Going off the grid can help you avoid upcoming tariff hikes

With electricity and water prices scheduled to skyrocket this year, a number of homeowners are in search of more financially and environmentally sustainable solutions.

According to energy analyst and former Eskom executive, Ted Blom, South Africa’s national power utility is planning to increase its tariffs by as much as 30% by the end of the year in an effort to recover some of its recent financial losses. In addition, some municipalities have applied for tariff increases that would exceed the 6.84% increase suggested by Nersa earlier this year.

Guy Hickinbotham, manager of Bundu Power Generators and Solar, a KwaZulu-Natal based business that supplies equipment to locals looking to move off the grid, says that more people seem to be in search of independent power solutions in some way or another. This trend, according to Hickinbotham, is largely a result of the rising cost of electricity, as well as the unstable nature of South Africa’s electricity infrastructure.

While some may opt to go completely off-grid, a partial migration is often a more practical solution for those who are conscious of limited national resources, but who may not have the financial means to invest in all the equipment needed to set them up for off-grid living.

South Africa is reportedly the world’s third-best location for generating solar power, making it a great option for household power needs. In the past, however, the cost of installing alternative energy systems has been a major factor steering people away from even considering it as an option. But now, thanks to ongoing research and improved innovations, these systems are becoming more affordable and accessible. There have also been solar conversion rebate programmes available through the Department of Energy as well as certain municipalities to incentivise homeowners.

Mark Willoughby, managing director of The One Energy Group, says there are local solar companies that offer financing options so South Africans can get the systems they want without the hefty upfront payment.

“When it comes to your electricity supply and costs, you have the absolute power to take control and do something constructive about it by becoming more energy efficient and grid independent. It’s easier and far more affordable than most people realise, and any investment in making your property more energy efficient will save you money and increase the value of your property at the same time,” Willoughby explains.

According to Craig Hutchison, chief executive of Engel & Völkers Southern Africa, financially and environmentally savvy homeowners can convert a number of home appliances that can make a big difference. Hutchison suggests that the most essential changes include replacing incandescent globes with compact fluorescent, low watt fluorescent or LED lights.

Other swaps to consider include opting solar geysers instead of conventional hot water cylinders, LCD TVs and laptops, solar fridges and freezers, evaporative air conditioners, electric blankets instead of room heaters, and gas stoves instead of electrical hobs and ovens.

With the increasing interest in off-grid alternatives, property developers have an opportunity to educate South Africans about their eco-friendly building options. For those looking to buy property in a new development, there is a growing list of green building options to pay attention to.

Urban property developers, Blok, recently launched TENONQ, a new development in Cape Town’s Bantry Bay, which is fitted with low-energy lighting and energy-efficient window glazing, as well as heat pumps, which in some instances can be two to three times more efficient than conventional electrical hot water cylinders.

“Blok’s apartments are also furnished with energy-efficient appliances and lighting. These features form the fundamentals of good building and homes, and we’re always working to ensure we create more sustainable buildings and living habits,” says Blok managing director, Jacques van Embden.

“Although some of these options might come with a hefty price tag, implementing some off-grid options can go a long way in alleviating the pressure on South Africa’s strained resources and save you a lot of money in the long run.”