As we find ourselves amidst the worst blackouts in South African history, new intel has emerged that Eskom is merely in the infancy stage of collapse, implying that our beloved nation – and the failing power utility – have merely scratched the surface of the monumental challenges ahead. This is subsequently off the back of multiple years of mismanagement, criminality and corruption which will take years, if not decades to rectify.

And to add insult to injury, there’s serious talk of an impending water crisis which could ultimately be far more disastrous than the rolling power blackouts we’ve endured for the last 14 years. The emerging reality for many residents in small towns, rural areas, and cities, is that their own Day Zero is looming — or is already here. Across numerous municipalities countrywide, signs of the collapse of water services are imminent evidenced by failing infrastructure, non-payment for water services, mismanagement, and corruption, all of which compromise the operation and maintenance of our water system. As a water-scarce country, South Africa is facing a myriad of complex water problems including ageing water infrastructure, growing water scarcity, drought, the impacts of climate change, and worsening pollution risks.

Betwixt the current energy crisis and a looming water shortage, what are our options as South Africans and at what cost? As always, we know how to make a plan…

Going Rogue (Off-grid)

Many households and businesses are turning to off-grid solutions in a bid to become more independent from the national power and water providers.

Alternative Power Supply Options

Having taken matters into their own hands, many South Africans have decided to kick Eskom to the curb, investing in alternative power supply solutions ranging from small UPS units to large scale solar power systems that have capacity to power a 5-bedroom household.

While these systems offer their fair share of pros, they entail a hefty upfront capital outlay that either needs be to self-funded through savings or a credit facility from the bank.

According to AWPower’s Christiaan Hattingh, those wishing to forsake Eskom entirely and go 100% off-grid with a solar panel and battery setup will need to oversize their system considerably – tripling or even quadrupling their requirements – to compensate for times when solar electricity generation fluctuates.

But fear not! There is hope! A system that can meet around 95% of your electricity needs will cost substantially less. Eskom’s connection service fees within suburban areas are also generally not expensive enough to justify a complete cut-off with most customers paying around R115 per month to have grid access.

What’s more, new entrants in the renewable energy space are offering innovative ways to fund these installations via rent to own options or straight lease agreements with the option to upgrade after a certain period. Homeowners need not pay for the full product up front but rather in much smaller – and affordable – monthly instalments, allowing you to pay the system off over a period of years.

Versofy, is one such company providing alternate solar funding. The entity offers you affordable monthly solar subscriptions so you can take control of your reliance on local utilities. They monitor and manage your system to ensure it is always optimised and working correctly. All packages are modular, and you are therefore able to upgrade your system over time as your requirements evolve and your budget allows. I have personally dealt with Versofy and can vouch for their immense expertise and proficiency within the solar landscape.

Alternative Water Supply Options:

Unfortunately, the water space offers substantially fewer options than that of the power space when it comes to moving off the grid, most of which also cost a pretty penny.

  • Boreholes: The average cost of a borehole set up, including equipment, can range anywhere from R30 000 to R178 000. What’s more, even if one has the required funding, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the property in question has ground water to access in the first place.
  • Rainwater harvesting: Rainwater harvesting entails accumulating water in a tank whenever it rains. Whilst cost-effective, the solution is weather dependent and is therefore unpredictable. A basic above ground storage system with basic components will cost about R40 000 to R55 000 installed and tested. A system with underground tanks will cost in the region of R120 000 to R170000 installed.
  • Municipal back-up storage solutions: These consist of a tank that is connected to the main water supply line and is automatically filled when the mains water becomes available. This solution offers an uninterrupted, pressured water feed that is safe for household use and consumption.

Tallying It Up

Rubicon Chief Product Officer, Nick Roche, says that households consuming 1,200kWh on average per month can expect to pay R727,000 – excluding VAT – to go completely off-grid. And that excludes an optional R25,000 generator, which comes highly recommended. In contrast, a grid-tied system meeting the same requirements costs around R240 000.

When combined with the R30 000 to R178 000 required to install a borehole system for a household using around 950 litres a day, South Africans can expect to chip in approximately R354,985 to R416,325 in total for a grid-tied setup with minimal reliance on Eskom. However, an entirely off-grid system with zero reliance on Eskom costs significantly more at about R734,195 — R795,525.

In our opinion, it certainly pays to go rouge to some extent but entirely liberating yourself from the grid, maybe a vehemently expensive alternative.