Stage 2 Primary Eskom Secondary Solar

A.    Alternative Water Heating

I would like to begin the stage with a fundamental element of electrical power saving and its measurement. These two elements water heating via solar energy (or other methods) and electrical measurement are what we will expand upon more in the sections to follow. So why is the heating of water so important? In the previous section we saw that the heating element of the geyser(water heater) often draws 4Kw of electricity. No other single appliance in the home draws this much power on a consistent basis. It is the biggest single consumer of electricity in the home – get rid of it! Water heating has been a necessity from ancient times, and in antiquity a person was often employed with this single function as his primary task. Today in our modern world we have given over this responsibility to machines. When the price of electricity was cheap in the 1970’s the common geyser was cheap to run and easy to afford. Today it is a different story – electricity is now very expensive and the geyser is a dinosaur that needs to be evicted from our premises.

In the previous stage we have begun to calculate the cost of electricity and how to understand the monthly electrical account that we have to pay for. May people have made the assumption that the geyser or water heater in the home is responsible for 50% of the monthly electrical cost – and they are right. Our idea of the average home will differ due to our background. Some people live in grand homes with a dedicated geyser for every bathroom, and one for the kitchen. Others make do with one water heater for the entire house.

So our plan is to replace our water heater and get to the most economical solution that delivers the most efficient service the most consistently. Here is how we do it:

1. Analyze the different  models available, compare the cost, how efficient they are and what they will cost. Then make up your mind and chose  your solution.
a) Evacuated tubes
b) Flat Plate
c) Gas Geyser
d) Heat  Pump

2. Once you have chosen the right water heating system for you purpose, you also need a management tool to optimally use it. I will only discuss one model here, although there might be more. The old adage says “ if you cannot measure it, you sure cannot manage it!” My experience is that where you are using your existing geyser configuration as a back-up for bad weather days, or you are simply using a geyser management system s a timer – you want to be able to know what you are doing – meaning what the temperature is, and how long the most energy expensive single appliance will be in operation for.
a)Geyser wise

B. 12volt Lighting

In Stage 1 we have already discussed LED lighting and their benefit. We are now ready to take this one step further to save more energy. There is a vast difference in energy consumption when comparing 12volt lighting and 220volt lighting. The clear winner here is 12volt DC lighting. Once people are ready to get serious about energy saving lights you cannot ignore 12volt DC lighting. All LED lights are available in 12volt DC. Specialized Solar Systems manufacture their own range of 12volt DC lights. As mentioned in Stage 1, we have seen a 3watt down lighter take the place of a 50watt halogen bulb. That is a 94%saving! We see similar statistics when looking at exterior spotlights. We have seen 14watt LED spot lights do the work of a 500watt halogen spotlight. The SSS 9watt spot light often replaces a 250watt halogen spot. Not all situations are ideal for LED lighting. Our experience is that a softer, direct light used at a reasonably low level is the ideal scenario for LED lighting.
In Stage 2 you will be looking at changing all your lights over to LED’s and getting you interior and exterior lights on a 12volt circuit. Depending on your capacity this might mean on or two different circuits. In my house I have all my lights on only one circuit. Ok, I can already hear the questions humming in the background.
How do I get a 12volt circuit on my DB? Impossible ? ! Illegal !?  Does this involve an electrician?

At my own house, when I changed all the lights I decided to wire all the lights on a single circuit. To get the benefit of 12volt lighting I did the following : I had a transformer installed that accepts the 220volt from Eskom and then changes/transforms it down to 12volt going out. In the box where the transformer is, we also built in a battery charger that charges 2 deep cycle batteries. So the benefit is that if there is a power  cut by Eskom – happens about every three months in George – my lights are powered by battery – and that happens immediately. I have enough battery power for about 3 days if need be! On the occasions when this happens I remember the days when there was a panic when the lights went out and everybody’s life came to a halt, looking for candles. The way I have it now is much better! The good news is that in the next stage, I will simply have to install a solar panel that will charge my batteries instead of Eskom doing it here. That is how we change Eskom from being the primary provider to the secondary provider! Very easy.

C. Gas Stove
Cooking with gas if fun! Gas is great! You watch all these professional chefs on tv cooking with gas and it looks great and everybody fully accepts that is the right thing to do, but the moment you want to buy a gas appliance for your own house all the scare me stories can emerge.  
Gas hobs are nice but you must have an electric stove! Look at all these appliances made by professionals: AEG, Miele, LG, Bosch, they all have gas hobs but electric ovens! Don’t buck the trend stick with what the professionals recommend! Gas ovens are not effective. Gas ovens are not practical. Gas ovens are not economical compared to electric ones. Gas ovens burn your food. Gas ovens cannot function at a low heat. Gas ovens make your cake flop….
OK, my turn now. If gas appliances have been around for more than 100 years and they have not changed much, why are they so expensive? They should be cheap! My wife and I used a real bottom of the range gas stove & oven when we first got married – that cooked the best chicken roast ever! Why do you say gas ovens are no good? Well ………. I know some other people that have go gas ovens and they work well , why do you say the cake will flop? Well, if you open the door to look at the cake then all the heat escapes then the gas has got to fire up extra hot to reach the same temperature again. Than burns your cake at the bottom and makes it cave in at the top. OK, so if I don’t open the door all is fine and the cake will bake 100%? Well…

If you have come to understand a bit of my thinking you will know that I did not give up on my idea and bought a gas stove and gas oven combo. I found an older model that was for sale on the discontinued shelf at 30% discount. My wife had no problem baking bread in the oven and all our teen agers can use it just fine.

