While Eskom struggles to provide electricity, a Durban family is producing enough solar power for their household and even more to sell to the eThekwini Municipality.
Jane Troughton said during the hot weather in the past two weeks, her Durban North house had generated plenty of electricity, to the extent that their system started to pump power back to the municipality’s networks.
“We need to sell this power so that I can get a return on my investment,” she said.
However, the municipality had told her that the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) prevented her from selling her electricity.
The municipality supports private power production, but it said its hands were tied as Nersa had strict regulations about power generation.
Troughton and her husband, Greg Courtney, said they entered into a trading agreement with the municipality two years ago, but they had not been able to sell electricity back to the city because of the regulations.
Troughton said her research had revealed that there were families in Richards Bay and Cape Town who were involved in pilot projects of selling green power to municipalities.
“Nersa don’t seem to be a problem there (Cape Town and Richards Bay). When are we going to see the power of purchase agreements coming into effect?” she asked.
Troughton and Courtney, who are eco-friendly lobbyists, said in 2013 they invested R180 000 to build an electricity manufacturing system, which is made up of solar panels, batteries and a “substation”.
Their system was still connected to the municipality’s electricity network because it would cost them R350 000 to build an independent system, which they could not afford.
They saved electricity by using appliances which consumed less power, and had a solar-powered geyser.
They had a “natural air conditioner” for the house, which operated with fresh air drawn into the house from the poolside area. Extraction fans on the roof sucked out stale air.
“Already a number of our friends have been inspired by our set-up,” said Troughton.
If more people produced their own power, it would ease pressure on Eskom.
“The municipality can buy electricity from private producers and distribute it to local households, while Eskom will be left to provide power to big industries,” she said.
The eThekwini Municipality’s chief electrical engineer, Leshan Moodliar, said the municipality had entered into trading deals with about 15 power-producing families and 10 companies over the past few years, but Nersa’s safety regulations had prevented it from implementing the deals.
He said the municipality needed to have enough technicians to deal with issues which might arise.
He said privately produced systems, if connected to the public network, could compromise the quality of the electricity and be dangerous if not regulated correctly.
However, the municipality had adopted renewable power production, he said.
“We have spent a great deal of time researching this internationally. Many countries have taken this approach and enjoyed great success.
“We have engaged with the Association of Municipal Electricity Undertakings, the South African Local Government Association, Nersa and many international counterparts,” said Moodliar.
Nersa spokeswoman Poppie Mahlangu said distribution of electricity was regulated by the Electricity Regulation Act of 2006.
“Eskom has always said it accepts other power producers,” she said.