In the Johannesburg suburb Parkhurst, the technology and electricity innovations are not just ideas: they are implemented by the local residents themselves!
How to get electricity off-grid?
Last year, the local resident’s association laid fibre in the suburb before Telkom even thought about getting it installed in the area. After that, a large number of suburbs decided to follow their lead, but the initiative does not stop at the fibre level. The local Parkhurst association now wants now to turn the area into a model suburb for self-sufficiency and green living. They implemented a five-year plan to take 2 000 homes completely off-grid, in order to diversify not just from Telcom Telkom, but also from Eskom’s tariff increases and load-shedding.
The leader of the project, local resident Ryan Beech, already has his home off-grid. “It is about changing the way you live,” Beech explains, “It’s not just solar panels. It’s installing the right insulation, making use of wood-pellet stoves, changing to energy-saving light bulbs or using anything that is more efficient than Eskom.”
In the near future, the suburb’s association planned to install charging point for electric cars and bicycles. Contracts have already been signed with Nissan and BMW to build the first charging points for electric vehicles in Parkhurst.
How to finance it?
This community-base and local approach almost seems like heaven: the residents get modern technologies, green energy, and decide how much they are willing to pay for it. Indeed, this installation has a cost. First, the local association gathers information on how much citizens are willing to pay. Then it has to find a company prepared to supply superfast broadband or solar panels on that basis. After having met 40 solar panels suppliers and negotiated discounts due to the large volume of purchases, only three fit the requirements: Dako Power, Tasol and the American car giant Tesla’s Powerwall, but since Tesla’s Powerwall products are not sold in South Africa yet, costs to import and install are too high.
Moreover the suppliers offer is flexible depending on how much the households are willing to spend: Dako for instance, provides a completely off-grid option for R100 000, but also an intermediate solution that allows houses to combine solar energy and Eskom electricity. However, if considered on a long term basis (25-years), with Eskom tariff increases and load-shedding, the R100 000 investment in solar panels makes sense because you would pay the same price for electricity, whilst Eskom’s prices will increase annually!
Though, R100 000 investment remains a lot of money. That is why the local resident association is currently in discussion with the major banks to get the equipment financed. If the association succeeds, it will be cheaper to invest in a complete solar installation than to pay Eskom every month!