I bought a Bosch model with jets can be changed to accommodate natural gas. This brings me to one of the self-sufficient reasons why I chose gas in the first place. Most of us buy LP Gas or Liquid Petroleum Gas. If you know how you can make your own natural gas. Ever heard of a biogas digester? They are made in South Africa and a large unit makes enough gas per day to keep your gas stove/hob burning for one hour. The other reason is that if I use gas my Eskom account will drop. OK, but what you save on Eskom you will pay for in gas. No not quite. We have also bought a solar cooker – works with sunlight energy and bakes bread in about 3 hours. Cooks veggies very well. Don’t do your pasta with it – too mushy. But keep on experimenting until you get it right. Next we got building on a pizza oven! So there are more ways to cook your food other than the traditional Defy electron! And yes you can save much more than what you were spending on your stove. I also want to take this department away from Eskom because then I am one more step closer to my final goal.

D.    Energy saving appliances
We will primarily focus on this subject in the next stage, but let me just through out an appetizer here: How do you get your family to become energy conscious? How do you get teen-agers to realize that the computer and the tv that they keep on perpetually actually costs money to run? Here is what I did –it worked very well. We were already at this stage and I did not think we could drop our consumption any further, unless I got the co-operation of the rest of the family. So I put us on an electricity target of R300 per month. I had a spreadsheet worked out with daily totals that did not draw too much attention. As you would have guessed the first month I loaded the R300 target,  we ran out in the last week of the month and I had mumbling and grumbling to contend with until the beloved power got restored again. Ok, this is where dad has to come up with plan B. So I switched to a daily load of R10 per day, with a stockpile that I kept safely stashed away. Obviously I was vey unpopular for a while, especially on weekends when the favourite teenage tv program was about to come on the box and there was only one unit of electricity left! I was astounded at how quickly basic concepts of electricity were automatically put into action. The energy guzzling culprits were soon identified – an old 4x4 camping fridge being the chief accused. As soon as these contents (mainly dog food that I feed my two ridgebacks) were transferred to our energy efficient fridge in the kitchen we had surplus power! This all happened by method of deduction and no instruments were used to arrive at this sterling conclusion – my teenagers had become barefoot solar engineers in one month! Another incident that I remember is that when I came home on a weekend and found the DB board re-arranged. All the circuits were down except for one – you guessed it, the plug circuit for the tv that my teenagers were huddling around. They only had a fraction of an electrical unit left and wanted to stretch the electrical consumption as far as possible to watch their program for the longest possible time. To achieve this they naturally had to switch off all the other unnecessary appliances in the home. Dad came home just in time to relieve the tension and load up another day of electricity for all!

Bottom line is that my family came through really well and within a month I could stop the daily uploads of the pre-paid meter. The target had been achieved and we proved that our family could live a normal but adjusted life in suburbia on less than R300 month paid to Eskom a month! The key to this adjustment was to understand the importance of which appliances draw more power than others, and how to manage them.  Incidentally the R300 target that I was reaching for put us well below the targeted 50% saving on our electrical expense per month. Yes, we were also using gas, so if you added those two together we were almost at the 50% level. So all of a sudden, with my authoritarian R10/day budget for electricity we had arrived at a new target level! We had achieved this goal and were now getting ready for the next level. What lay ahead for us was indeed an exciting part and we would now enter the area of Hybrid Solar/Eskom consumption that I have seen very few examples of.

E.  Before we step up to the next stage I want to conclude on some green issues not related to electricity.

Our self sufficiency journey will however not be complete if I omit them here
i. Recycling
ii.Grey water saving

Some people in South Africa still get an amalgamated “Water and Electricity” account from their municipality on a monthly basis. The water cost used to be cheap, but is now also very expensive. At one stage some municipalities outlawed the use of rainwater tanks because they wanted to force the consumers to use their water and obviously pay for it! In George we had a very serious drought and strict water savings measures were enforced. Many people living in suburbs installed a rainwater tank to collect extra water to save their gardens from extinction. Rainwater, apart from being very healthy compared to the chlorinated toxic water that we are led to believe is beneficial, is a great saving. Our municipal account amounts to R250 per month! That is now as much as what we spend on electricity! To save water is easy and it also ties in with our Solar adventure. But before we get to rainwater tanks our situation offered an easy solution that cost very little and was able to provide grey water relief to our garden! Obviously this is subject to having a garden that is suitable to this type of water flow – here is our story:  



Posted in: ENERGY SAVING Practical principles