protector plugs.
In order to shake that ugly spectre off for good, you’ll have to think bigger, and more expensive.
In order to rid yourself of Eskom’s miserable, sad, endlessly-disappointing existence, you’ll have to be ready to invest a substantial amount of money. Going off grid costs a lot of money upfront, but this system will pay for itself over time, lower your utility costs, increase the value of your property and create a much healthier environment.
In order to get the best performance, you’ll have to ensure that your solar system for energy or water is the correct size and perfectly installed. You need to be familiar with these things, and if you aren’t, it’s far better to get help from a professional.
Some of the smartest investments include:
• A solar water heater;
• A heat pump, for hot water;
• Closed-combustion wood stoves or fire places;
• Gas stoves (R400 – R600);
• A cellular phone car charger, solar charger or power bank (around R300);
• Proper ceiling insulation;
• A variable-speed pool pump;
• Energy-efficient appliances.
It’s not easy, going off grid, if you’re planning on maintaining your lifestyle or living in civilization. It takes dedication, adjustment, mindfulness, and the money to throw around in the beginning.
One option is to invest in a battery system, which could keep all of your electrical systems running for hours on end during blackouts, but this could work out incredibly expensive.
You need the battery itself, which stores the electrical power. You need the inverter, which converts DC battery power into usable AC power during power-outages – and if you’re connecting it to the grid, you have to be registered with the municipality. Then, finally, you need the battery charger, which charges the rechargeable batteries from the AC main power.
This system can cost you anything between R15 000 and R50 000 – and then you’re still not quite off-the-grid, are you? No you’re not.
If you’re going to be laying out a ton of money, it’s far better to invest in a solar / battery system.
One or two small solar panels and a 10-20 W battery could cost you up to R5000 – and this is capable of running a couple of lights. A larger solar panel and a 120W battery will cost up to R16 000 – and will run a handful of lights, or a television, or a fridge. If you’re looking at something bigger, a 3kW solar PV system, including batteries, could power up to 305W and will cost over R50 000.
With that, you’ll be able to run a fridge, and a television, and a handful of lights.
So, as you can see, despite the dramatic decreases in price that solar power has seen over the last couple of years, it is still incredibly expensive – and you don’t get a whole lot of bang for your buck. The average home costs around R35 000 to heat. The complete solar PV (photovoltaic) system costs upwards of R80 000. The ICON Home Energy Hub costs between R100 000 and R180 000.
We haven’t even gotten to the cost of maintenance yet, or the cost of replacing the cells every couple of years.
If you’re planning on going entirely off-grid, it may take over a decade for that investment to pay for itself. It’s certainly worth looking at, but for now, most people will have to grin and bear it.