"Self-sufficiency does not mean 'going back' to the acceptance of a lower standard of living. On the contrary, it is the striving for a higher standard of living, for food that is organically grown and good, for the good life in pleasant surroundings... and for the satisfaction that comes from doing difficult and intricate jobs well and successfully." John Seymour ~ Self Sufficiency 2003

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Reality of solar power costs

I get many e-mails, especially from others in South Africa, regarding our move off-grid.

So many people in South Africa are totally fed-up with Escom's load shedding shenanigans (enforced blackouts) and are eager to go off grid, but I think that the unknown cost of that is inhibiting most people from making the change. Perhaps it would be easier if I broke down the cost of our 1.12kWh solar system.

First, though, when we left our town house and moved to our smallholding, we were using approximately 15kWh / day.  At the time that was costing us ZAR1.37 / kWh.  Therefore 15kWh / day was costing us ZAR616.50 / month.
Minimum grid power costs over 5 years if we
had stayed 
in our town house
As you can see from the above, if we had not moved to our smallholding and gone off grid we would have spent approximately ZAR54 271.20 (excluding V.A.T.) over a period of 5 years.  And that is calculated at an annual increase of only 8% / year.
The minimum grid power costs over 4 years
on our smallholding 

- if we had availed ourselves of the service
Plus, if we had continued using Escom on our smallholding we would have had an additional service fee at a cost of ZAR589.00 - ZAR715.93 per month.  But, our electricity bill would have been even more than the total monthly amount in the image above.  Our smallholding neighbours spend on average ZAR 1200.00 - ZAR1500.00 / month.  Why - because they are not aware.

So - now to the costs of our solar power system.

As you can see from the above our system cost us ZAR54 886.39  That was back in 2012 - the cost of solar panels is lower now than it was then, so that cost would be reduced even further.

To me there is no comparison.

We live quite normally.  You just earn to become more aware.

If you discover that you require the use of a fridge and a freezer, and you don't have the power output for 24 hour use of both, then, if you are able to purchase a better energy rated side-by-side fridge /freezer unit, as opposed to plugging in a separate fridge and a freezer, you can have that requirement fulfilled.

Similarly the washing machine.  Front loaders use far more energy than a top loaders, and a cold water wash will clean 99% of your clothing as well as a hot water wash will do.

Selling on your now redundant appliances helps to offset the cost of the new ones.
Our Owl electricity monitor
We  have become completely aware of exactly what appliance / gadget we switch on, and for how long.   Providing you keep your eye on how much power your panels have produced (via the charge controller), and, with the assistance of the Owl electricity monitor (or similar), how much power you have consumed, then you can judge what you can switch on at any time on any given day.  This is especially true on wet, rainy days when less power is being produced.  Funnily enough, dry overcast, or cold sunny days often produce more power than full sun, hot days, This is because the heat generated by the sun on the solar panels reduces their efficiency.

For us, the current scenario is that in comparison to what grid power would cost us, within a maximum of 3 - 4 years our solar system is producing electricity for us at no charge - with absolutely no electricity price increases amortised into the cost of it's set up :).  The panels have a 10 year lifespan, and the batteries a 20 - 25 year lifespan.

Now, if only Escom would, firstly, agree to more sustainable power production via solar panel and wind turbine farms, and, secondly, allow for those who produce their own power to feed their excess back into the grid, then perhaps they wouldn't be in the mis-managed, shortsighted position in which they are now finding themselves - a position from which the whole country, and it's GDP / current and potential international investments, are suffering...

There you have it.  The nuts and bolts costs, and pro's and cons, of installing and living with solar power.


Chickpea said...

Really interesting post, thanks for that.

Dani said...

Chickpea - I thought removing the mystery might help someone else who is considering it. Naturally, for you in the UK, and those in Aussie and the US of A will have to convert the ZAR according to your particular exchange rates. But, given that it completely runs this house, and our business - I reckon it is completely affordable :)

Harry Flashman said...

