Alternative energy means different things to different people. For some it's a question of putting less strain on natural resources, while others see it as a way to save money in the long run. This means there isn't a one-fits-all package you can use, because the home you live in, the typical weather circumstances and several other elements need to be taken into consideration. The following three options in this article look at your options if you want to get completely off the power grid, or if you want to make a gradual transformation. However, keep in mind that this shouldn't just be a physical transformation. If you want to successfully become independent from Eskom you'll need to make it work. In other words, becoming more attuned to how much electricity you use and when you use it.
The Off-Grid Option
Starting with the most alluring option, the off-grid option is perfect for remote homes or homes that simply want to be completely independent from Eskom. This option can be erected as a standalone structure beside the house, which has it share of benefits, or it can be implemented on the roof. For a relatively big house you are going to need about 24 panels, an inverter kit and a battery bank. If we break down the average cost you're looking at:
- Solar Panels: R91 000.00
- Inverter Kit: R36 000.00
- Battery Bank: R72 000.00
- Installation: R34 000.00
This is a rough estimation, so the prices are subject to change depending on your needs and the installation company you use. All in all it comes to about R233 000.00, which sounds a bit much at first glance. But it's important to think long-term, because if you do the math you'll be saving a substantial amount while maintaining your own power system. For example, with this estimation you'll pay around R1.30 per kWh over a period of 20 years, whereas Eskom currently charges around R1.40 per kWh. Also keep in mind that the price you pay isn't going to escalate.
When it comes to retrofitting on existing installations, you might want to look at a grid tied system. It basically means that you tie the solar energy into the power grid, and instead of saving energy within a battery bank, it gives energy back to the power grid. This option is also knows as the money saver, because it doesn't cost as much as getting completely off the grid, but you are decreasing your electricity bill.
High power devices aren't typically connected and the main purpose is to provide power during blackouts. The most attractive part of this option is that it actually turns back the meter and makes grid power more affordable. However, without the battery bank in place the amount of power won't be as consistent.
A hybrid system is basically a step up from the grid tied, because you'll still be able to use electricity from the grid, but you also have a battery bank in place along with a diesel or electrical (air driven) generator. Now you'll be cutting utility costs, but you'll also ensure you'll always have power despite the weather or the condition of the power grid. Obviously you'll be saving a lot more than with the typical grid tied system, but it's going to cost a little more to implement.
With the hybrid system in place you truly have the best of both worlds and you'll have three different sources of energy. However, it's still not a completely off-the-grid solution like the first option mentioned earlier.
When installing any of the above mentioned options you want to consider every aspect. What does your budget allow and what exactly do you want to achieve? Not everyone is in a position to become completely independent, although it's definitely something to aspire to. Speak to a professional in your area and find out how you can either beat or join the power grid.