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Created 2015-01-23
Owner mike
Title Power to, and by, the people

A tangle of wires covers the floors and snakes through much of the space in a cramped room in Graham Robjant’s Durban home. The electrical technician is completely off the grid, and we are in Robjant’s control centre, where he monitors the power he produces.

There are gauges, measuring things like how much power is being used and how far the batteries are charged. It’s here that the power from the solar panels at the Glenwood home passes through an inverter to produce usable current to power the house. Solar panels are built into the side of Robjant’s house and hang over his fuel-efficient motorbike.

It has been the 57-year-old’s dream to be self-sustaining, and a little inheritance money allowed him to upgrade his initially shaky power system to six solar panels, dozens of batteries and a generator last September, making him self-sustaining. Graham Romjamt has designed a solar energy panel.Picture Zanele Zulu .20/08/2013 ZZ INLSA With load-shedding a threat and electricity prices rocketing, Robjant’s efforts offers are an example of what homeowners can aspire to.

They also fit in with eThekwini Municipality’s enthusiasm for renewable power. The senior manager of eThekwini Energy Office, Derek Morgan, said the municipality was the first to allow power producers – typically in industry – to feed into the grid and was also looking at ways to facilitate this for micro-scale residential power producers. The municipality was also the first to have an agreement to buy excess power from independent energy producers. NCP Alcohols, in Durban, was one of the first companies to take advantage of the power-purchase agreements. It produces power while being embedded into the municipal grid. It has been producing its own power since the 1960s, and is one of six embedded generators in KwaZulu-Natal. Carl Freyer, NCP Alcohols’ engineering manager, said the company had a gas-fired high-pressure boiler that supplied steam to a turbine generator, providing up to 3MW of power. Thirty tons an hour of lowpressure steam is a by-product of the production process. NCP saved R9 million a year on electricity and had a gross income of about R1.5 million from the exported power.

Robjant can produce 8000W with his six solar panels and generator. He can survive a week of bad weather before having to depend on the generator. With only a few companies able to take advantage of the power purchase agreements, Morgan said the municipality was looking at the legislative barriers in a forum, in collaboration with South African Local Government Association and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ, the German Society for International Co-operation). The legal and technical requirements of feeding in to municipal grids are under discussion. Some of the thorny issues being tackled include standardised technical requirements for meters that can credit both ways, billing system adjustments for feed-in, standardised wheeling agreements – how electricity is transmitted to different areas – and clarity on the legal restrictions facing municipalities buying electricity.

The municipality has produced a document detailing the hurdles to embedded generators, including high start-up costs and short contract times, which make funding difficult. It was possible to get longer contracts that were more attractive to financiers, but with a large number of customers this would pressent an administrative nightmare for the municipality. Melita Steele, a climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace, said the unclear regulations were a barrier to investment. She cited Germany as an example where people were paid for their excess electricity.

The National Energy Regulator of South Africa had standard conditions for embedded small-scale generators, which approved small-scale generation of 100kW or less in reducing energy demand. All of the administrative work has to be done by the municipalities, who report yearly to the energy regulator. Hilary Joffe, Eskom spokeswoman, said mechanisms were in place to enable grid connection for large generators. Eskom was investigating how to extend this to smaller and microgeneration.

It was also involved in the Salga and GIZ forums. ... PATH TO SELF-SUFFICIENCY Graham Robjant has been generating his own power for about 12 years and no longer has an electricity meter. His journey to power self-sufficiency has, however, involved a lot of red tape. He had officials coming at him from all sides. His house in Glenwood was built before 1927, which means it is listed and he was fined by Amafa, the heritage agency, for building his panels into the wall. An eThekwini official stopped him from continuing with the panels and asked that he produce house plans.

Consultations with an architect meant further payments. Robjant also had to pay fees for an structural engineer to check the structure was stable, although he had already consulted an engineer when he set up the panels. He is now waiting for the geographical survey to measure whether the land is stable enough to handle the structure, which weighs less than a car. This is despite his home being built in a geographically stable suburb. For people keen to harvest their own power, Robjant suggests starting small with a solar panel and battery, and using Eskom as a back-up. He said people should consult with experts first. – Cadet News Agency ayanda.mhlanga@inl.co.za