CityPress - - Business -

The pri­vati­sa­tion of power in South Africa’s sub­ur­ban homes has started. Faced with con­stant load shed­ding and a state util­ity in cri­sis, a power revo­lu­tion is start­ing to take shape among South Africa’s mid­dle classes.

Even with­out the bur­den of load shed­ding, Eskom’s latest plans will leave many house­holds think­ing of ways to pri­va­tise their energy sup­plies. Eskom is ask­ing for a tar­iff hike of 25.3% from July 1, dou­ble the ini­tial ex­pected in­crease. The state util­ity will ask the Na­tional Energy Reg­u­la­tor of SA to process a new ap­pli­ca­tion.

Al­ready, Johannesburg sub­urb Parkhurst has con­tracted energy com­pa­nies to get 2 000 homes in the sub­urb to gen­er­ate their own – mostly so­lar – power. And in Pre­to­ria, a new clus­ter de­vel­op­ment in Waterk­loof called Green­hill is us­ing free­dom from Eskom – with beau­ti­ful so­lar roofs – as a unique selling point.

Inus Dreck­meyr, whose busi­ness ad­vises and sup­plies lo­cal busi­nesses with prod­ucts, said re­li­a­bil­ity of power sup­ply was the main rea­son peo­ple were con­tem­plat­ing go­ing off the grid.

“I’m talk­ing to a lot of nor­mal sub­ur­ban house­holds. They want so­lu­tions. They want to know how they can rid them­selves of Eskom,” Dreck­meyr said.

“It is not only about go­ing off the grid and liv­ing a greener life for most of my cus­tomers; it is to lessen the grip Eskom has on how re­li­able your power sup­ply is,” he said. “But the cost of such a pro­ject makes peo­ple think twice.”

While so­lar pan­els are de­creas­ing in cost ev­ery year, it is the cost of energy stor­age that still rep­re­sents a ma­jor in­vest­ment to start pow­er­ing up your home.

US-based tech su­per­star Elon Musk’s latest gizmo, the Pow­er­wall, has taken the first steps to help­ing sub­ur­ban house­holds be­come self­suf­fi­cient. Launched by Musk’s com­pany Tesla ear­lier this year, the bat­tery can hold enough energy to power a home for up to five hours. The pri­mary mar­ket for the Pow­er­wall is house­holds with so­lar pan­els, or those plan­ning to in­stall them.

Fu­tur­ists have hailed the bat­tery as an af­ford­able way to store energy gen­er­ated by re­new­able power sources, but the Pow­er­wall still comes at a high price for most South Africans.

The stan­dard model has a ca­pac­ity of 7 kilo­watt-hours. A nor­mal mid­dle class South African house­hold con­sumes be­tween 20kWh and 30kWh a day, thus a house­hold would need two Pow­er­walls to be to­tally off the grid for an en­tire day.

The cheap­est Pow­er­wall was launched at a price of $3 000 (around R36 000, ex­clud­ing im­port taxes) and will only be avail­able by the end of next year. The com­pany has re­ceived a flood of or­ders, re­port­edly also from South African dis­trib­u­tors.

This week, Bloomberg quoted JB Straubel, Tesla Mo­tors’ chief tech­ni­cal of­fi­cer and co­founder, as say­ing that South Africa could be a huge mar­ket for bat­tery stor­age be­cause of con­sis­tent power black­outs in the coun­try.

But in all like­li­hood, South Africa would only see a Pow­er­wall in 2017 – and then only if you are lucky enough to se­cure an or­der.

In the mean­time, some South African com­pa­nies have a sim­i­lar prod­uct on of­fer. South African tech com­pany Free­dom Won is us­ing much the same tech­nol­ogy as Tesla to man­u­fac­ture their 10kWh model, the Free­domCOR.

The Free­domCOR costs R59 000. The bat­ter­ies can serve for up to 20 years with no main­te­nance, which means the en­tire in­stal­la­tion should pro­vide 20 years of cost-free op­er­a­tion.

Free­dom Won owner Antony English said that for an off-grid so­lu­tion you would need a so­lar panel ar­ray on the roof, along with a charge con­troller to charge the bat­tery dur­ing the day. The bat­tery would then run the house at night.

He said that for an av­er­age three-bed­room house to run off the grid, the so­lu­tion would cost about R300 000.

“Com­pared with the ex­pected in­creas­ing costs of util­ity energy, a Free­dom Won bat­tery with so­lar energy will, if fi­nanced in a 20-year home loan, cost less a month af­ter year five than Eskom power, and will pro­vide huge sav­ings over the life of the sys­tem,” he said.

English said the up­take had been ex­cel­lent. “We ex­pect our or­der to­tal to reach 100 units by Au­gust.”

At the mo­ment, con­sul­tants such as Dreck­meyr use the more tra­di­tional-tech­nol­ogy bat­ter­ies, which he said worked well with South Africa’s un­re­li­able grid. He said he would not ad­vise house­holds to aban­don Eskom com­pletely.

“You can rig your house to sup­ply 95% of its own energy,” he said. “But it might rain for a few days or you might have the fam­ily for a visit for a few days.

Then your in­stalled ca­pac­ity would not be enough and you can switch back to Eskom.”

All of this might seem pricey, but in the big­ger scheme of things, the eco­nom­ics start to make sense. A nor­mal mid­dle class home would need about 12 250W pho­to­voltaic so­lar pan­els, which re­tail for about R3 500. Plus, of course, the bat­ter­ies, in­verter and other switchgear. An­a­lysts say this sys­tem could pro­duce elec­tric­ity at 84c per kilo­watt-hour by the end of this year.

A unit of Eskom elec­tric­ity is hov­er­ing at about R2 per kilo­watt-hour.

And with a 25% hike in the pipeline, a so­lar power retro­fit might not be a bad in­vest­ment.

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