Many people are looking for backup power solutions for their homes and businesses to see them through unpredictable and productivity-killing Eskom load shedding and are also fed up with the rocketing costs of electricity that Eskom cannot reliably or affordably supply, says Teresa Settas of the One Energy Group, an off-grid energy specialist.
“The parlous state of municipalities should also be of great concern, with collapsing infrastructure, non-existent service delivery and rampant cable theft that leaves you without power for extended periods of time, compromising your productivity, safety, security, income and quality of life,” said Settas.
It’s crucial to consider where the country’s energy future is headed, and what this means for your home and business, she said.
“Any money spent on an unsuitable backup solution today detracts from your ultimate objective of grid independence and self-sufficiency. Don’t be lured into the many cheap ‘plug and play’ solutions being punted on the market by drop-and-go shippers who offer no back-up or support in-country, and even less in terms of warranties on their products.”
Start with a scalable, quality solar PV hybrid solution that takes care of your immediate needs for backup power during load shedding and power failures and allows you to scale up in future to self-generation by adding solar panels and additional batteries if needed, said Settas.
While you can start initially with your hybrid system configured as a backup solution – inverter and battery only – as budget allows, you will be able to expand with solar panels to generate your own power, providing back-up and saving you a fortune in electricity costs.
Settas noted that not all inverters offer this scalable functionality.
How you start your journey to greater grid-independence step-by-step
- Step 1: Convert your electric geyser to a solar geyser
An electric geyser accounts for 30-40% of your monthly electricity usage in a typical mid-income home, so this is the most crucial starting point to reducing your daily electricity load, which means you can also buy a smaller and more affordable PV solution.
A 200-litre solar geyser, fully installed is around R27,000. On a R2,500 electricity bill, you’ll save around R750 per month, amortising your outlay in just over three years without taking annual electricity cost increases into account.
- Step 2: Start with a hybrid inverter and li-ion battery solution that is expandable
As your budget allows, you can add solar panels and additional li-ion batteries to provide you with a full hybrid system for self-generation, electricity savings and battery-backup, said One Energy Group. For purposes of this illustrative exercise, it used a Sunsynk inverter configuration – however, there are also other quality hybrid inverter solutions available, it said.
“Don’t get duped into cheap inverters and outdated lead-acid battery technology and installations as these entry-level products simply don’t offer this scalability or reliability,” said Settas.
- 5kW Sunsynk inverter and 3,6kWh Batterich li-ion battery set up as a UPS config initially – this means it will provide back-up for your essential loads (which we split at your DB board) during load shedding and power outages only. Starting cost is around R71,000 including professional installation and all the required electrical protection and a COC.
- If you need a bigger inverter, then go for a Sunsynk 8kW Hybrid Inverter & 7.2kWh Batterich li-Ion battery. Set up as a UPS configuration initially. Expandable with solar panels and additional batteries. From R112,000.
- Sunsynk 5kW inverter with 7,2kWh Batterich li-ion batteries and a 2.7kW solar array. Starting cost is around R123k including professional installation and all the required electrical protection and COC. This is a full hybrid system that provides for self-generation (electricity savings) and battery back-up.
- Sunsynk 8kW Hybrid Inverter, 10.8kWh Batterich li-Ion battery & 4.5kW solar array. Full hybrid system for self-generation, electricity savings and battery back-up. From R185,000.
- Sunsynk 5kW hybrid inverter, 10.8kWh Batterich li-ion battery and 5.4kW solar array. Starting cost is R182k including professional installation and all the required electrical protection and COC.
- Sunsynk 8kW Hybrid Inverter, 14.4kWh Batterich li-Ion battery & 8.1kW solar array. Full hybrid system for self-generation, electricity savings and battery back-up. From R257,000.
With the advances in solar technology and pricing, you can hedge your electricity costs for the next 20-25 years and secure your supply at less than 50% of current prices that Eskom can supply it, by making savvy investment decisions today, said Settas.
“Avoid at all costs the cheap, quick fixes sold by fly-by-nights who promise you the world with a R10,000 inverter – if it were that easy and capable of taking you off the grid, everyone would have done it long ago.”
Settas said many unqualified fly-by-nights have popped up with even more questionable tech offerings and sub-standard installation quality.
These are just some of the important considerations that One Energy suggests you look at:
- The NRS-097 regulations specify which inverters are approved to be connected to the grid. When the NRS regulations are enforced nationally – a non-approved inverter will essentially be an illegal, non-compliant connection.
- Safety and Compliance is key – You’re connecting a rooftop electricity plant to your most valuable asset – your home or business – so you don’t want to get it wrong. Remember that a non-compliant system has significant implications for your insurance.
- Every component in your system needs to be compatible – not every inverter is compatible with every battery, not every inverter can be expanded with solar panels, and in fact even different makes of electricity meters can prove problematic.
- Do your homework – One Energy has been called out to assist on countless occasions where consumers have been left in the lurch by dodgy contractors who are no longer around to support their systems.
- Membership of a Professional Industry body – Check whether your provider is registered and a current member of professional industry bodies such as SAPVIA.
- Insurance – Do they have the requisite business insurance such as public and contractor’s liability and goods in transit cover to insure your goods while in storage and transit to your site?
- Product Quality and Certifications – Check that solar panels are compliant with IEC standards. Is your inverter compliant with NRS-097 regulations which define which inverters are approved to be legally connected to the grid? Is your solar geyser SABS-approved? Is your installation done according to SANS-standards? Will you receive a PV Greencard with your installation?
- Quality Management – Check whether your provider has a CRM system that records the detailed installation and service history of your system from day 1, which means consistent quality control, warranty management and business continuity for you.