Going 50% off-grid is better than 100%

South Africa is likely to see above inflation increases in electricity prices over the next eight years

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South Africa is likely to see above inflation increases in electricity prices over the next eight years, with some conservative estimates placing the rise in tariffs at between 6% and 8% year-on-year. This figure could be as high as 13% if carbon taxes are imposed, and even higher should the 300% increase over the past three years be any indication. This news is driving some consumers to seriously consider taking their homes completely off-grid.

This according to Cala van der Westhuizen, spokesperson for Energy Partners Home Solutions, who says that alternative energy solutions like home solar are becoming increasingly affordable, but powering a home completely from renewable sources is still prohibitively expensive. "To power a home 100% you'll need a large system to generate and store enough energy, especially during the winter when there is a lot less sunlight."

Van der Westhuizen notes however that smaller scale solutions could provide significantly more benefits than a fully off-grid option.

"A relatively small solar energy system is all that's needed to supply up to 50% of a standard-sized home's energy. A 3 kWp (kilowatt peak) system may supply 50% of the home's energy needs. On the other hand, making a home 100% grid-independent requires a system that is four or five times larger with large backup capacities as well. We've crunched the numbers here at Energy Partners Home Solutions and have found that costs increase sharply after 70% grid independence."

Achieving the optimal 60% to 70% electricity independence, according to Van der Westhuizen, starts with replacing some of the home's heaviest electricity users with more efficient solutions.

"When it comes to lighting, LEDs are great replacements for traditional downlights, as they save far more electricity in the long run. Geysers account for as much as half of the electricity bill in many households, with large unnecessary energy wastage. This can be mitigated by a highly efficient heat pump or, in certain cases, solar geysers. Even these simple, affordable solutions can make a big difference," he says.

Van der Westhuizen states that the next step is to install solar PV panels and a battery or inverter system. He notes that these are extremely effective in generating and storing energy.

"However, like all solar power systems, they rely on the sun. When there are long periods of sunshine, they can generate and store enough power to allow you plenty of freedom from the grid. Yet one cannot always rely on the sun doing its bit for your electricity generation. On stormy days or in the winter when we only get about one-third of the sunshine we receive in the summer, it is important to still have a connection to the grid."

"Energy Partners Home Solutions' integrated home energy systems is a full solution, designed to reduce a home's monthly electricity spend by around 70%. With a carefully planned and designed solution, the cost of the system's installation could easily be recovered in five years," he adds.

"Consumers should consider installing a renewable energy solution as soon as it is sensible to do so. A 60% to 70% reduction in energy consumption is not only the most cost effective option, but also easily achievable," concludes Van der Westhuizen.

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Issue 39