Budgeting for darker days – a DIY guide

Once more, the Western Cape takes the lead in encouraging us to adopt a self-sufficiency mindset – something increasingly and tragically necessary in South Africa today. I say ‘once more’, because at a recent Emergency Medicine conference Western Cape Disaster Management chief, Dr Wayne Smith, heavily encouraged a self-preparedness approach among healthcare workers. He sketched a ‘perfect storm’ scenario when “Day Zero” (taps running dry), coincides with Eskom instituting a national black-out, taking 7-10 days to reboot the national grid. We’ve come close to the former in the Cape Metro and nationally, I wouldn’t rule out the latter. Every hospital needs a patient-decanting plan, solid diesel back-up engine maintenance, and alternative power and water sources. Smith has a constantly full diesel tanker truck on stand-by to top-up hospital generators – because legislation empowers national government to commandeer all diesel supplies in emergencies. His mantra? “Help is unlikely to come. Take complete responsibility.” This latest handy guide from our southern-most province brings it down to the individual household, showing you what’s possible, power and cost-wise. I have the rainwater tank (5,000 litres, with pump), which together cost me the equivalent of a low-end back-up battery system (R15,000). We have a gas/electric stove. Now to budget for potentially darker days… First published on MyBroadband. – Chris Bateman

How much it costs to take your home off the grid and dodge loadshedding

Loadshedding is not going anywhere soon, with Eskom still in serious trouble and the national power grid under constant strain.

After implement stage 6 load-shedding in December 2019 and recently warning municipalities to update their schedules to include stage 8 load-shedding, many South Africans are preparing for a future of regular blackouts.

There are a number of ways to mitigate the effects of load-shedding, from buying cheap power banks to installing solar panels and inverters for standalone energy generation.

Read also: Lessons for Eskom: How California went solar

The Western Cape Provincial Government published a guideline on the costs of preparing for load-shedding which gives an idea of the costs involved.

The guide is aimed at businesses and individual electricity users and provides alternatives to Eskom across a wide variety of price ranges.

A few ways you can reduce your dependence on Eskom are detailed below:

Cheap and easy – up to R500

  • A small gas cooker can cost you R400 – R500. Make sure that the gas cooker meets safety standards.
  • Buy a solar cell charger, a car phone charger, or a cellphone power bank, which should cost around R300.
  • Buy rechargeable lights for about R200.
  • Buy a surge protector plug for your television, computer and fridge. This should cost between R100 – R400.

Low-end battery system – R15,000

A battery backup system comprising a charger, inverter, and battery.

This limited system includes two 100Ah 12V batteries and an inverter capable of providing 1,000W continuously and 1.2kWh.

This option for limited power draw situations, such as the following:

  • 4-6 LED lights (24W)
  • A TV and a decoder (30W when off, 150W when in use)
  • Cellphone charger (0.5W when not charging, 6W when charging)

The estimated cost of this system, excluding installation, is R15,000.

Medium battery system – R30,000

This battery system is suitable for an average three-bedroom house where usage will be limited to a load of 480W.

It has a total of two 200 Ah 12V batteries and inverter that can provide 2,400 Watt continuously and 2.4kWh.

This will enable the following functions:

  • 10-15 LED or CFL lights
  • A TV and a decoder (30W when off, 150W when in use)
  • One energy-efficient fridge/freezer on, managed well (100W – 200W)
  • A laptop (65W while charging)

The estimated cost of this system, excluding installation, is R30,000.

High-end battery system – R50,000

This option is suitable for bigger houses, small offices, and shops that want to be unaffected by loadshedding. It is limited to a load of 960W.

It has a total of four 200 Ah 12V batteries and inverter that can provide 4,000 Watt continuously and 4.8kWh.

This will enable the following:

  • All lighting and a TV
  • Multiple fridges and freezers, opened as little as possible
  • Laptops and a printer

The estimated cost of this system, excluding installation, is R50,000.

Solar panels

The guideline also includes estimated costs for installing solar panels and battery systems to combat loadshedding.

“In the long term, it is better to invest in battery back-up or solar and battery back-up, rather than investing in a generator,” it said.

“Although a generator may cost less initially, it requires diesel to operate and creates air and noise pollution.”

The following options were listed, along with their estimated costs:

  • R2,000-R5,000 – One or two small solar panels and battery that will power a few lights and a cellphone charger (20W).
  • R9,000-R16,000 – A large solar panel and a battery that will power multiple lights or a TV (120W).
  • R50,000+ – A 1.5kWh – 3kWh system that can power a few lights, a TV, and a fridge.
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