Going 50% off-grid may be the answer

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

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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.”

“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.

Energy transformation

Meanwhile, energy transformation means the time is right for policymakers to reappraise their approach to energy access, according to a new report from PwC. On current trends, two-thirds of the world’s population will remain without electricity by 2030, which is the target year to achieve the newly agreed post-2015 UN Sustainable Development Goal of universal access to energy. The PwC report - Electricity beyond the grid: accelerating access to sustainable power for all - says a new approach is needed that better recognises the part that off-grid technology can play.

John Gibbs, Africa Deals Power & Utility Lead, PwC, said: “For the millions of people who don’t currently have access to electricity, the old assumption that they will have to wait for grid extensions is being turned on its head by new technological possibilities. 634 million people without electricity are in Africa. Faster progress is needed, and we believe it can be achieved if national energy policies adopt a more comprehensive approach to energy access, embracing the new starting points for energy provided by standalone renewable technology and mini-grids.”

Current electrification strategies tend to focus on national grid extension plans. Instead, Georg Baecker, senior manager and energy policy and regulation expert, PwC said: “Policymakers need to embrace the new renewable off-grid technologies and innovative business models. The combination of centralised top-down grid extension with decentralised demand-driven bottom-up strategies, in the form of mini grids and especially standalone solutions, will speed up the increase in electrification levels.”

The report foresees a major transformation of the electricity sector in the period ahead. Angeli Hoekstra, Power & Utility Specialist for PwC Africa, pointed out: “‘All or nothing’ approaches that focus primarily on the national grid are increasingly out of step to what is now possible in power technology. Advances in technology are rapidly changing the options available beyond the grid. Falling solar technology costs have spurred the growth of standalone home systems and are changing the economics of mini-grid systems. Battery storage technology is fast evolving to the point where it is going to play a significant role in utility-scale solar power storage and is beginning to feature in smaller-scale off-grid solutions. Together with access to mobile technology and mobile payment systems for microloans, a new era has arrived for beyond the grid electrification.”

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