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Load shedding: The dark side of going off-grid

There are pros and cons to going off-grid. Picture: George Becker/Pexels

There are pros and cons to going off-grid. Picture: George Becker/Pexels

Published Jul 27, 2023

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Easing the effects of load shedding and cutting your electricity costs does not need to involve a complete divorce from Eskom.

There are interventions that can see you going partially off-grid, and these are more suitable for most households.

To be completely off-grid means that you are self-sufficient and easing the load on the national grid, but this comes at a cost. Homeowners should also be aware of the risks of not having back-up power available when they are off-grid, says Christiaan Hattingh, managing director of AWPower.

A completely off-grid system is two to three times more expensive than a partially off-grid one due to the need to oversize for bad weather months. Continuous bad weather could see you being without power if you do not have a generator or enough solar panels.

“Partially off-grid should be the route that most people should consider due to the costs. This will also satisfy most people's needs.”

Being completely off-grid should, ideally, be thought about at the design stage of building a home to make sure the passive elements drive energy efficiency as well as allowance for the storage space, says Georgina Smit, technical head at the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA).

“A homeowner must make sure their home, their appliances, and behaviour are all very efficient, and then start to look at gathering energy via rooftop solar and, if the site allows, micro-hydro.

Shining a light on solar power

In addition to having a more stable power supply, Hattingh says the moment people consider solar power, they become more energy conscious, which is a plus.

“Solar systems mostly have built-in features to measure and record consumption and show it in an app or on your computer. Once these systems are installed and you see how much electricity you consume, it becomes part of your lifestyle.

“One example of this is that, in a household, a dishwasher that used to run during the evening now runs during the sun hours.”

He notes that the most important installations that people ask for are those that allow them to not only run their essentials during load shedding, but also provide daily savings.

Smit adds: “From the GBCSA’s perspective, our national grid is a really important part of our energy economy as we require it to store and move energy. Our energy transition needs to include better integration between our national grid and small-scale embedded generation.”

The GBCSA is seeing “a significant increase in interest” from the residential property sector with regards to greening.

“This spans several off-the-grid features such as looking at water recycling and increasing veggie gardens for food. There is also a demand for residential developments to include community facilities that can be shared and create spaces for enjoyment and that are well located near opportunities and amenities.”