Can you afford to go solar?
“We will make electricity so cheap that only the rich will burn candles,” Thomas Edison once said.
How times have changed. Electricity keeps getting more expensive, despite the fact that your lights can go off at any moment.
Solar panels can ease frustration about an unreliable supply of electricity, but do you need to sell a kidney to be able to afford it?
Are solar panels the solution to electricity woes?
When it comes to the cost of buying solar panels as well as paying for the installation, we are not exactly talking about small change.
The costs will of course depend on your needs and your budget. Do you need solar panels for your home, your business or both? What are the sizes of these?
All these factors will play a role in determining your costs, but should you even get solar panels in the first place? If you can, you probably should.
It’s not rocket science to figure out that South Africa has a shortage of electricity, but we certainly don’t have a shortage of sunlight.
“It makes no financial sense to keep paying for a resource like electricity that you can in fact generate yourself,” said Teresa Kok, director of the One Energy Group.
Solar panels have a fairly long lifespan, almost guaranteeing that, in time, they end up paying for themselves. In fact, this takes about seven to eight years.
Added to this, solar panels increase the value of your property. Not to mention that as a renewable source of energy, solar power is better for the Earth, and we can’t run out of it.
Could you go entirely off the grid?
It will take some careful planning, but it is possible to live completely off the grid.
Inus Dreckmeyr has been interviewed by Carte Blanche, among others, for doing exactly that.
The Dreckmeyr family does not live like campers who enjoy roughing it by any means, they live a modern life in a carefully designed home.
In this article, the Dreckmeyr home is described as having high ceilings and raked floors that ensure airflow that keeps the house cool in summer and cosy in winter.
On the outside the house is said to have a large 8×3 array of 200W photovoltaic panels which can produce up to 4.8W of energy.
The panels are cleverly mounted on a motorised system that keeps them turning, so that they are always facing the sun.
There is also a wind turbine, a large generator building as well as a room with 32 batteries that keep everything going when the sun goes down.
The batteries are charged with surplus energy from the panels. When they are full, the borehole pump is switched on and it refills the nearby water tower, which supplies the family with water.
Going off the grid will require that you convert all of your appliances to solar power, and batteries are vital to keep you going when the sun isn’t shining.
Also keep in mind that you might have to change some of your habits. You will need less battery power if you can position your power usage to fall during peak sunlight hours.
In turn, your batteries will last longer, saving you money in the long run.
Completely kissing Eskom goodbye is possible, but if it sounds a bit extreme to you, you still have options.
The wonderful thing about using solar panels is that you can choose the extent to which you go solar. You can switch one or two appliances, or do as much as you can afford.
7 questions to ask before getting solar panels
Going solar does take some planning and it’s best to work with a company that has been proven reliable and reputable.
These are a few questions to ask yourself, and which could potentially influence both the cost and the efficiency of your solar panels:
- Is your roof in a good condition? A very old or damaged roof might not be able to hold solar panels, and require extra money spent to get it fixed.Also be aware that the shape and angle of your roof can influence the amount of sunlight that reaches your panels, and thus their efficiency.
You do not have to worry about this in advance, but ask your chosen solar panel company whether they will take a look at your roof.
- A clever idea is to ask your chosen company what solar panels they use on their own roofs, and what pros and cons they experience.
- Ask your dealer how they will calculate the size of the solar system you will need.
They need an understanding of the way electricity is used in your household to be able to do this calculation in the best possible way.
- Ask if there is a warranty in place for your solar panels. What process is followed if repairs need to be done?
- Find out how often your panels will need cleaning. Dust and debris can block the sun from your panels, affecting their efficiency.
- To be on the safe side, find out if you should invest in backup as well. We have plenty of sun, but batteries are useful for the times we don’t.
- Will your energy needs grow in the future? Will it be possible to upgrade your system, or do you need to install a bit more than you anticipated?
How much do solar panels cost?
According to South African company Solar Power Experts, some information is needed before they can provide you with a quote.
They also distinguish between solar panels for home and commercial use.
When looking at a solar system for your home, they will calculate your quote based on the size of your house and the power requirements of your appliances.
Whether you want backup for loadshedding or if you are trying to reduce your electricity bill also plays a role.
In terms of solar panels for your business, the cost will depend on the type of solar system you are looking to install, as well as how much roof space you have available.
Another South African company, Solar Advice, offers a bit more in terms of actual numbers.
The website features a solar calculator where you can input your appliances and how many hours you use them for per day.
An estimated size for the solar system you will need is then calculated for you.
The products sold by Solar Advice offer you a range of choice. You can opt to go off grid completely, or choose a hybrid or grid-tied system.
If you are hesitant to go solar quite yet, you can choose between small, medium or large loadshedding kits which consist of an inverter, batteries and the extras needed for setup.
As a long-term solution, solar panels make sense. But what are the actual numbers we are looking at?
MyBroadband did the math, and found that the cost of solar panels can range between just over R80 000 for a smaller household and up to just over R188 000.
The latter refers to a household that uses around 30kWh per day, therefore 900kWh per month, which is an average according to Eskom. These estimates include installation costs.
If this sounds a bit steep, keep in mind that solar panels pay for themselves over time. There are no running costs and minimum maintenance requirements. All you need is the sun.
Still think it’s just too expensive? Hang in there. Solar power is rapidly becoming more affordable.
In 2020 it was reported that the price of solar electricity has dropped by 89% in 10 years.
The International Energy Agency confirmed in 2020 that solar energy is the cheapest energy in history to produce. It has become cheaper to build solar plants than fossil fuel plants.
Yes, we know you are not building a solar plant, you just want some panels. Your pockets are bound to benefit from cheaper production costs.
It has been confirmed in the US that solar panel systems for both home and commercial use are falling fast.
More recently, poweroptimal.com estimated that going green and switching to solar could be a cheaper option than Eskom by 2023.
Why is it that in a world where everything is getting more expensive, solar power is getting cheaper?
Firstly, people are becoming increasingly aware of the consequences of their actions, both for themselves and their planet.
It has become trendy to live clean, green and healthy, and this led to increased interest in solar power.
Popularity grew, and as more people invested in solar power, more capital became available to use for research. The result is solar panels that are both cheaper and more efficient.
When we consider that we are talking about five- or six-digit amounts, solar panels do seem costly.
The unfortunate reality we have to face up to in our country though is that we cannot rely on Eskom for our electricity needs.
It’s also incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to keep our homes and businesses running without a source of energy.
If going solar is at all within your reach financially, getting your system installed deserves a place on your to-do list.