Property Flash


June 11 2023

Rolling blackouts are causing chaos in South Africans’ lives as we are unable to function properly. Living without reliable access to electricity is primitive. We need electricity to be able to feed ourselves and our children. Many jobs require constant access to the Internet. This critical need for reliable electricity distribution means people across the country are trying to ease their dependence on Eskom. But choosing an alternative solution is overwhelming. The question many of us are asking is: Can I take my house off the grid and how?

It is possible to do this, Jarred Lake, director at Imagineering Energy says, but it can be very costly and take a lot of time to achieve.

There are technologies, some of which are relatively expensive for the ordinary South African, that can be used to reduce reliance on the national power grid. These include backup batteries, inverters, generators, and the currently very alluring solar panel systems. But none of them are perfect and while some may be more effective at keeping your lights on, they also come at great expense to our environment.

“There are many standardised approaches with how to deal energy and how we reduce our carbon footprint. We need to change how we think and live as we look to be more self-reliant,” Lake says.

“The biggest challenge I find around energy management in SA is that people don’t want to change their thinking. Saving electricity is a lot more cost-effective than adding electricity is. Building solar panels and batteries, for example, requires a lot of carbon. So whatever technological products you choose to use, it’s a good idea to practise good behaviours around your energy management,” he says.  

In the past, South Africans had electricity on tap. It was supplied as an almost unlimited resource at a very low cost for most people. But things have changed and as a resource gets limited, our approach must change.

Each of us should make a commitment to making an impact, not doing what is easiest.

It is a good start to provide for what is essential to you during loadshedding; be it the stove you cook on, boiling water, warming up a bottle for a baby and so on.

Lake encourages the use of an electricity monitor or tracker which helps to inform energy decisions.

“In this way, we can all manage our energy use more responsibly,” he says.

However, the ever-popular solar panel systems can have a place in a person’s energy plan and this tech is becoming easier on your wallet.    

The case for solar technology is strong in countries which receive large amounts of sunlight throughout the year. Greece enjoys more than 250 days of sunshine or 3000 sunny hours a year and has been kitted out with solar panels and systems for decades already. South Africa compares favourably averaging more than 2 500 hours of sunshine per year.

So, how then does an ordinary South African set up a solar energy system in their home? Generally, only the upper middle classes and beyond have the funds to install solar technology in their home. It requires a large capital outlay to import solar panels and skilled labour to place them on your roof.

Around R50,000 will get you a basic system with no batteries that reduces your daytime grid usage and helps during daytime power cuts. But to ensure uninterrupted power off the grid, day, and night, you need battery storage. One could spend R200,000 or more on an all-inclusive system that removes their reliance on the electricity grid completely.

SA’s electricity supply woes will be around for some time to come and having a solar power system in place when you sell a home will make it more attractive to buyers.

But given that the average household consumes about 30kWh of electricity per day, or roughly R3,500 per month, it’s a hard sell to for most South Africans to lay out a complete solar energy system.

Lucky then that our blackouts are becoming more severe as in just the past few years, a bunch of solar energy companies entered the market offering creative affordable solutions.

Some let consumers pay off their panels, which is being supported by more and more banks. It’s possible to get solar panel setups as part of a home loan or other finance. The likes of retail group, Massmart launched a solar funding scheme a couple of months back, offering loans of up to R250 000 for South Africans looking to install solar. The loans are structured in partnership with Retail Credit Solutions (RCS).

And then an arguably more dynamic approach to making solar affordable is the subscription model offered by innovator, Go Solr.

The company which launched in Cape Town in 2021 and then entered Johannesburg in 2022, is soaring.

Co-founder and CEO, Andrew Middleton says solar need not be inaccessible in South Africa anymore.

“When we started two years ago, it was a luxury product. Solar lacked scale and we set out to solve this problem,” he says.

Gosolr has built scale rapidly in response.

If you don’t want to rent to own your system or place more debt in your home loan, just subscribe.

The process involves signing up online. In this process you provide details of your home and, if you pass the credit checks, Gosolr will source installers and the tailormade solution for you based on a suite of four products.

You can also contact their contact centre and they will send a technician for site visit if you are not sure of how much power and panels you need.

Each customer will receive the medium, large, or extra-large, i.e.: the 5kw, 8kw, or 12kw setup. Medium users who typically spend R1500 plus on electricity would spend R1740 per month on their subscription. The large subscription is for people who spend R3000 plus on electricity monthly and costs R2900 for a monthly subscription. Extra-large users spend on average more than R5000 per month on electricity with their subscription costing R4400. The first month is payable upfront and each customer pays an initial administration fee.

Each of the setups includes battery storage. Extra batteries and panels can be added if customers want a more complex system, and their subscription is adjusted accordingly.

Going back to Lake however, he tells us to remember that whichever tools we use to manage our energy use, it’s responsible not to waste energy wherever we can. Our planet has a climate change problem and easing our carbon emissions is essential.

“South Africans haven’t grown up to be energy use aware as much as people have in several other countries for a variety of reasons. But we can start by Googling to learn how to be efficient. Buy some battery backup globes from Takealot. Get a mini-UPS for Internet usage, gas for cooking and an energy monitor. Then you know when you are wasting energy,” he says.

“We should be doing this not just because of government failure but because this is the reasonable way to live,” Lake says.

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