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5 things you should know before going off the grid

Going off the electricity grid may sound like a good idea, but there are a few important factors you should consider first.

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Living in South Africa comes with a big benefit: we get a lot of sun! Using the sun to generate electricity through solar power is good for the environment and your electricity bill. It may, however, take time before you begin to see the returns of your investment. And you may not have the money available right now. That’s where credit comes in. When used for the right reasons, credit like Capitec’s Access Facility can help you achieve your goal of living off the grid and save money in the long run. Here are 5 factors to consider before going solar.

Your lights and appliances

Before you convert to solar power, you’ll need to convert your lights. If you haven’t done this already, you’ll want to replace your lights with LED light bulbs. LED bulbs kill 2 birds with one stone: they help reduce your electricity consumption and the size of the solar system you’ll need to install.

Electric appliances also use a lot of electricity. To avoid the grid, it's a good idea to replace your stove and heater with gas appliances.

How much space you have

A solar power system requires a lot of space. Firstly, you’ll need about 20 solar panels, but those can easily go on the roof. Secondly, you’ll need space inside to store the batteries. Depending on the size of your installation, this could be up to 30 batteries.

The ongoing maintenance

Although solar power systems typically don’t need much maintenance, they do still have to be maintained – particularly the solar panels. Over time the panels can become dirty, which reduces their efficiency. Fortunately, hosing them down usually sorts this out. And although the panels have lengthy life spans, you’ll probably have to replace them every 25 to 40 years, which can be an expensive exercise.

When it comes to batteries, you will need to replace them from time to time. The newer ones available today fortunately do tend to last longer than those previously on the market. “Lithium batteries need replacing every 8 to 10 years, especially in hotter parts of our country. Typical solar deep cycle batteries like lead, calcium or other AGM [absorbed glass mat] batteries only provide 1 500 to 2 500 recharges. These ‘old school’ batteries require replacing every 3 to 5 years,” says Paul Lombard from energy solutions company Regenergy.

Your backup plan

Even if your plan is to go off the grid completely, it’s important to remember that technology has its limitations. Should your solar power system stop working, for whatever reason, make sure you have a backup system in place so you’re not sitting in the dark until it can be fixed.

The hidden costs

There are a few hidden costs you should be aware of. Typically, 2 types of Small-Scale Embedded Generation (SSEG) systems are used when going off the grid: the grid-tied SSEG system and the off-grid or standalone SSEG system.

The grid-tied SSEG system keeps you connected to the city’s electricity grid. Although you’ll have to pay a daily or monthly service fee in addition to an energy fee per kWh, you’ll get money back if you generate excess power. For any excess power you feed back into the grid, your account will be credited at a feed-in tariff. This service isn’t available through all municipalities, so it’s best to check with your local office whether there are any hidden costs.

You also have the option of going the grid-tied non-feed-in PV route, which means any excess electricity you generate on your property is blocked from feeding back into the grid.

To go completely off the grid, you’ll need an off-grid or standalone SSEG system. These systems are physically separated and electrically isolated from the grid.

What will it cost to go off the grid?

The start-up costs can be expensive. Depending on your usage needs, estimates for going off the grid range from R150 000 to R350 000. But there is good news. You don’t need to go all in; you can convert to solar gradually.

Applying for our access facility could be the first step to going off the grid; based on your personal profile, you could get access to up to R250 000 credit limit. It's affordable revolving credit that puts you in control because:

  • You decide when and how much of your access facility's credit limit to use
    So you can use as much or as little of your credit limit as you like
  • You choose a repayment amount or period that suits you
    Or If your financial situation changes, simply change your repayment amount or period the money you've repaid becomes available again

Our access facility is available to anyone who qualifies, you don't have to bank with us to apply. Simply visit a Capitec branch with your valid SA ID document or smart ID (new clients only) and your latest 3 consecutive salary slips (you need to be permanently employed). You’ll also need to bring a bank statement that shows your last 3 consecutive salary deposits (only if your salary is not paid into your Capitec account).

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