OFF THE GRID
BY SHANDUKANI MULAUDZI because you are still using Eskom power to charge your batteries,” Smith says.
He adds that consumers can expect to pay about R7 000 for two batteries and an inverter. It is important to ensure that the battery back-up system you install initially is already configured to work with solar panels.
Smith says if a household wants to start small, one 250watt panel is enough to power basic appliances in a house for about four hours after receiving six hours of sunlight. This panel would cost an individual about R2 500. This means for load-shedding purposes a household can have a solar system that works for as little as R10 000.
Smith stresses however that geysers, stoves and fridges should not be put on the PV system as they use up too much electricity.
“You have to start off by changing your appliances and changing whatever you are using your electricity for. You have to switch to gas for your stoves, to solar heating for your geyser and to LED lighting rather than the fluorescent lights most people have,” Smith explains.
Getting off the grid completely, however, does not come cheap. “It can cost anything between R60 000 and R100 000 or more. It all depends on quality and what you want. It’s like the difference between getting a Rolls-Royce or a Volkswagen.”
Although getting off the grid is costly at first, in the end the consumer gains. The payback period on either a hybrid system (that uses the grid and switches to solar automatically) or an independent system can be anything between five to 10 years and sometimes more. Smith says what’s great is that at some point, people with PV systems will have free electricity. Another added bonus is, if you sell your house, the system is a value-add to the property.
Smith says solar panels can be adjusted for any type of roof, including thatch. “There are all sorts of fitting methods. For tile roofs, for thatch roofs, for metal roofs, all of that. We can put the panels on a chimney or on specific fixtures. And if you really can’t put it on the roof then we can put the panels on a stand next to the house,” he explains.
It is important to note that solar panels have a lifespan of at least 20 years and the maintenance costs are negligible. The batteries are the most expensive component, as they need to be replaced approximately every seven years.
The National Energy Regulator (Nersa) is currently working on having feeding energy back into the grid legalised. This would mean people with PV systems would be able to add excess energy into the national grid during the day and have it looped (returned) to them at night when the PV system is not working.
Charged by Eskom power when there is no load-shedding (so no cost saving on electricity bills). Can provide about 220 volts of power; enough to power basics like a television, phone charger and lights. Pick an option that can be converted to solar panels as a feedstock. After six hours of sunlight, it should provide sufficient energy to power household essentials (this exclude stoves, geysers, fridges etc.) for about four hours.
Hybrid systems that allow solar and grid electricity usage, to systems that allow for complete independence from Eskom. Payback periods estimated from five to 10 years and longer, depending on the system you choose.