Durban - Load shedding might continue for some time ahead but the lights will remain on at the Glenwood home of off-the-grid guru Graham Robjant.
“I have no regrets, living off the grid,” he told the Independent on Saturday. “It’s a good feeling knowing I can carry on my work the next day without having to watch the clock and see what time the electricity is going to go off.”
Robjant, whose home is known for its massive solar panels above the driveway, is a down-to-earth soul who is generous when it comes to offering advice. He’s grateful to people for helping him after his house burnt down three years ago. His insurers have since rebuilt it.
“I was left with a pair of baggies, one fridge and a Black Label beer,” he recalled.
“I’ve changed my outlook on the human race to a great extent. Before the fire, I was very naive. I didn’t have much good to say about anybody. After the fire, people I had never met in my life came through to help me out of a really bad situation with food, clothing, tools and money.”
Robjant warns that a worst-case load-shedding scenario would not only impact on electricity supply but also water and food. And he’s prepared for it, harvesting rain water and eating 40% from his garden, aiming for 100% by July.
His dogs keep monkeys away from mealies that are about to provide three healthy cobs per stalk. He has potatoes, sweet potatoes, butternuts and kale, not to mention healthy-looking basil and other herbs kept bug-free while being fed grey water that first passes through a charcoal filter. Surplus water from a rainwater tank ends up in a plastic swimming pool.
“I don’t keep it clear blue. There’s a bit of algae in it. But what’s wrong with a bit of algae ?”
Robjant said if he irrigated his vegetables with chlorinated water, they would die. If load shedding were to reach the point that power would go off for a solid week, there would be pandemonium, he said.
“Water pump stations, (petrol) filling stations all rely on electricity. After a day or two the batteries will go down.”
Cellphone towers and police radios are among the devices that require energy from batteries that need recharging.
“Everything runs on electricity and if you’re offline for a week the shops will be empty by the fourth day. There will be panic. No food. No fuel to fill vehicles. No delivery from the farms.”
He insists that he is not a “doomsday prepper” but he recalls that “we all said that load shedding would never come back”.
"Now, look what’s happened.”
While the last spate of load shedding saw Robjant flooded with inquiries from home owners , this time around it’s electricians who are constantly on the phone.
“They don’t have the expertise to calculate what the load is going to be. How many solar panels will be needed?”
“They are cut out for dealing with domestic problems around the house. When it comes to more technical problems, they turn to me.”
He said people who required electricity “twenty-four seven” needed to start looking at some kind of alternative energy, whether it’s simply a back-up system of batteries that are recharged on Eskom power, generators or using solar panels.
“When it comes to coffee bars, generators are best. Unfortunately, urns and kettles draw a lot of current and would require spending massive amounts on invertors and lots of batteries.
“But guys who work from home and don’t have a big demand for power, can invest in a decent invertor and a decent battery back-up system.
“They do not necessarily need to go for solar panels at this stage.”
Robjant said the cost of installing solar energy systems was prohibitive for many people in today’s cash-strapped times.
He shudders to think what it would have been like if the fire that razed his house to the ground had taken out the solar panels.
“If it weren’t for the roof, after five minutes or so, collapsing and the fire going straight up, I would have lost my solar panels. It would have cost me another R40 000 to replace. I don’t know what I would have done.”
Robjant’s last words are that, short-term, people should start adding non-perishable items to their shopping to see them through if load shedding gets worse. Long-term, it’s education that needs to change.
He believes schools should equip children with skills about things they need to survive, such as basic household electronics and other artisan-type skills.
Independent On Saturday