It is really a question of perspective and values, but if one uses electricity at all, the answer is a categorical NO.
Electricity has been cheap historically in South Africa but is progressively becoming a luxury and expensive, although most people would agree that it is a basic necessity and should be affordable.
Solar technologies are for everyone, providing long-term financial and environmental benefits as well as job creation. It is just a question of priorities.
As to whether solar is expensive one needs to split the question into 3 groups.
Large Scale Power Generation
Large scale solar electricity generation from solar photo voltaic panels has fallen in price exponentially over the last decade. Solar thermal for electricity generation known as CSP has also fallen in price but not as quickly.
Although prices a few years back were higher from solar PV per kWh than coal or nuclear per kWh, that position has now reversed, as a result more efficient panels combined with dramatic increases in manufacturing and more competition. Going forward the price advantage of solar over coal and nuclear will become even more pronounced.
Two technologies, solar being used for heating water, otherwise known as solar water heaters, and solar Photo voltaic for generating electricity.
As with large scale generation the prices of both technologies have fallen in price and significantly in real terms when compared with the price of electricity.
As electricity in South Africa is used for heating water in preference to gas or oil as in Europe or the Americas, it accounts typically for 35% to 60% of the monthly electricity bill.
Solar water heating technology is now so efficient (some manufacturers) and the price having come down in real terms, that it is now cheaper to heat water with solar than electricity. Every year that passes the advantage of going solar will be more beneficial financially.
Generating electricity at home is also attractive but not as much as solar water heaters, or home solar electric overseas where the consumer has the ability to be grid tied and sell their surplus consumption back to the power companies.
For many, if not most people in the country, making ends meet and putting the next meal on the table represents a constant challenge. Of course all solar is perceived as being for the rich, in the same way as holidays, clothing, education and food.
Going solar is not really an opportunity for most, and they should be entitled to both hot water and light.
Unfortunately the South African government defaulted on their promises to provide solar hot water to 1m homes by 2014, and likewise solar water to 5m low income homes by 2030 is nothing more than a false promise. Less than 300,000 low pressure solar water heating units were installed into RDP homes.
Eskom, their agents responsible for rolling out low income solar water heaters had little interest. Their job is to sell electricity rather than to save it. Their motivation in supplying solar water heaters, if any, was driven by reducing the morning and evening peak demand periods. These periods were significantly contributed to by 5m homes boiling kettles and water on hot plates for washing, having returned from work.
Regrettably due to Eskom’s lack of management expertise and incompetence, many solar systems (funded by Department of Energy) were badly installed and are not working today. The program resulted in just another missed opportunity for improving the lives of the poorer in society.
Sadly, a worthy holistic government goal was also riddled with corruption, with numerous cadres picking up tenders and using political connections to be given allocations of funded solar water heaters. Not to be left out, family members of the President were also involved in deals worth hundreds of millions in abuse.
Leaving the moral questions aside as to whether it is right within a service delivery model for solar water heaters to be given to the poorer in society for free, there have been numerous attempts to try and roll out solar water heaters through different agents such as municipalities.
Unfortunately to date the opportunity has always been spoiled through opportunism for enrichment.
Electricity in South Africa is perceived to be expensive but one reality is that it is much cheaper still than most parts of the world. A second reality is that the price is only going to go up and up. As increases are significantly above inflation, electricity will consume more and more of the home monthly budget.
So as solar can save 80% and more of what one is paying Eskom or the municipal seller of electricity for heating water, is it a question of whether solar is expensive, or is it that the homeowner doesn’t appreciate the opportunity for saving money?
Frequently those people that have not investigated or do not understand the financial benefits of solar make accusations that solar is a ‘rip off’ or expensive. It is of course again a matter of perception, but electricity is expensive and saving electricity through solar power is going to require investment in the technology to use the sun rather than the mains. With products that can provide saving returns of over 800% over 10 years, rather than being expensive, it is cheap.
Having appreciated the home budgeting benefits, the next challenge is having the money to purchase the solar technologies. Today there are a number of ‘green’ financiers that will provide the required capital to purchase and install.
With the acquisition financed over 4 or 5 years, and a life expectancy of 25 years and more on many products, the long-term benefits are obviously huge.
However the short-term benefits are also that the electrical financial savings can be more than the cost of the monthly repayments. In other words one can go solar and have more money in the home budget every month after going solar.
This demonstrates that solar is not for the rich, but for anyone who is using electricity for heating water, and that is all homes other than those without electrification.
Even those homes without electric geysers that use either electricity in kettles or hot plates, or use kerosene for heating water can be financially better off by going solar.TAKING THE STEP TO GOING SOLAR
Having taken the mental step to go solar, it is then a question of understanding what is on offer. We suggest that you ‘browse’ on the Internet, in the same way as you would if you were buying anything else.
Becoming informed and educated will help avoid making costly mistakes.
One shortcut is to read a number of articles posted on www.ubersolar.co.za which explain the pitfalls and traps and what you need to know, irrespective of whom you buy from and what system you ultimately end up with.
South Africa enjoys one of the best climates in the world for solar. With double the sunshine of most of Europe, the financial equation of going solar is extraordinarily attractive.
As the price of electricity goes up, and with the price of all solar technology continuing to fall in real terms, every year that passes solar becomes more attractive from a financial perspective.
While the South African government and Eskom are both reluctant to take advantage of our natural resources of sunshine, preferring to embark on more expensive coal and nuclear, as well as renege on environmental obligations, anyone who is already using electricity can move to renewables, and at the same time as being better off, can also contribute towards climate change mitigation.
With ‘plug and play’ solar technologies, you can go off the grid in stages.
Start with solar water heaters and energy efficient lighting; change from electricity to gas for stoves, and then to solar electric generation (PV), and then with your own storage.
UBERSOLAR is passionate about renewables and energy sustainability. We believe that everyone should embrace solar so that they can be better off and help preserve our planet.
Naturally we want consumers to buy our products, (we believe they are the best), but more importantly we want every user of electricity to save money and reduce pollution from coal fired electricity.