What is a professional questions whether technicians have the training and expertise to make major upgrades to the electrical grid, and whether hands-on homeowners could build their own solar farms.
Some 45 years ago I was privileged to sit at the feet of probably the best lecturer I have ever known. He was Prof Jack Niven and it was whilst studying for a B.Ed at UNP. He was one of those teachers who challenged you to think for yourself and inspired you to go and home-study.
I will never forget Prof Jack. He was witty, immensely clever and
nobody ever skipped his class. No register was taken. It was he I
believe who told us of that Chinese proverb, "if you’re planning for one
year, plant rice; for a decade, plant trees. For a century, you
guessed it, educate your children."
One lecture I remember particularly clearly, even after so many decades. It was to to do with the definition of a professional. The arguments swayed back and forth from a group of seasoned-teachers. In the end, we decided that a technician could build even quite a complex house, but never a bridge over the N3.
Back in those days, Pietermaritzburg had nine fully-qualified university trained electrical engineers on its staff. Since the current government came to power, all were retrenched, being white, and since I know some of them personally, they are either retired or working overseas.
This administration thinks that a group of electricians are quite well enough qualified to do the planning and execution needed to maintain a stable and reliable-grid in our dear city.
With Prof Jack’s words ringing in my ears, when I returned from a stint working overseas, I could see the writing on the wall. We started with a small solar system; I shudder to think how foolish, of just 600W to supply lights and computers.
And it worked tolerably well, but it was a mistake. One needs to think of at least a 48V system, 5 kW of panels and inverter, and a lithium ion battery.
The crunch came when this council sent a boy to do a man’s job; install a new transformer in Hilton. He connected the neutrals incorrectly and subjected our part of the street to both phases. I measured 431V in our DB. The damage was immense and of course both council and our insurance refused to pay for the mayhem caused by the spike.
We then made the decision to upgrade to 10kW. Now we can thumb our noses at this council that continues to think that a technician can do a professional’s job. This week for the first time in over a year we used the grid on prepaid for about an hour to heat water for family who had come to stay. We have used less than R100 in electricity in a whole year.
A large solar power-plant like we have produces an excess on sunny days. In January last year we decided that turning over a blue Leaf would be more interesting and sustainable, and were very fortunate to pick up an E-car for a song; it is easily charged, drawing only 2kW, same as a kettle.
The same applies to water; it goes hand in hand with electricity. A R30,000 ‘real Preston’ means you will virtually never again have to use municipal water. Collecting and storing pristine rainwater will save not only your bacon, but contribute to saving the planet too.
The causes of water scarcity have to be squarely faced; the wars of the future will not be over oil.
Here too what is a professional is relevant; how thick must the concrete base be, and what reinforcing do you need? I'm sure amongst your friends and acquaintances you will find those who can give you answers. This is not akin to building a bridge across a highway.
City Hall will of course not be pleased, but they have been courting their, and our, destruction for two decades and if they are unable to supply clean and reliable water and electricity they should not be surprised when a farmer makes a plan.
I like to think I’m not a smug, I told you so person; but I did tell you. Many times and I fear there is far worse yet to come. Water scarcity in the world is not only a problem in South Africa.
The capital cost is considerable and I can’t promise you that you will save yourself a lot of money. We figure the underground water reservoir paid itself off in about 5 years, and the electrical system in about ten.
Saving for a solar farm is how we did it. It meant going without any luxuries whatsoever for a whole year.
That’s excluding the damage done from surges and the effect of contaminated water on your well-being, both of which are difficult to quantify. The real saving is of your mental health; can you imagine the joy of never getting another electricity bill from City Hall and being able to sell your gennie?
Don’t rush into this. Talk to people, read the internet, follow my green journey, get quotes, and consider whether you are willing to give up using the oven and dishwasher at night; or paying for them from prepaid. It will probably be the best investment you ever make and perhaps even more important, you will be joining that band of quaint greenies who actually do believe we should be preserving the planet for our children and their offspring.
If you are hands-on person with a science background what is a professional may not be entirely irrelevant. This isn't building a bridge across a highway but you will need guidance and direction; I am a physics-graduate and still needed it, and yet made some elementary mistakes. The most important was to choose an inverter that was far too small. 5kW is a minimum in my book.
I told you so! The nincompoops running our beloved City of Choice are rapidly turning it into a Jika Joe. And there’s probably far worse to come. It has been said before, there is nothing more explosive than an idea that has found its time and come to fruition.
What is a professional is a question becoming difficult to answer. What about your cabinet maker who can construct a work of art; and a computer boffin who can quickly sort out your problem?
Renen Energy Solutions is one option if you live in KZN.
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