How to cut electricity consumption

The National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) recently started its public hearings, which will deal with Eskom’s latest application to increase electricity prices by as much as 16 percent in July.

If the increase is approved, it will affect many households negatively as this would be added to the rising costs of food and interest rates, says Anne Porter, head of Knight Frank Residential SA.

Although most households have adjusted the way they use electricity, conserving as much as possible and not wasting, many have now started looking for alternative ways to power their homes independently of the grid, some going as far as taking them almost completely away from the public electricity supply.

“Depending on your household budget, you could consider converting all power supply to the home to a solar system, which could cost in the region of R150 000 for an average three-bedroom house, but could also be done in increments, tackling each section of the home that consumes power at a time,” says Porter.

“The geyser is one of the largest consumers of power in any household, so installing a solar water heating system could be a good option. This can cost about R16 000, but you could also install a black evacuator tubing system which is laid out on the roof of the house and warms water from the heat of the sun. Many people use this system and find it effective enough for them because South Africa does have a relatively high sun exposure rate each day,”

Some people prefer heat pumps to heat water but the problem with these, she says, is that heat pumps don’t function during power outages whereas solar geysers are independent of the grid. Another simple way of saving electricity is to install a timer on the geyser, which will allow it to switch on at stipulated times of the day.

Stoves and kettles use a lot of electricity and you can cut back by installing a gas stove and only filling the kettle with the amount of water to be used instead of to the top.

Another option is batteries charged from photovoltaic panels, and using the batteries to power lights and smaller appliances in the home. These systems can range in price from R7 000 to R50 000, depending on the size needed and number of batteries. Another option for saving about 7 percent of an average power bill is to keep appliances in standby mode by plugging those that don’t have to be on all the time into a “smart strip”.

“This device inexpensive shuts off the supply of electricity to the appliance if it is not used for an hour and then immediately re-instates supply when the appliance is switched on again. LED light bulbs will also help reduce electricity consumption,” says Porter.

Heating and cooling a home can be costly, and Porter says one of the most effective ways of heating is to install a slow wood burning stove in a central position with the flue exposed, never on an outside wall.

“The heat from this will radiate throughout the home and warm a large area. Blinds and awnings on sun facing room windows will help keep the house cool inside, so reducing the need for air-conditioning.

“Many people in SA will never again look at electricity management in the same way as they did 10 years ago. The trends are changing quickly as many aren’t willing to pay the exorbitant costs and won’t tolerate having the supply shut off from time to time. Demand for homes with their own power supplies – even only in part – will often be higher than for one without, and this positively affects the market value and marketability of the property,” says Porter.

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