Durban - Earlier this year, Jane Troughton and Greg Courtney embarked on an ambitious project to build a “Gorgeous Green House” in Durban North that would enable them to live in an eco-friendly environment, as far as possible off the grid.
They bought an old home and demolished it, taking care to reuse and recycle wherever possible. Their new home is being built to exacting green standards and is up to roof height.
But an exciting development is that they are planning not only to live off the grid, but to feed it too.
With their new house taking shape, they believe that it will be a property that will not only fulfil their dream of “living more gently on the planet”, but will also be an embedded generator.
Embedded generation is the term used for any electricity generating “plant” that is connected to the regional electricity distribution networks.
“Our solar energy system will be designed and set up to feed any excess energy we generate into the grid,” explains Jane.
So, how will this work?
“Once the municipality has the infrastructure in place (and we’ve signed off on all the paperwork known as Power Purchase Agreements), we will be able to export our excess electricity for profit.
“It also means that the set-up cost of our system is substantially reduced as we don’t need to invest in batteries to the same extent (approximately an R80 000 saving). This is because we have now decided not to be ‘off-grid’, that is not totally independent, but rather ‘grid-tied’ so we can also draw electricity if we have very protracted cloudy weather.
“We are to be part of a bi-directional metering pilot project. We need only invest in batteries to tide us overnight, and a bit extra in case of outages.”
The bigger picture is that significant growth in embedded generation (of all kinds: wind, bio-fuels etc) will contribute to a reduction of their dependence on “dirty” energy (Eskom coal in the case of South Africa), which is important for the environment.
It will also reduce the cost of energy which is currently predicted to increase 16 percent annually in South Africa.
Jane says embedded generation is fairly mainstream in Europe, North America and Australia.
In South Africa, the Western Cape is piloting six properties and Port Elizabeth a few more.
“We read recently in the press that 17 bidders have been selected by the government to produce 1 500 megawatts of renewable energy and more will follow,” says Jane. “This is good, but we have much catching up to do.”
Leshan Moodliar, senior engineer, electricity, pricing and marketing at eThekwini Municipality, says the municipality supports embedded generation.
“All customers should play their role in contributing to a green environment,” he says. “Like energy efficiency, embedded generation via renewable sources reduces the amount of coal burnt and helps reduce our carbon footprint.
“As electricity prices increase in the country, renewable alternate forms of energy production do become feasible. With our historically low energy prices, it is difficult for emerging renewable energy technologies to compete. The South African renewable energy market is developing steadily and as renewable energy technologies become cheaper with increasing demand, we know many more people will take up the option. As a result, we are gearing up, to cater for the uptake.”
He said the advantages of embedded generation were the reduction in carbon footprint and reduced reliance on the electricity grid, also helping with the current shortage of electricity. Disadvantages were the “large” capital outlay, and connectivity to the grid posed challenges to the municipality. It would only generate electricity during the day too.
Moodliar could not say what the remuneration would be for customers who went this route.
“Currently, the municipality is not ideally structured to remunerate renewable small scale embedded generation, as processes are designed to buy power from Eskom and supply customers. When a customer wants to generate electricity, power is now flowing in the reverse direction and it does pose a challenge to integrate to current systems.”
eThekwini Municipality’s Energy Office embarked on an energy efficiency drive with the establishment of the eThekwini Energy Office in February 2009 and this office has implemented the Shisa Solar Programme, one of its flagship projects, to make the most of Durban’s annual average of 300 sunny days.
Anyone interested in going the solar water heater route should visit the Shisa Solar website, shisasolar.org.za, to find out more
Jane says the biggest barrier is a financial one.
“It is extremely expensive to set up one’s own system. Rebates for installing solar geysers (only) are about R10 000 on a R28 000 investment through the Shisa programme. It would help if additional incentives such as rebates, tax credits and financing mechanisms were provided to customers over and above the Shisa programme.
“Offering our citizens a way to make money from excess energy generated is a logical way to mitigate the high initial outlay, will stimulate demand and hopefully drive prices down.
“Tariffs will need to be carefully considered. It is unlikely that we will be remunerated at the same rate/s that we pay for electricity, but if the differential is too great it will not be motivational.”
Trevor Wheeler, of renewable energy company – Solarsun Solutions – says costs of grid-tied systems vary according to the project, but can range from R40 000 for smaller systems to more than R100 000.
“The systems are designed for the individual’s electricity demands and are not sold as a kit, hence the wide price range,” he says.
“They are modular in design and you could start with a smaller system that would suit your budget requirements and then increase the system size when you choose to.”
Jane believes renewable energy is an important way forward in saving our planet.
“If you have the means now, this can be a huge contribution you could make and with all things that are correct and true and have integrity, as the law of abundance teaches us: ‘What you put out will be returned’.” - Daily News