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Here’s how much your water heating costs you, and how to whack that bill

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No one can argue that electrical geysers are serial offenders when you eyeball your electricity consumption at the end of every month.

And these units have a relatively short life span offset, some might say, by their low cost and relatively easy replacement (even if installed in the ceiling of your home).

But here’s the catch: electrical geysers are responsible for between 40% and 70% of power consumption in your home, and that’s a significant slice of your overall power bill.

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The two irritating factors that come into play when you consider alternative energy systems is the intimidating thought of having  to tramp your way through the charms of super salesmen often representing not-so-super installers, and the price issue.

When addressing the issue of quality of product and of workmanship as well as the need for high safety standards, you’ll find that the best advice (given on the websites of major South African cities and some provinces) is to identify approved and experienced installers who are registered with the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA) and thus have the necessary cover in the event of problems; and the often-quoted truism that buying cheap is buying future angst.

To identify an installer accredited by the SAPVIA who can issue a GreenCard for your installation, see www.pvgreencard.co.za.

There should also be a little pin-prick of anxiety about the ability of an ailing Eskom as a dependable producer and distributor of electrical power. The improprieties at Eskom are already written in stone for future generations and they’re far from the over – the latest being the apparent inability of the parastatal to ensure its polluting, coal-fired power stations in Mpumalanga have sufficient supplies of “black gold” to keep the turbines running. Black-outs may be around the corner. Again.

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Landlord in arrears and now my power has been cut

Adding to Eskom’s financial woes is the fact that the entity is owned billions of rand by defaulting towns that sell electricity to their consumers for a profit. In many cases those towns are unable to collect money from defaulting consumers, quite apart from their debt to Eskom rising steadily as a result of consumers stealing electrical power through illegal connections to the grid.

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So with Eskom wobbling, security of power supply adds strength to the argument that now might be the right time to consider investing in an alternative energy source.

Let’s touch briefly on the issue of price because we need to delve into alternative power source systems and then look at the payback periods of those systems and their dependability. As more wealthly consumers choose to ring-fence their electricity grid consumption so will there be a decrease in the price of some alternative energy systems, such as solar.

If you’re serious about investigating these systems you’ll need to undertake a bit of desktop research, visiting the websites of the province and the city or town in which you live. Only then should you look at chatting to dependable, registered providers.

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In essence, owners or tenants of residential properties can look at two types of alternative energy systems: solar energy and heat pumps (although the latter is better described as an energy-efficient system). Some experts also mention gas-powered water heaters and even oil-burning heating systems. Apart from small, under-basin gas burning water heating systems, which are popular in sculleries and some domestic kitchens, larger such systems are often used in commercial applications such as hotel kitchens.

In general, solar powered systems are more expensive than heat pumps and therefore have a longer payback period. Some experts claim just the opposite but the reality is that every household is different and therefore the cost of each solar-powered system will differ. For example, a family of four with a high water usage will need a large capacity solar energy system and, therefore, the system will be more expensive than a system for a two- or three-member family.

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Saving on electricity: Understand what your appliances are costing you

Heat pumps, which operate in similar fashion, in principle, to air conditioners but deliver heat instead of coolness, need electrical power but are far more energy efficient (requiring up to 70% less energy) that electrical geysers. They are classified as environmentally friendly because of their far lower power usage. And they deliver hot water no matter the weather.

The ability of solar power systems to deliver heat falls away in sympathy with the brightness of the sun. These systems have very few parts that need servicing whereas heat pumps need regular servicing of elements such as compressors. Solar power systems should last longer than 10 years whereas heat pumps are due for replacement after a decade or so. Lastly, heat pumps are easy to install since they are positioned on outside walls. Solar power systems in residential homes are generally installed on rooftops and need to be angled correctly.

It’s logical to conclude that apartment blocks are ideal for heat pumps (although solar power is in use on apartment buildings in Europe, North American and to a lesser extent in Australia) whereas either solar power or heat pump technologies can be considered for both standalone and cluster homes, or townhouses.

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The installation of a solar heating system needs to be logged with the city or town in which one lives. Certain systems also need the approval of the authorities. There is no need to register the installation of a heat pump system.

Property owners and tenants should visit the Cape Town (www.capetown.gov.za/solarPV) eThekwini (www.durban.gov.za – renewable energy) and Johannesburg (www.citypower.co.za) websites for more detailed information. The www.cityenergy.org.za is a platform supporting urban energy initiatives nationwide.

Cape Town is encouraging the installation of private small-scale embedded generation (SSEG) systems, particularly rooftop photovoltaic (PV) systems. The website provides important information for installing a safe and legal rooftop PV system. City authorities also encourage property owners to visit www.savingelectricity.org.za for information about electricity saving, PV systems and other frequently asked questions.

The different types of PV systems listed on the City of Cape Town’s website are:

  • Grid-tied feed-in PV systems which have PV panels that are connected directly to an inverter. The electricity it generates is used locally on the property or fed back into the electricity grid when excess electricity is generated.
  • Grid-tied hybrid PV systems that are able to disconnect the incoming electricity supply from the city and connect the load to the PV system or stored energy in batteries. These systems can operate in load-shedding scenarios.
  • Grid-tied PV systems with reverse power flow blocking that provide electricity to the property when there is a demand for it but blocks any excess electricity generated from feeding back onto the grid.
  • Stand-alone (off grid) PV systems that usually have batteries and a charge controller. The system feeds electrical circuits on the property that are wired completely electrically separate of the electricity service provider’s grid (City of Cape Town or Eskom grid).

Consumers, or their alternative energy system providers, must check with the city or town authorities (or with Eskom) about authorisations or notifications for these systems.

Note that the writer is assuming that consumers concerned about their electricity bills have already taken the easy options such as fitting energy saving light bulbs throughout their homes, switching off lights or standby bulbs on equipment and filling kettles with only enough water for the required amount of hot water.

There is also the matter of replacing white and brown equipment and systems such as washing machines and hobs with more energy efficient (but sometimes more costly) models.

Words: Blake Wilkins


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