Eskom struggling? Help them, help yourself!

Over the past few months there has been news story after news story of Eskom struggling with:

  • Strikes:
  • Leadership:
  • Finances:
  • Keeping the lights on:
  • Keeping the country happy:
  • Not killing people!:

I’m not going to get into the politics of it all, but needless to say, it might be a good time to start helping yourself and Eskom by producing your own power? So what can you use to go off grid?

What are the options?

Back during the last big series of load-shedding in SA in 2006, lots of people bought small diesel or petrol generators, in an attempt to keep the lights on in their home or business. These are pretty handy for load shedding, but are pretty awful when it comes to cutting costs or being reliable. They are too expensive to run all the time, and so you only use them when you need them – and in the mean time they break down — so they often don’t work when you need them!

Solar is the sexy, new alternative to generators it seems. Everyone and his dog is selling solar-power (Photovoltaic’s to the nerds amongst us!) to anyone who has money to burn. You’ll hear so many tales of people in Germany and Britain using Solar PV and how great it is, but unfortunately the subsidies just aren’t the same in South Africa. In the UK, the subsidy meant that people were being paid almost R8/kwh… just for installing the panels, regardless of whether they actually used the power. We’ve written before about going off-grid with Solar before. Basically, at least from our latest calculations, it seems you’ll struggle to get 4-5% back on your investment in solar-PV…. but I hope to update the calculations soon!. Our rule of thumb is always reduce your usage before you invest – and focus on heating things first.

Wind is Solar-power’s ugly nephew, it has much less of a fancy reputation, but in the right places it can produce more energy for less money. The bad thing about wind is that there is very little warning about when or where it will be windy, unlike solar which is largely reliable (i.e. we know the sun is coming out tomorrow, we just don’t know how strong!). However, unlike Solar the wind CAN blow at night, in summer and winter in equal measure etc. So it is ‘unreliable’ in one respect, but it’s also more consistent in another. Unfortunately, because of this and many other reasons (noise, local objections, what they look like), wind really struggles to get the same attention. I need to update my figures, but as far as I understand it, wind can be cheaper and better than solar, in the right places… but more about that later.

Gas – the alternative that often isn’t put in the same bucket, but why not? Basically, using a gas braai to cook on, and a gas geyser to shower with will massively reduce your electricity usage. We reckon about 50-80% of electricity in a home is used heating up things (particularly water, but also food, and just the space around you). If you can pass that job on to gas, then you really reduce what you need to get from either Eskom or the other options above. We’ll work out the figures in the next couple of weeks and let you know whether it’s more expensive than electricity or not, as right now I’ve heard people say both ways! Don’t worry, as always at Homebug, we’ll do the maths for you!

There’s loads of better people to talk to about all the details of going completely off-grid – just google it for yourself! Here’s a couple of examples:

Let us know if you know of any good sources of making the off-grid vision a reality and I’ll add them to the list!


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