While Eskom has managed to stave off load shedding for a handful of days this week, experts are warning that South Africa will struggle with electricity provision for many more years given a myriad of problems at the utility, including shoddy maintenance.
For those too frustrated to deal with that kind of pain, off-grid home solutions won't come cheap – but they are no longer entirely beyond the reach of an upper-middle-class family either.
Business Insider South Africa approached various renewable energy solutions companies to see how much it would cost to go off the grid.
Prices vary depending on what your electricity usage is, but for standard four-person family home you could expect to pay around R200,000 – without taking government rebates into account.
According to Paul Lombard from energy solutions company Regenergy, a fundamental challenge to renewable energy has been the upfront costs. But these days, most companies offer monthly instalment plans to allow users to pay off the investment over anything up to 15 or even 25 years.
“Many customers feel that the pride and peace of mind of solar ‘pays for itself’ as soon as the system powers on, and they can remotely monitor and adjust their system on their smart phone app,” said Lombard.
As a rough guide, a 1 kilowatt (kW) solar array takes up about 8m2 of space on your roof. This can produce about 3-5 kilowatts hours of energy (kWh) per day depending on the angle and direction the panels face. Solar panels are typically installed facing north in South Africa, in order to maximise exposure to the sun’s rays.
You will need to replace today's panels every 25 to 40 years.
Key to going off the grid is a battery storage unit. Newer battery types have been able to push the limits to improve storage for longer periods as well as stand up to more recharges before running out of steam, two of the major problems with home installations to date.
“Lithium batteries need replacing every 8 to 10 years, especially in hotter parts of our country. Typical solar deep cycle batteries like lead, calcium or other AGM [absorbed glass mat] batteries only provide 1,500 to 2,500 recharges. These ‘old school’ batteries require replacing every 3 to 5 years,” said Lombard.
Batteries produce output power in direct current (DC) form, which can run at very low voltages but cannot be used to run most modern household appliances. Utility companies and generators produce sine wave alternating current (AC) power, which is used by most commonly available appliances today. Inverters take the DC power supplied by a storage battery bank and convert it to AC power.
You can expect your inverter and/or charge controller to have 10 to 15 years of operation.
Business Insider approached a wide array of the many providers of home solar systems in South Africa. Some said they were too busy to deal with vague enquiries, and others never responded.
Those who got back to us offered different types of hardware and services that affected their pricing. In addition, each home is slightly different, and every family have slightly different power requirements, all of which will influence the system they use.
Nonetheless, the three companies that gave us broad-stroke proposals give some idea of the range you can expect to pay to take a home off the grid right now: between R150,000 and R350,000.
Here's what each of the three companies quoted us.
2 person home using 15kWh/day - R152,000
4 person home using 25kWh/day - R270,600
5 person home using +35kWh/day – R359, 790
10kW (29 - 46kWh) average 4 bedroom home - R215,000
15kW (75kW) 5+ bedroom - R240, 000
10kW 2-4 bedroom home - R249,669 (excluding Vat)
15kW 5 + bedroom home - R349,669 (excluding Vat)
If you feel that a full off-the-grid solution is too much, there are also other options. Björn Potgieter of SolarConnect, says they can provide a grid back up system using solar electricity for R120,000 of for R49,500 a basic back up that excludes powering stove, geysers, air conditioning.
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