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The age of cheap electricity is at an end

Posted by: Yes Solar Cape (Cape Town, South Africa) – 10 October 2010

The age of cheap electricity in South Africa is at an end. It may pay to consider alternative and renewable energy sources – or to invest in methods of increasing energy efficiency.

Soar water heating - evacuated tubes on frame

Unfortunately, there are several factors working against an easy transition from the Eskom grid to your own little energy island.

Sustainable and renewable energy engineer Frank Spencer, CEO of Emergent Energy, said the immediate problem is that we are in a transition period from cheap to more expensive electricity.

“Our electricity is still too inexpensive to drive behaviour change, but that will change. In addition, our houses are built so poorly that we use a lot of energy to run them, such as poor insulation on geysers, pipes and ceilings, and energy-inefficient appliances,” Spencer said.

“Houses are optimised for upfront costs, not running costs. As with almost every industry, life-cycle costs are seldom considered.”

Getting the best advice on investments in alternative energy sources is not easy, said Spencer. “Most companies are looking to sell some product, which makes it very difficult to get independent advice. Further, there is no reputable accreditation body that I am aware of.”

Nevertheless, Spencer said there is plenty that homeowners can do to reduce their electricity bills immediately.

“Renewables in a sense give you a hedge against long-term electricity prices because you spend most of the money upfront, so you know precisely what your electricity is going to cost you for the next 10 to 20 years – especially with solar water heaters (turning sunlight into hot water) and photovoltaics (turning sunlight into electricity).”

When it comes to installing renewable energy sources for your home, Spencer said the country’s abundant sunlight means wind just cannot easily compete with solar’s life-cycle costs.

“Solar is cheaper upfront for the same amount of energy (kWh) produced, with much less maintenance. Solar water heaters are the cheapest way of producing energy from the sun, but heat pumps (especially solar heat pumps) are also a good alternative. However, energy-efficiency investments will beat all of these.”

“Energy-efficiency investments can have zero payback time – like taking out superfluous light bulbs – to just a few years, for CFL bulbs.

“Solar water heaters and heat pumps have a payback of about five years (with the Eskom subsidy), but this depends on the volume of hot water consumed.

“By combining energy efficiency gas and solar it is possible to get off the grid with a combined payback of less than 10 years,” said Spencer.

By: Brendan Peacock
Source: Times Live

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