Can Cape Town get off the grid with solar panels? | WindowArt

 Load shedding is back and it’s not going away anytime soon. There has been much talk from homeowners and businesses alike about going ‘off the grid’ and producing their own power. Rooftop solar panels are one way to do this, and many countries have successfully managed to generate a good portion of their electricity through these nifty devices. Germany can boast that almost 7% of its annual power supply is generated through the effective use of rooftop solar panels.

In European countries, such as Germany, there are feed-in tariffs (FITs) that force the national electricity suppliers of the country to pay homeowners for the electricity they are producing. These FITs are quite generous and those making use of solar panels are receiving a profitable kickback from being off the grid.

In South Africa we have introduced this exact same set-up, but only as of September 2014 and only in Cape Town.

In the suburb of Observatory in Cape Town, there is a business park that is completely off the grid, thanks to power generated by solar panels. It is called the 1.2MW Black River Park Solar Project and it operates with the FIT system. The national regulator has not yet published a first draft, so the rules have been created by the City of Cape Town itself.

So why isn’t everyone jumping on the solar panel bandwagon?

For office blocks, the installation of solar panels is extremely costly and requires a huge capital outlay, which is a hindrance in itself. As for homeowners, many have installed solar panels and happily operate off this energy, but it is not without drawbacks. Houses use the least electricity during the day and most at night – meaning that the amount of electricity available at night is limited. The solution would be to store the electricity in battery banks that are drained at night. However, these batteries are very expensive and they require vigorous maintenance.

The idea to sell the surplus created by home solar panels to the grid is the next logical step, as the grid then receives more power during working hours and at night the power supplied by the grid is then used. However, this idea has fallen flat, as 50% of electricity customers are bankrolled by high-end users. The poor’s electricity is subsidized by the wealthy, who consume a lot of energy. Furthermore, the maintenance of the infrastructure and the ability to continuously supply electricity depends on these high usage customers.

Using solar panels for power and successfully going off the grid is a path not easily navigated as it is marred by obstacles.

We can only hope that with the continued growth of green consumerism, the renewable sector in South Africa will become sturdier. In the meantime, homeowners and business owners alike can continue making eco-friendly choices, thereby reducing their carbon footprint and contributing as little as possible to the energy crisis in our country.

To find out more about green design, please have a look at our Guide to Green Building your Home. We have covered many different eco-friendly installations and tips for remaining environmentally friendly. These can be used in a home or office space.

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