INSTALLING ALTERNATIVE ENERGY IS ABOUT MORE THAN LOAD-SHEDDING
Installing alternative energy solutions is about more than managing the fall-out from load-shedding: by reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, we’re also doing our bit for the planet. In this article, we explore various options from which homeowners can choose and at the same time, potentially improve both your quality of life and the value of your property.
What to consider when investigating alternative power sources
There are a number of factors to bear in mind when you consider what alternative power sources you want to install in your home. These include your budget and energy needs and whether you're looking for a quick fix or a longer-term solution that could add value to your property.
Petrol or diesel generators
Much as we may not want to use fossil fuels, a petrol- or diesel-powered generator can be the least expensive quick fix. Essentially a generator is like your car’s engine: it’s an internal combustion motor with an alternator that produces electricity. Portable generators can be plugged in and provide enough power for the essentials, while larger, standby generators must be professionally installed and will turn on almost instantly when the power goes out. It’s this type of generator that is used in hospitals and where the business or service cannot ever be without power.
Here are a few points to bear in mind before going down generator road:
- Generators come in different sizes and capacities which affects the pricing. The cost could start from around R5,000 to as much as R50,00 depending on whether they include an inverter (see below)
- A generator is a beast that needs feeding. The cost of running a generator will depend on the price of petrol or diesel.
- Like your motor car, it’ll need to be serviced and maintained according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Again, like your car, there will be both noise and smelly emissions. The emissions are poisonous so a generator must be outside and in a well-ventilated spot and both the noise and the smell could upset your neighbours.
- Unless you have permanently fixed the generator to the property, a generator will have no effect on the resale value of your home.
Another source of power is gas which is a quick and effective source of heat for cooking and also for hot water. Many cooks will tell you that cooking with gas is superior to cooking with electricity, mostly because it’s quicker and more efficient. When load-shedding hits in that critical 4 pm to 8 pm window, a gas stove and water geyser means not having to make special plans for supper and bath time.
You will need to make use of a licensed installer when installing a gas oven or water heater, as you will be required to produce compliance certificates in this regard should you decide to sell. Gas solutions might make the home more appealing to buyers, so it could have a minor impact on the resale value of the home — but not quite as much as solar solutions would.
While the installation of solar water heaters is a good start, increasingly people are looking at getting off the grid completely, or selling excess energy they generate back to their local authority. Solar systems for homes are more complicated – and expensive – than fossil fuel generators. A typical solar electricity generator will include photovoltaic panels on your roof, an inverter with batteries that will be connected to the distribution board, and a power meter in your home.
Before sailing into the solar sea, here are a few things to consider:
- Solar installations can vary greatly depending on how robust of a system you want to install. Going completely off the grid could cost anything from R80,000 to more than half a million Rand depending on the size and electricity needs of your home.
- Keep in mind that there is usually a connection fee to link to the grid and other fees you might need to cover.
- Is your house and roof sufficiently robust to bear the additional weight of solar panels and a solar water heater? Also, does your roof get enough sunshine to charge the solar panels?
- Do you have to have planning permission to install a solar system and will it be compliant if you sell your house?
- Be sure to factor in the ongoing maintenance and running costs, e.g., how often will batteries need replacing and what will that cost?
While the capital outlay for installing solar is substantial, it’s becoming more achievable as the government and home loan institutions come to the party by offering kick-backs and financing options. Best of all, it can increase the resale value of a property substantially.
Ways to ensure uninterrupted power
Load-shedding has meant that we must be innovative as we manage our power plans. It’s not only about generating power, but also storing it and finding ways to ensure that our supply of electricity is not interrupted. This can be achieved through the use of a UPS, batteries, and inverters.
Most of us are familiar with uninterrupted power supplies – the UPS – that is connected to the computer at home or at the office. It does two things, firstly, it makes sure that the supply of electricity to the relevant piece of equipment is stable. In other words, it protects against power surges. In addition, and as the name suggests, if there is a power outage, it contains a rechargeable battery that ensures there’s no break in the power supply to your computer. You can use this type of battery back-up during load-shedding to power your WiFi and/or TV (depending on its capacity).
A UPS can cost you anything from R1,000 and up, depending on its capacity. Generally, they last between five and 10 years, but with load-shedding and frequent use, the lifespan may be shorter. They also don’t require much maintenance other than ensuring that the space where it’s located is kept dust-free and ensuring its cables are properly connected. Unless the UPS system is somehow permanently fixed to the property, it will have no effect on the resale value of the home.
It’s not enough to generate electricity: you need to use the power. This is where an inverter comes in. An inverter converts direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC) to provide electricity to your house. Some generator systems, especially solar systems, include inverters. However, this is not the case with diesel or petrol generators which may or may not have an integrated inverter.
A word of caution if you are planning on using an inverter and connecting your alternative energy solution to the main distribution board of your home. Electricity tampering is a serious offence, so be sure to only use reliable, licensed installers. Remember that you will need an electrical compliance certificate in order to sell your home, so it could become very costly to rectify the mistake if it was installed incorrectly.
Final Thoughts: Balancing load-shedding with going green
In addition to the problem of load shedding, South Africans – individuals and businesses – are increasingly aware of their carbon footprints and the need to use more eco-friendly and renewable energy sources. Apart from installing back-up or alternative power solutions, South Africans should also find ways to cut down on their electricity consumption where possible and practise good habits of using electricity sparingly and efficiently.
As with all decisions about what is probably your biggest investment, think carefully about the decisions you take to mitigate load-shedding. If you have questions about the impact of installing alternative energy systems on the value of your property, contact your nearest RE/MAX office.
Have more unanswered questions? Here are some related questions – and answers – that might help…
What is the best alternative energy source for homes?
It’s difficult to say which is the best alternative energy to choose. Your choice will probably be cost-driven and based on both your energy needs and personal preferences.
What is the cheapest alternative source of energy?
If one does not take into consideration the capital outlay of installing an alternative energy system, solar is the cheapest source of energy.
Is it worth installing solar panels in South Africa?
This depends on the property owner’s circumstances and medium to long-term approach to their investment because there is considerable capital outlay that would need to be recouped.