Date:28 January 2015
The blackouts are rolling and by all indications they won’t be getting better any time soon. PM decided that there are more productive ways to channel our frustration and compiled this guide to surviving or thriving during the oncoming darkness.
Here you will find a guide to help you come as close to living comfortably without ESKOM power dependence as you can, either the low-tech way or the high-tech way (if money isn’t an object).
At the very least, you will find some tips to make life a bit easier when the darkness hits.
There are many solar options available to those who want to be more self-sufficient or green at home. If you are considering options in this range, spend some time reading up on the products and exactly what you will need out of them if you are going a customised route, but here are some basic high- and low-tech options that are readily available.
Your geyser (and any heat producing electronic device) sucks a massive amount of power compared to your other domestic appliances. And when load shedding hits the absence of a hot shower is one of the biggest nuisances.
Luckily, there is a cheap way to ensure you can shower warmly even if the power went out for weeks!
Solar camping showers don’t have a photo-voltaic system to heat water (which costs a lot of money), but rather use the sun’s direct energy to warm the special black material the bag is made of. This process can heat water to 42 degrees Celsius, and by hanging it up, creates enough pressure with simple gravitational force for a very comfortable shower.
Most outdoor merchants stock them, and the Natural Instinct 20l Solar Shower, for instance, retails for just over R100.
TIP: Hang the bag outside during the day and shift your family’s shower time to the evenings from the mornings. At night, fetch the bag(s) and hang them in the shower itself and experience as close to a normal shower as you can for less than the price of a family meal, during a blackout.
If your major concern is normalcy during the outages, then there are a number of ways to keep the hot water flowing without any hassle.
A solar geyser is a relatively large investment, but considering the rebates and savings, can be a very prudent longer term investment – on top of being really convenient.
For around R18 000 (after rebates and discounts) you can get a SunTank 300l solar geyser for a pitched roof. The price here refers to a model where the tank itself is also mounted outside on the roof close to the panels, which also helps heating. There are many options, from enclosing the perhaps unsightly tank within the roof itself, to options for flat roofs and larger capacities.
With 300l your family of 3-5 will happily cleanse by candle light while the rest of us stock up on Wet Wipes.
TIP: By the product online for further discounts and remove your old geyser yourself to save some more cash. This way, the average model will pay itself off within only a few years and dramatically reduce you electricity bill.
Gas cooking is one of many ways to use gas to reduce your dependence on the grid and be more green. From lighting, to power generating, the options are endless and ever cheaper. We focus on cooking, since this crucial exercise is one of the most notorious frustrations during load shedding.
It seems load shedding is going to make camping equipment owners of us all, because once again your cheap solution comes from the outdoor specialists.
You can buy a fully functional, high quality, 2-burner gas stove for just over R500 which will be just as comfortable in your candle-lit kitchen as it will be in the Kruger National Park. It will be less obtrusive and more counter-top friendly than a normal gas cylinder stove top, and works just as well as your electric. Just don’t tell everyone you got one, or the whole neighbourhood might stop by at the only open kitchen during the outage.
TIP: If you are pressed for space in the kitchen as it is, simply put the new camping stove plate on top of the electric stove and work from there. All your utensils will be within reach and will make the transition that much smoother. Just remember to switch off the electric stove at the wall before this.
Many people have invested in a domestic all-gas stove/oven. Besides guarding against a blackout, it is cheaper to run in the long run and much more convenient.
You can get a stove/oven where the oven is still electric, but if you’re counting on self-sufficiency, the all-gas alternative is the way to go. For about R9000 you can get an Elba 600 classic model that is all-gas and has four burners and a 64l oven.
TIP: If you want to go the extra mile, install a biodigester that will mean even your gas becomes self-supplied. A large biodogester will set you back around R50 000, depending on the supplier and installation costs, but the benefits in the long term are tremendous. By diverting your sewerage and even grey water into the digester, you get a constant supply of your own methane that can be used for cooking in even the most apocalyptic scenario. Some models even automatically divert the nutrient rich fertiliser by-product to desired locations throughout your garden, which means your self-sufficient vegetable patch will survive the lapses in irrigation as well.
We generally forget how much contemporary life depends on these little wonders since most are now self-contained within the vast majority of our technology. But when the power goes out, it’s a stark reminder of our dependence. When your lights go out next time, you can do quite a lot more than just stock up on packs of AA batteries to help you make it through the outage.
The first step IS to stock up on the AA and AAA batteries for torches, radios and everything else that will be used more often now that the power’s out. After that, there are quite a few options available as small, but useful investments.