Your success with solar power has been impressive. In my mind, even more important than the financial aspect is the security of not being dependent on anyone or anything else for something so critical as power. I may rebuild my solar power system one day but for the moment I am using the grid as my primary power source and a diesel generator as my back up. Not nearly so satisfactory as your arrangement though.

Jayne Hill said...

We have panels and in summer our electric bills are non-existent, but available (affordable) technology in the UK means that battery backup is not currently part of the system.

Sad to read of your Escom situation. I suspect the UK is heading the same way. What is happening to you gets absolutely zero coverage here, so people in this country are just plodding along and will get a horrible shock when our power grid starts shutting down - and it will. Most of our coal-fired power stations are at the end of their life and no government will commit to a nuclear replacement because of cost and length of time to bring them online. Solar and wind don't produce enough to sustain our over-populated island.

Dani said...

Harry - It has surpassed even our expectations. It is quite a strange feeling to know that we have constant power whilst the rest of the country is being subjected to power enforced blackouts.

Dani said...

Jayne - Our powers that be are planning to build 7 (yes - 7!!!) nuclear power stations. Idiots!!!! Apart from the potential environmental catastrophe, by the time they come on stream they will not be sufficient. They should rather invest in solar and wind - both of which we have plenty...

Sal said...

I so badly wanna get off the grid! I've even got to a point where I am sick of people in general.I unfortunately wouldn't even know where to begin unfortunately but I do enjoy your blog so much.........it keeps my dream alive....thank you!

Dani said...

Sal - Welcome - and thank you for taking the time to leave a comment.

I hope that this post has given you some encouragement. No where is it written that going off-grid has to put you in debt for 20 years - like paying off a house bond. If you are willing to make fine adjustments to you power consumption, and are aware of what your household appliances are consuming, then it is a breeze :)

Sue said...

I echo Sal on this. Hubby and I are interested in solar, but are intimidated by it all.
I guess we'll just keep watching and admiring those that do.
Our power bills are reasonable---but it's the IDEA of being tethered to a company that can do as it wants (charge what it wants!).
You are in an enviable position through your own hard work and determination.
You should be very proud!

Dani said...

Sue - No, pride doesn't enter into the equation. Relief is perhaps a more apt word :)

JaneofVirginia said...

Dani, Very impressive post. Thank you. We are using solar in our outbuildings and for our gate system for the farm. We do not get regular enough sunshine to switch over to the main house, but we are getting closer. Thank you for keeping the dream alive.

Dani said...

Jane - You're well on your way with the solar supplementation you are making towards your energy use.

You're welcome Jane :)

nihna said...

This is my dream as well. I am confused with all the tech side of it but we are renters right now and I have plenty of time until we own our house :)

Dani said...

Nihna - You have a dream - a goal, That is as important as achieving it :)

Regarding the tech side - either you or your partner have time to find out as much as you can on that side, so that you are ready for when you have your own home :)

Leigh said...

Excellent post Dani. After our first winter here we pretty much gave up on hope for solar (full solar anyway) because we had three months without sun. Summer before last was similar. That doesn't mean we aren't working on decreasing energy usage and looking at alternatives. It just means it's a slower process than we'd like.

Dani said...

Leigh - Given your 3 months without sun, if you could achieve 9 months of the year with reduced power bills surely that would be worth it? Also, please bear in mind one doesn't need a full sun days to generate power through your panels - overcast days work too. In fact, we find that in partly cloudy weather our panels generate more power than in full sun - this is due to the efficiency of the panels to produce power being negatively affected by the heat of the sun.

Diana Studer said...

been following someone in Canada who has installed a huge solar tracker which is generating good power for him. In Canada!

Dani said...

Diana - won't you let me have the link to his blog - t'would be interesting to see what his setup is. Yeah, solar power doesn't need full on sunshine - our produces better on partly cloudy days, and especially when there is a cold wind blowing... ;)