Coping with loadshedding: sorting facts from fiction

2015-04-29 22:00
It seems we will have load shedding for at least the next 2 years (or over 5 years say the experts). So we may as well learn how to cope. Step 1: decide what do you NEED to have electricity for when load shedding happens? In no particular order, this could be fridges/freezers, cooking, hot water, lighting, TV, washing machines/dryers, maybe a desktop computer and, in winter, heating. Step 2: decide what the big electricity users are? Hot water is a biggie (a 150-litre geyser uses 3000 watts per hour) - probably 40% of your electricity bill. So is cooking - a stove plate or oven can use anything from 1500 watts to well over 2000. Aircons for heating (while cheaper than ordinary electric heaters) also use from 800 watts upwards. Step 3 - make your choice. Solar heating for your hot water is good, although roof-mounted geysers are unsightly and lose a lot of heat. (But where the geyser is below the solar panels, you do need a little electric pump to circulate the hot water.) So what to use for your electricity needs? Generators are an option, but for complexes they are too noisy, and also emit exhaust fumes. They also cost you at least R3 per kilowatt/hr to run, compared to Eskom's approx. R1.30 per kW/hr. And you have to start them every time, unless you have a very expensive model. So the best option: a UPS system with deep-cycle batteries. This can switch over in a few milliseconds, which means computers don't cut out. However, decent ones are not particularly cheap. A good inverter and 4 deep-cycle batteries cost around R25 000 to R30 000. But they can power your fridge, freezer, computer, solar electric pump etc for at least 12 hours. Don't be fooled by stories of people powering their fridges, freezers, TVs etc for hours from an inverter linked to their car battery. Fridges/freezers use about 250 watts/hr. So for 12 hours this adds up to 3000 watt/hrs. LED TVs use about 150 watts/hr so 12 hours work out at 1800 watt/hrs. Car batteries aren't made for long discharge, just a quick burst of high amperage to start your car then a long period of recharge. You will destroy your car battery in short order if you try to use it for long inverter back-ups. LED lighting is good; typical LEDs use only about 5 watts, so 8 use only 40 watt/hrs. So to sum up: for cooking, use a gas cooker. Lighting either gas or LEDs. Water heating: solar heating panels. Heating; use gas. For your fridge, freezer, LED lighting, desktop computer, use a UPS back-up with proper deep-cycle batteries. TV? With a combined draw of 150 watt/hrs plus 30watt/hrs for a DSTV decoder, you will use 180 Watt/hr, so keep it to a minimum. And try to do your washing/tumble-drying when Eskom is on. Eskom will then also recharge your UPS at R1.30 per hour. Sadly, photovoltaic systems that create electricity direct from sunlight (and also need expensive batteries) are still very costly - around R200 000 or more for an average house. Wait till prices come down. For the rest - just have a lot of braais!
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