Get a power bank for your tech products. These are lovely inventions that vary in size, but generally look like external hard drives and serve as a medium term charging solution for anything from your phone to your tablet. You simply charge it once, and (depending on its capacity) then charge your other tech from it when the power goes out or you go on a long trip away from the plugs. For less than R500 you can get a high capacity power bank which will fundamentally surprise you as to its usefulness even when the power is on. RiCharge is a local firm and makes very mobile power banks for very reasonable prices.
This way, even at Stage 4 load shedding, you will be happily chatting away on your smartphone and watching movies on your tablet as you pass the hours in comfort.
You can also get covers for your smartphone that double as battery extensions. These add an extra day of battery life while simultaneously protecting your phone. They are generally under R1000, but shop around and definitely check online for a greater variety of options.
Lastly, invest in tools to utilise your car battery in emergencies. There are transformers that allow you to supply normal wall output electricity to appliances such as laptops by simply attaching to car batteries while you drive. And those car chargers you always see next to the road might actually be a good idea now as well.
If you can go high-tech, the solutions can be numerous in this category. Battery banks that are charged by a solar array, or any other means you can think of, can power large amounts of your appliances at home if well maintained. These are specialist installations though, so do your research thoroughly according to your needs beforehand.
On a smaller scale, the same power banks for your tech mentioned above come in multipurpose form as well. There are Samsung models that are power banks, wireless external hard drives and routers, all in one solution. Expect to pay around R2000 for these types of battery powered solutions.
The wonderful thing about your own wind turbine at home, regardless of what capacity you purchase, is that it supplies electricity when solar can’t – during storms and at night (the times you need it most). You would also be surprised how quickly they pay themselves off with the amount of power they generate.
For R13 000 you can get a 200W Air 30 turbine that was designed to require no maintenance for a decade. This means your once-off investment stays a once-off investment. With 200W you won’t be powering the household, but it will provide what is necessary, especially if you’ve taken steps to solve the other power problems already. Within less than 5 years this turbine usually pays itself off and can produce near to 100W in even 25km/h wind).
If the idea is to power the home without the grid, the Pegasus range of turbines delivers. At a maximum output of 1000W at 45km/h wind speeds, this turbine can solve your self-sufficiency woes. In conjunction with a solar array and other smaller off-grid solutions, there is no need to even hook up to ESKOM’s infrastructure anymore. At more than R30 000, however, this is a long term investment.
General High-Tech Tips:
- Get a generator. They are selling fast, and a casual browse through most South African vendors’ websites is already showing most of the popular models are sold out. For just under R7000 you can get a Rhino RZSQFS.OEA generator that will provide you with 5.5kVA. With an electric starter, 13HP and a 25l tank, this generator will last nearly a day and can connect to the house via a manual change over switch to power everything from the computers, fridge, microwave, electric fence and gate.
- Get a gas grill/braai. You’ll find getting outside to cook is nice when the power is out and you can see the stars, but also that by going the gas route, you won’t face the empty shelves of briquettes at the shops as more and more people who didn’t prepare are forced to braai daily to feed themselves.
- Invest in a UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) system for your computers. This will allow you to work uninterrupted through the initial power cut and safely shut down without damage to the hardware.
General Low-Tech Tips:
- Cook a few kilograms of bolognaise or stew now and freeze it. If the power outages increase in frequency you will have a supply of food for a few days that is nutritious and tasty before you have to compromise. If the power stays off for consecutive days, give some of the food to your neighbours before it goes off.
- Freeze a few 2l bottles of water. If the power is out for an extended period of time, place the frozen bottles in the fridge and do not unnecessarily open the fridge door. The ice in the bottles will keep the fridge cool for an extra few hours.
- If you are going away on a trip or a holiday any time soon, leave a glass in the freezer with a few ice cubes in it. This way, if you come back a few days later and find the glass now contains just frozen water an no more cubes, you will know the power went off for an extended period of time while you were gone and came back on, and that your meat (although frozen again) is probably off.
- Purchase a lot of small LED lamps and place them in strategic places throughout the house and don’t allow them to be moved. This way you will always know where to turn them on and light rooms the correct way. They are widely available and come in various shapes and sizes and are very affordable. Use torches as mobile lighting solutions only.
- Charge your phone with a car charger during your commutes.
- Buy wood and charcoal for braais in bulk now for the nights you won’t be able to cook. The shelves will be looking mighty sparse soon.
- Buy some pots and kettles that are camping friendly so you can safely use them on the open fire or camping stove when the power is out.