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What you need to know about going off-grid

As winter approaches, most of us would love to be able to generate our own power to save some money on the inevitable higher electricity bills - however before you take the plunge we take a look at a few things you should consider before going off-grid.



Let us just acknowledge the elephant in the room - going off-grid, if done right, is a costly undertaking. However you can go off-grid in stages, which will help spread out the costs.

Convert your Lighting

Still using incandescent light bulbs? You are literally burning money and converting them to LED’s should be your first step.

Converting your incandescent to LED’s is not only helping you save money now, it will also help reduce the size of the solar system you require when going off-grid.

Check your appliances

Remember when we said that going off-grid is costly? Well replacing your cooking and hot water heaters to alternative power is the next big step. Your electric stove, oven, geyser, heat pumps and heaters all use excessive amounts of power and if you are trying to reduce the size of solar system required, they will have to go.

Where possible replace these with their solar alternative or if that isn’t an option replace them with gas. Other appliances in the house can also be replaced with smart energy appliances to further help.

Changing consumption patterns

This is probably the hardest thing to do when you have grown accustomed to a certain way of doing things.  

Before switching over you should start practicing smart energy choices by, switching off things that are not needed and ensuring you make the most of natural light, heating options and so forth.

Once you have switched to a solar system or solar alternatives it would be best to change when you're using your power. If you can change when you're using your power to position most of it during peak sunlight hours then you'll reduce the load on the batteries during the evening. This might not seem like a big deal but the less discharge you have on your batteries the longer they last.

Battery storage is expensive

As mentioned above, batteries have a lifespan and the lifespan is greatly reduced if your batteries are discharged too far on a regular basis. As mentioned in point 3, batteries have a lifespan.

You can avoid replacing them often, which is costly, by having lots of batteries to begin with. You are going to need anywhere between 20-30 large batteries, this will be a huge initial cost but will help in the long run. 

Space Issues

A full grid system requires a lot of space. 

You will need space for the ± 20 panels (5kW system) on your roof or lawn, on top of that you will also need space to house the batteries mentioned above. Those batteries need to be housed in a cool dry area to ensure that their lifespan is affected by the ambient temperature that they’re kept in.

If you think you don’t need that many panels or batteries, remember that when you go off-grid there is generally no back-up. Unless you have a generator as a last resort, you will have to be able to have a fully functioning system to have everything running smoothly even if you have a couple of bad sunshine days. 

Maintenance

Solar systems generally do not require a lot of maintenance. Ideally you should purchase maintenance free batteries to avoid the hassle of checking water levels constantly. The only other aspect that needs your attention is the panels. These should be hosed down every now and again to ensure maximum efficiency. They tend to get covered in dust etc. over time reducing their efficiency. A quick hosing down will sort out the problem.

Have a backup

If you're intention is to completely part ways with Eskom, you should keep in mind that all technology has its limitations. If you're solar system isn't functioning for one reason or another you will not have power until the problem has been identified and fixed. 

Investing in a backup to your primary electrical system would be prudent. It doesn't have to be anything big or expensive especially since you've more than likely already converted all the power hungry items in your home or office to be energy efficient.

Source the components carefully and have a professional install them

This is your primary source of electricity. Make sure that you have good quality components with local backup and support. Are you prepared to wait weeks while the supplier is assessing the problem with your inverter and you sit in the dark? Probably not, so stick to quality brands with local support and professional installers who know what they're doing.

The installation of an off-grid system can be as exciting as it is painful if you don't have it done properly.


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