Getting off the grid - Part 1

Many South African businesses and residents suffer losses at worst and inconvenience at best due to unstable power supply from our national grid. This is the reason for people striving to get off the grid. Now what does it entail to get off the (power) grid and is it in fact desirable? You can guess – the answer is ‘it depends’.

Being totally self-sufficient and independent from the grid is peace of mind that your essential supplies are managed by yourself and you are not subject to annual tariff increases. The very fact that your supplies are managed by yourself, however, means that you will indeed have to manage your supply and consumption very carefully every day. Giving up your utility connection should be considered at great length, and if and what you pay for that connection will play a big role in the decision process. If there is no fixed connection fee, there is no incentive in giving it up. And even if there is a fee, consider whether it is worth having it as a back-up or not.

What is the alternative?

The alternative is to reduce your consumption as far as possible and keep your utility connection for a minimum supply. To start your green journey, you need to make your home or business energy efficient. Replace traditional lights with LED lights, replace old energy hungry appliances – such as air conditioners, fridges etc. – with new generation energy efficient appliances. Get a gas stove instead of an electric stove. Implement a solar geyser or a heat pump for your hot water requirements. These are just a few suggestions for quick savings, there are more measures that can be put in place.

The next step – generate your own electricity

There are several ways to generate your own electricity, in this case we will be discussing solar energy, also referred to as PV (photo-voltaic). Why PV? Simple – because South Africa has got the perfect conditions for it.

In order to reduce your electricity bill, a grid-tied solar system is the answer. Grid-tied is also sometimes referred to as an on-grid system, same thing. It means you will invest in PV panels and a grid-tie inverter. The number of PV panels will depend on your consumption, your budget and space on your roof for installation. Investing in a good quality inverter pays off, although a little more expensive upfront, it will save a lot of money in the long run. The inverter is the intelligent part in a solar system, don’t save in the wrong place. The system must be installed by an experienced solar installer, not every electrician is qualified to install solar systems.

Now as the terminology suggests – a grid-tied system is tied to the grid, the national grid that is. It means you will be using your utility grid connection to deliver the electricity your PV panels produce to your DB board. Imagine a big pot, your own power will go into this pot and be used first by any load that is running, it is not reserved for any particular appliance. If your own pot is empty, you will supplement from the utility grid. Your inverter will know when it is time to supplement and do the necessary. Remember it is intelligent – you don’t have to do anything.

The other aspect of grid-tied is that you are dependent on the utility grid to deliver your PV output to your DB Board. If the utility grid is down for whatever reason, the production from your PV panels cannot be used, i.e. you will be without electricity as long as the utility grid is unavailable.

Advantage of a grid-tied system: cost effective, modular and good return on investment

Disadvantage: no back-up in case of power failure

How to deal with the back-up will be discussed in part 2 of this Blog, watch the space!

Residential roof-top installation

Please note: the scenario illustrated in this post is suggesting a roof-top installation in an urban area. We are aware that there are several different installation options and depending on the geographic location and individual circumstances, there are plenty of options to be investigated. Please contact us with your particular requirement.