Saving Power at Home & Work

Do It Yourself Alternative Energy Projects

Expensive, Erratic Electricity is a Problem that Needs to be Solved

boxtoolsIn South Africa, electricity is getting ever more expensive, while consistency and reliability of supply is increasingly erratic.

Furthermore, the probability of this sorry state of affairs improving in the short to medium term does not seem very promising.

Most home owners are thus forced into the situation where they have to start finding alternative sources of power for their families, especially as the risk of extended power outages, or at least far more frequent load shedding, is starting to become evident.

The cost of alternative power can be very high, and many ordinary home owners are not in a position to make the sorts of investments that might be necessary all in one go.

One way of dealing with the problem is adopting an incremental  “Do It Yourself” (DIY) approach.

Why Do It Yourself?

The single biggest reason why one might go this route is lower costs.  By doing the job your self, you save on the installation fee, which can be quite substantial.

Of course this assumes that you do a proper job, follow the relevant codes of practice and not make any costly mistakes.  That is a risk that you need to mitigate by being honest with yourself about your capabilities, as well as doing thorough research, preparation and planning before hand.  But in many cases, these projects are not very difficult, and many capable homeowners should be able to tackle them successfully, if they apply themselves diligently.

Another reason for going the DIY route may be the empowerment and satisfaction of taking back control of your environment, as well as doing something worthwhile that makes a real difference to your family’s long term security.  By taking a “hands-on” approach, you eliminate the mystery which often unnecessarily enshrouds these matters, and thus become master of your own destiny again.

A third reason might be that a DIY approach may allow you to start small, and then incrementally increase the scope of the project over time, as your capability and budget allows.

What is Required?

In order to make the average home more resilient to an expensive, unreliable electricity supplier, the following basic steps need to be taken:

  1. Understand your consumption behaviour.  You need to understand not only the basic figures such as your average energy consumption (kWh) and maximum demand (kVA) per day.  But far more importantly, WHY those numbers accumulate and what the main consumption categories and contributing behaviours are.  (This issue is covered in more detail here.  We find PowerProphet to be a very useful tool for that type of study BTW.)
  2. The next step is to maximise your efficiency.  Once you understand your consumption, it becomes quite easy to systematically improve your consumption efficiency.  Many way’s to do this cost very little or even nothing!  But in any event, it usually costs a lot less to improve your efficiency, than it does to provide power for an inefficient home!  A simple (and perhaps somewhat trivial) example might be – if you have a large pool pump, and you run it for a long time each day (which many people do), then a simple change to the running times will cost you nothing to implement, and yet save a large amount of energy each day.  Once you understand your consumption, it becomes clear what similar energy saving opportunities are available in your own particular home, as well the relative benefits of any efficiency improvement ideas.
  3. After you have done what you can to improve your efficiency, then you can decide what proportion of your home is going to be powered by alternative methods, and which methods might be suitable.  In most homes you could break the main requirements up into five categories:
    1. Water heating – this is often the largest single consumption category.  So you may want to consider, for instance,  retrofitting a solar water heating panel to your geyser.  Solar water heating is discussed in more detail here.
    2. Small appliances and lighting.  This category includes all appliances that are relatively easy to power using a moderately sized inverter, such as the TV, computers, all efficient lights (CFL and LED’s), as well as small efficient fridges, etc.  You may want to consider taking these devices “off grid” by installing a solar power system that supplies them with power permanently.
    3. Power hungry appliances like washing machines, tumble dryers, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, some large fridges and freezers, underfloor heating, conventional stoves and ovens, some high power microwave ovens, high power halogen lighting etc, are more difficult to accomodate.  This equipment requires a lot of power to run.  Alternative power sources, particularly solar, is typically a very expensive way of providing these heavy duty appliances with sufficient power.  You may decide to either replace those appliances with more efficient models, do without them, or simply continue with Eskom power for these appliances, or alternatively use a generator when necessary.
    4. Heating of your home during winter.  You may want to consider gas or wood burning heaters.  Home heating is discussed in more detail here.
    5. Cooking food.  Gas is probably the most practical non-electrical option, although induction hobs are quite efficient.
  4. Once you have decided on which particular categories of power consumption you wish to provide alternative forms of power for, you can start researching the various options available.  Remember that knowledge is literally power in this regard!  We are very lucky to have the internet which has enormous amounts of information available on all these subjects.
  5. The last thing you need to evaluate before starting that DIY alternative power project, is your own attitude.  If you do not like taking the time to read the manual or instructions, like taking short cuts, want someone else to be responsible for your mistakes, or tend to do a half-hearted job, then you should maybe get a professional installer to do the work.  These projects are not that difficult, provided you take the time to do them properly.  Which also means taking the time to learn whats necessary before you start.  But if you have the basic skills (which in most cases are very basic – such as being able to use a screwdriver, shifting spanner, water pipe cutter, electric drill etc.), and are willing to find out what is necessary and follow the relevant instructions and safety codes properly, then you may be able to truly become the master of your own home!

In Conclusion

A DIY approach may be a cost effective way of making your home more resilient to load shedding as well as the out of control electricity tariff increases.  Particularly if you start small, and then incrementally increase the scope of your projects as your budget allows and your capabilities grow.

But a DIY approach is not for everybody.  You need to be honest with yourself before you begin, as well as conduct very thorough research on what is required to do a proper job.  But luckily in most cases that doesn’t cost anything.

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