The problems at Eskom, and subsequent load shedding, have caused many South Africans to look at solar-powered solutions.
Using renewable energy, some citizens have taken their homes completely off the grid – guaranteeing their power supply.
This requires a significant initial financial investment, a large amount of hardware, and an efficient monitoring system.
MyBroadband spoke to Netshield CEO Inus Dreckmeyr, whose home in Pretoria has functioned off the national power grid for 10 years, about the renewable energy lessons he has learnt.
His home is powered by a 5kW-per-hour solar array paired with a 2kW-per-hour wind turbine, allowing the house to constantly generate electricity.
Don’t compromise on comfort
“Because you are responsible for your own maintenance, never compromise on your comfort,” said Dreckmeyr.
He said redundancy and a well-designed system are key to creating a good experience when living off the grid.
“Ensure that you have full redundancy built into the system and that if anything fails you can remotely switch over with minimum effort to restore supply or retain supply continuity,” said Dreckmeyr.
“This not only increases confidence in the system, but also simplifies the process when and if maintenance is required.”
While the engineering and components required to create a sophisticated system like this are expensive, the amount of time and money saved on emergency maintenance makes the exercise well worth it, he said.
Optimise your solar production
Dreckmeyr said you must also optimise your efficiency when collecting energy, maximising the exposure of photovoltaic panels to the sun.
“Ensure that you start producing energy as early as possible in the morning, preferably at sunrise, and produce until as late as possible, preferably sundown. This reduces the amount of energy that you need to store by up to 50%,” said Dreckmeyr.
“We deploy a solar array sun tracking system that ensures optimal delivery from sunrise to sundown, but multi-directional arrays can also be used to optimise production during the day.”
He added that a good tracking system can assist energy production by purposefully misaligning panels to eliminate saturation and ensure continuous supply.
Protecting the core electrical supply system of the home is crucial, said Dreckmeyr, and there must be enough remotely-managed surge protection elements within risk environments.
Building the system’s backup power capacity is also a good idea, as it must be able to handle the demands of visitors.
“Ensure that you have continuous hot water supply, switching your systems from solar water heating to a backup gas geyser, allowing you to continuously supply hot water irrespective of the volume required when friends and family visit,” he said.
“Plan your systems to suit the requirements of the home’s permanent residents, with backups for when you have visitors to ensure that you do not over-invest in things like battery backup that you will replace somewhere in the future,” he added.
Other important areas to focus on include the home’s energy management system and the quality of products used in the system.
“Ensure that you have a simplistic management system that everyone in the household can understand and use, and that you buy and relay on maintainable, well-supported products,” said Dreckmeyr.
“Don’t buy junk, and plan meticulously to ensure sustainability.”