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It is expected that South Africans will be paying 10% more for electricity from next year. Add Eskom’s sporadic load shedding and it’s little wonder solar options are becoming so popular. HomeFront investigates

WORDS: DEBBIE LOOTS – PHOTOS: SHUTTERSTOCK

Eskom recently won a court battle to increase electricity tariffs by 10% from April 2021 in an effort to recoup a R69bn loss. In addition, load shedding remains on the cards, with continued system breakages leaving little hope of a fast and reliable power supply recovery any time soon. 

Green programme

Offering South African homeowners reprieve is Nedbank Home Loans, which has teamed up with the South African Solar Photovoltaic Industry Association (Sapvia) to provide quality solar panel solutions through Sapvia’s PV GreenCard accreditation. Bruno Ching’andu, head of customer strategy at Nedbank Home Loans, says many South Africans are spending more time at home because of the lockdown. This has resulted in an increase in electricity use and cost. “We want to help consumers save money by leveraging their home loan to install solar panels,” he says. “With the current heavy demand for electricity in SA, photovoltaic (PV) electricity generation, or solar panel electricity, is the go-to alternative to secure a dependable supply.” The Sapvia PV GreenCard is a training programme for solar PV installers focusing on skills development and training, and the improvement of standards to comply with international standards. The accreditation offers protection and confidence to stakeholders such as solar PV installation companies, solar PV system owners, investors and banks. “We are excited that Nedbank recognises the value of quality solar installations by partnering with the PV GreenCard,” says Sapvia COO Niveshen Govender. “We are confident it will help support the end customer to gain access to qualified solar PV installers.” 

By switching to solar, consumers are shielded from future electricity tariff  increases Bruno Ching’andu, head of customer strategy, Nedbank Home Loans 

Home loan access

According to Ching’andu, solar power is considered the most practical and available optional energy supply source because it is sustainable, indefinitely renewable and environmentally friendly. Most modules last 25 years and require very little maintenance. “Nedbank clients can have solar panels installed by using their home loans,” he says. “The instalment increase could still be less than an average monthly electricity bill, especially in a low-interest environment. By switching to solar, consumers are shielded from future electricity tariff increases.” Govender says there are other aspects to keep in mind when considering having solar panels installed. He suggests the following to ensure safe and legal installations:  

Installation guidelines

First determine how you are connected to the electricity grid.
 Grid-tied: connected via the national grid
 Off-grid: a standalone connection
Decide on the type of rooftop PV system you want to install. For instance, a grid-tied system requires you to register and request approval from your distribution authority. Most municipalities that allow this have the necessary documentation on their website. A grid-tied system can only be connected once the municipal authority grants permission in writing. Make sure your service provider has experience in PV installations and is a member of Sapvia, the Electrical Contractors Association SA (Ecasa) or the Engineering Council of SA (Ecsa). Ask the installer for their Sapvia PV GreenCard.  After the installation, the installer should issue you with a document detailing the specification of the PV system and an installation standards checklist. Ensure that the documentation is explained to you. If you are not satisfied with the installation, you can request an inspection from an approved inspection authority registered with the Department of Labour, the Ecasa ombudsman or an independent consultant. 

Wind turbines

If you plan to go off the national power grid, two types of wind turbines are available for household use: vertical and horizontal axis turbines. A vertical axis turbine is the more practical of the two, as its operating system is close to the ground and easy to maintain. Although a wind turbine may not meet all your electricity needs, it generates enough power to reduce consumption, and any excess generated on windy days can be stored or fed back into the national power grid to credit your electricity bill. It’s not noisy, does not interrupt TV reception and does not bother birds or bats.

Consider these factors before you throw caution to the wind:

• If you live in an urban area, confirm with your council whether you’re allowedto put up a turbine.
 Check your existing solar system’s size to ensure it matches your turbine’s voltage.
 Do you have free air space without turbulent air?
 Know the average wind speed in your area. In a low-speed zone you may need a five-blade turbine

New element technology

A unique and very cost-effective option (it’s considerably less expensive than a geyser solar system) is the Xtend 2kW element, which saves up to 25% on hot-water costs. It replaces standard resistive wire elements with a ceramic element that uses positive temperature coefficient technology to heat water more efficiently. Northface Energy director Jason Pournara explains: “Simply put, the element starts off drawing power at the rated 2kW, but as the water heats up the draw decreases. This means it works less as the water heats up, unlike conventional elements, which work harder the hotter the water gets. “If we all had Xtend elements, the pressure on the grid would be eased and consumption reduced across the board.” An Xtend element costs R1,999, including VAT, and can be installed by any qualified plumber.

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