Glenwood guru tells how to live off the grid

By Duncan Guy Time of article published Dec 18, 2019

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Durban - If Stage 6 blackouts became more regular, it would be difficult to charge even batteries off Eskom power.

This is according to Glenwood off-the-grid guru, Graham Robjant, whose phone and doorbell keep ringing as people seek advice, bring out inverters that have gathered cobwebs in their cupboards and need repairing, as well as motherboards that have not survived power surges.

He said that while no one knew what to expect next from Eskom, it wasn’t necessary to invest in solar equipment in order to ride the storm.

“The best you can do is go and get yourself a decent battery; go and buy some LED lighting,” said Robjant, also throwing in the idea that small chargers for cellphones would also be useful.

“Don’t worry too much about the TV and the fancy stuff you’ve got in your lounge, although a lot of people can’t live without their TV sets.”

He said communications and outside lighting should be seen as priorities. When it comes to inverters, which are required to run devices off wall plugs, Robjant advised against bargains, and suggested paying a little extra on a device from a reputable outlet.

“A lot of people end up buying a little box with a label that says ‘100 Watt Sine Wave Inversion’ but they are not that.

“They are modified sine inverters and if they handle 200, 300 Watts, you’re lucky.

“A lot of equipment doesn’t like to run on a modified sine wave inverter.

“Fans will rattle themselves to pieces. Refrigerator compressors will eventually burn out. Some LED lighting will not work on a modified sound wave but a TV will work okay.”

Then there are the damaged motherboards that people brought to Robjant to repair.

“The problem for them has not been when the lights go off. It’s when they go back on. The power surges to about 300 Volts. Sub-stations have to compensate thousands of amps of current. They were not designed as a big switch, which they are being used for now. They were built 40 years ago, before load shedding.”

Robjant decided to go off the grid when he used an R80000 inheritance to put up solar panels because he liked the idea of independence.

“I saw these troubles coming 12 years ago.”

He also harvests every drop of rainwater that falls on his roof.

The 5000-litre tank they feed fills up in 20 minutes of good rain.

“That’s how much water is wasted (when it not harvested).”

Robjant said it was even more important to harvest one’s own water than to produce one’s own power.

“You can live without electricity, but you cannot live without water.”

The tank’s overflow goes into a bath that accommodates Robjant’s latest venture: raising tilapia, a freshwater fish.

Dotted about his garden are devices with sensors that pick up when the soil dries and when his vegetables and herbs need water. The sensors then trigger an irrigation switch.

He compared his system with sprinkler systems on automatic timers which often irrigated away, even in pouring rain.

His latest acquisition is a traditional “donkey” boiler, which, powered by a wood fire, will heat his shower water.

His next step is to try to find ways of producing biogas from vegetable waste.

He looks forward to the day homes like his own could be able to feed power back into the grid.

Robjant credits his days in the army with developing his self-sufficiency instinct.

“It taught us not to waste and to survive in bad situations,” he said.

“Today’s schoolkids need to do courses in useful things like how to change a tyre, how to change a washer ”

He said the joy of being an electronics technician was that when he dreamt of something, he could build it instead of looking for it at a shop.

And if prolonged Eskom woes have devastating effects, he can always have fish and chips for supper.

“There are tilapia in the tank and potatoes in the garden,” he joked.

Robjant is always willing to offer free advice and information and has his own podcast. Catch it here

The Independent on Saturday

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