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Why would you consider going off the national electricity grid?

Originally published in the ESI Africa weekly newsletter on 2019/04/10– subscribe today

The reappearance of planned rotational loadshedding in March raised the question of how South Africans can go completely off the grid.

The apparent reasons motivating this transition include taking control of your power supply, wanting to reduce your energy carbon footprint, and the impact that every tariff increase has on your budget.

In an ideal situation, you’d be able to generate your electricity for your consumption to avoid power outages and constant price increases, and feed your excess energy to the grid.

Sounds fantastic! However, the drawback is the substantial initial upfront capital cost of installing and the subsequent maintenance of your chosen system, which will comprise of a renewable energy source (solar, wind, biomass, or hybrid unit), a battery storage unit, and inverters.

There are options to explore to cushion the financial blow such as equipment rental or lease agreement or a roof rental agreement. Also, for a single unit residential property, approaching a commercial bank is an option considering that the investment increases the property’s value.

Before taking the off-grid leap, ask yourself if you are prepared to be without power in the event of your system not functioning and you being solely responsible for fixing the problem.

It will be essential to change your energy demand profile, convert power intensive appliances to be energy efficient, and invest in a suitable backup generator to tide you over.

Be aware that your battery storage unit has a lifespan, which can be managed by not discharging the batteries too far—almost impossible if you require power supply after the sun has set.

If you are adamant to ultimately part ways with the national grid, it’s important to know the limitations of each technology since you will in effect be operating a microcosmic network. Research, ask questions, and above all, be prepared for a change of lifestyle.

I recommend that you attend the upcoming African Utility Week and POWERGEN Africa conference and exhibition taking place on 14-16 May in Cape Town at the CTICC where solution providers are ready to answer your questions.

For those who are committed to grid-tied electricity, the conference is also addressing recommendations to map out the energy future for South Africa through the IRP and other policy guidelines. The event attracts the best of Africa’s energy market to present solutions and opportunities for progress.