Going solar makes sense, says energy expert

Independent energy expert Hilton Trollip spoke to Bergvliet and Meadowridge residents about the country’s energy crisis. Picture: Janice Matthews

Even if load shedding were to ease off, it would still make good financial and environmental sense for homeowners to go solar, says energy expert Hilton Trollip.

The independent consultant in energy research and a research fellow in the Global Risk Governance programme at UCT spoke at the Bergvliet and Meadowridge Ratepayers’ Association’s annual general meeting at Bergvliet Primary School late last month.

Changes in the law allowing more independent power producers (IPPs) to be added to the grid coupled with the cushioning effect of the Steenbras Dam hydroelectric plant meant Cape Town could expect to see even lower stages of load shedding in the next three years, he said.

South Africa’s old coal-fired power stations had not been well maintained and the best we could do with them was to keep them going at their current rate, meaning load-shedding would be with us for years to come, he said.

However, while the rest of the country would be stuck in stages 2 to 4, the situation was somewhat brighter in Cape Town.

“Cape Town will continue to have lower load shedding because of the Steenbras Dam. So we will have between stages 1-3 for the next period, and then the national government has made substantial changes in regulations, which allows private IPPs to come onto the grid. Cape Town has been pushing this for many years trying to get these things onto the grid. Because the law has changed, they now will get a whole lot more onto the grid over the next three years. And so load shedding will go down to stages 1-2.”

He predicted a dramatic reduction in load-shedding stages as the country headed towards elections next year.

“If a politician tells you they are going to make the coal-fired plants behave a lot better or they are going to fall apart because people aren’t looking after them, they are probably also doing that for votes.”

He said the country would continue to see above-inflation increases in the price of electricity, which meant it would start to make a lot more financial sense to invest in solar power with solar panels, a battery and an inverter that could be paid off in six to 12 years from what a household saved on its electricity bill.

Furthermore, if all middle-income households in South Africa went solar, it would greatly reduce emissions from coal-fired power stations, benefiting the environment.

Resident Bill Turton, who has installed a solar-powered system, said he had noticed its benefits.

“You made reference to reducing your electricity bill. I think the greater urgency, which we saw when load shedding at stage 6 for fairly lengthy periods of time and getting close to 8, the bigger concern is to get some kind of sustainable electricity supply, and I would suggest that is the primary reason you would want this.”

Another resident, Brandon Hansen, who works in construction and project management, recommended that anyone thinking of going solar have someone do an energy efficiency audit of their home. It was also important to check who installed the system as they should be registered with the City, he said.