Loving life without Eskom

Brian Hayward

THE imminent 25% hike in electricity tariffs and possible blackouts as South Africa’s energy demand outstrips supply only serve to put a smile of the faces of a Nelson Mandela Bay family, who have been living Eskom-free for the past year.

The Weber family, who live in the Greenbushes-Beachview area, along the coast on the outskirts of the Bay, have been living on “green energy” since they arranged with the municipality to erect 19 solar-voltaic panels on their roof last year. The project is also being looked at as a way to power future developments in the Bay.

According to father and husband Vic Weber, the switch to solar – which comes at a price of about R250000 – is set to pay for itself over the next 10 years as Eskom continues to hike the price of its electricity.

The project is already saving the family upwards of R1600 a month on Eskom power, sold via the municipality, while their reliance on a renewable power source has reduced their carbon emissions by a whopping 6.3 tons over the year, according to international solar power monitoring agency Solar-Log.

The plan was all thanks to the suggestion of German solar energy entrepreneur Alexandra Fuchs, who is engaged to Vic’s son, Paul. “She said South Africa had a large potential for renewable energy because of its consistent sunshine,” said Vic, who is retired. “So, she proposed a pilot project which would make us Eskom-free.”

After the household’s appliances were tested for their energy efficiency – a defective double-door fridge had to be replaced because it was using too much power – Fuchs worked out that the Webers needed to generate 4.3 kilowatt hours of energy to maintain their standard of living.

This was enough to power their swimming pool’s cleaning system, four TVs, two fridges, a freezer, two 250l geysers, a four-plate electric stove and an oven.

The roof was reinforced to support the weight of the solar panels, and a new circuit switchboard with timers for the geysers was installed. Part of the state-of-the-art solar system, which was flown in from Germany, is eight back-up batteries which supply power to the house at night and on days when there is little sun.

Vic explained the new system meant two meters were installed – one to read the amount of solar power generated, and the other to monitor power usage from the metro’s grid.

On sunny summer days, he said, the system produced too much for the family to use, and fed excess power into the metro’s power grid. This gave the family a “power credit” – pushing their metro power meter into a negative balance – which they were able to use in the winter months, when their power demand outstripped the solar supply. The meters were periodically checked by metro officials.

According to Paul, a tally of the solar energy and the energy used from the metro’s grid after a year saw the family “pretty much breaking even, meaning we effectively didn’t use any Eskom power”, having solely relied on the solar energy “banked up” on the metro’s power grid during the summer.

Vic said the installation had a life span of 25 years. “I haven’t looked back,” he said.

  • Residents wishing to “go green” like the Webers must first get consent from the metro’s energy directorate, which will need to authorise the project.

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