Family saves big on power

2014-04-05 00:00

WHEN Barrie and Jean Lewis of Hilton got fed up with frequent power cuts they decided to do something about it.

Encouraged by their experience of living in Holland for seven years, where alternative energy is commonly used, they started to slowly revamp their infrastructure at home.

Three years later, most of their energy needs come from the Sun and they have substantially reduced their electricity bill. They share a property with their daughter and her family, and for four adults and three children living in two different houses, the combined electricity bill is R284 per month, plus the 30-amp MCB charge of R284.

“That’s with one house not really on the solar system,” said Barrie, explaining that the younger family members have yet to be convinced that the hassle is worth it, and only have solar-powered geysers.

“Our cottage uses less than R50 of electricity per month.

“It is more schlep,” said Barrie. “You have to keep an eye on things. If you see clouds blowing in, it’s not the time to use solar to boil water. It needs forethought, so that you use power when the sun is shining. But the bigger the system you build, the less PT. Then you can use as much power as you want.”

The Lewises started off their conversion with panels to power the geysers, lights, TV and computers. Now they can use the bread machine in the mornings and the pool pump and electric oven during the day. With the help of his supplier, Barrie did much of the installation himself, and various improvements and modifications have been made along the way.

He estimates the whole electrical conversion has cost about R100 000 so far, and would cost less if done now because the panels are much cheaper. He acknowledged that the conversion is not cheap.

“When I started I realised that this was not a money saving exercise, although now we’re much closer to payback time than I expected to be.

“You have to be interested in fiddling with plugs, and you have to be prepared to talk to people,” said Barrie, a semi-retired chiropractor, about how he managed to do the installation, to which Jean adds that he studied physics 3 at university.

“I was a bit nervous at first, because this stuff can burn you! But it’s not rocket science. Anyone with a bit of interest, drive and a bit of help can do it,” he said.

The Lewises have a hybrid system, which means they can switch over and draw current from the grid when necessary, such as when the weather in Hilton is misty.

“To go completely off the grid is a bit of a pipe dream,” he said. “You need a lot of batteries and it’s a big expense, so the hybrid system is the best option.”

He said their batteries were a big expense, and they started with two and added two more, costing R20 000.

“There is a greed factor involved in this,” says Barrie wryly, “when you discover that what you get from the Sun is free and you want more.” One lesson he’d learnt is that you should recognise at the outset that you will want to expand and go big from the beginning.

“But I like the idea of going green,” said Barrie. “It’s the right thing to do.

“And we have one of the best climates in the world,” added Jean. “If they can do it in Europe, then why not here?’’

More details can be found at http://www.bernard-


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