Popular Mechanics (South Africa)
ESCAPING THE GRIDLOCK
I read an article recently online about the true cost of going off-grid. I know, this topic seems to get discussed a lot in the Pop Mech letters pages, but I guess that’s because people, especially South Africans, are deeply interested in it.
Like you mentioned in one of your recent editor’s letters, we too recently invested in a small battery backup system to keep our fibre internet working during load-shedding, and the TV and Netflix running for entertainment’s sake. It’s nothing too fancy, but the large deep-cycle battery, along with the inverter, seem to be doing the job just fine. Well, for our current needs, of course.
The article I read discussed the cost of going entirely offgrid, should we as a country reach a stage where grid electricity becomes extremely unreliable. I guess that implies it’s only moderately unreliable right now. People’s opinions on this might differ, I’m sure, depending on the ways in which the rolling blackouts affect them.
The article seemed to discount the cheaper ‘subR10 000’ home solution, saying that it’s not viable in the long term. It went on to say, quoting an expert in the industry, that if you’re going the off-grid route, you should install a scaleable battery backup system and inverter in your house, at an initial cost of about R70 000. ‘Scaleable’ in a sense that you can add photovoltaic panels at a later stage (at a cost of about R45 000), and other components, if and when your budget allows.
I haven’t looked more deeply into the figures, so I can’t really comment, except to say that it all sounds really expensive. It’s clear to me that going this route would never be about ‘saving on electricity costs’ – paying those sorts of amounts will take decades to recoup. Going entirely off-grid is a lifestyle and convenience decision, creating a home bubble for yourself that makes you immune to the whims and woes of Eskom.
All I can say is, for the time being, our simple little battery backup system is getting us through reasonably unscathed. We can work from home, no matter if the power’s out or not, and we simply have to plan our lives a little more carefully, if load-shedding is going to fall over meal-prep time. If you’re in the same boat as us, perhaps a ‘sub-R10 000’ solution will see you through just fine too, at least for now.
I think I read that same article, Deon, and similar thoughts occurred to me. I would love to take our home entirely off the national grid. In fact I think I’ve had dreams about not being at the mercy of Eskom’s loadshedding schedule. But, for now, it’s not financially viable. I also have concerns about theft of PV panels… None of the articles I’ve read have ever really touched on this. Surely these panels, mounted on our roofs for all the world to see, are highly vulnerable to theft? I’d be interested to know if anyone else has insight into this concern.
– Mark, Editor