Necessity is the mother of solar invention

Businessman Theo Rutstein was instrumental in supplying the first television sets and cellphones in South Africa. Now he has taken on an even bigger power challenge: solar power.

Two years ago Rutstein turned his attention to solar energy and is now determined to take on both Eskom and the government to help solve the country’s growing electricity shortage. And if they can’t help, he is determined to—thanks to his recently introduced Green Credit.

Says Rutstein: ‘If there had been no price hike, South Africans would once again face crippling power outages and the inability to supply the needs of a resurging economy as Eskom would not be in a position to fund maintenance and enhance its infrastructure. South Africa’s economy hinges on the ability of Eskom to meet the demands of a growing economy. Simply put, the grid will not cope. However, the lifestyle of South Africans is now negatively impacted with such a substantial increase.”

Rutstein continues: ‘You won’t find anyone who thinks using solar is a bad idea and the one thing this country has in abundance is sunshine. The problem is most people don’t have the initial capital investment just lying around. We calculate that it takes about three years of electrical savings to recoup the initial investment.”

What is needed, says Rutstein, is a buy-in from government that needs to come to the party through easy-to-access subsidies and tax rebates or tax allowances for people and businesses that convert geysers to use solar energy.

‘The cost of putting up power stations is very high. If that money was taken and used to subsidise a million households to install solar energy, they would not have to build another power station. The Eskom problem has to be solved but focus also has to be turned and subsidies given to sustainable alternatives, which benefit the environment and represent ongoing savings.”

In the interim Rutstein has come up with Green Credit. The scheme has proved a hit with cash-strapped consumers battling high electricity prices.

Huge interest has been shown by homeowners with more than 100 enquiries daily. Homeowners are keen to install solar, particularly after having received their recent electricity bills, which universally went up significantly.

However, many cannot finance the initial cost of solar, so Teljoy has introduced Green Credit. Starting from R249 a month over a period of 48 months, and a R2 500 down payment, consumers can fit solar to their geysers.

Teljoy’s Green Credit scheme enables customers to reduce their electricity bills by more than 30% while the instalments, in most cases, are almost equal to the saving.

The net effect is that the instalments are offset by the savings over a four-year period; thereafter the savings continue for at least another six years at no cost.

The higher Eskom tariffs rise, the greater the saving. Rutstein says that he is very pleased with the response to the Green Credit offering. The phones are ringing and the website is humming.

Noting an Eskom brochure and quoting from the Eskom corporate technical audit, Rutstein observes that installing a 150-litre solar geyser would replace approximately 4,5 kWh of electricity per day resulting, inter alia, in a saving of 1,6 tons of carbon dioxide an annum in respect of each geyser.

The effect of installing a million 150-litre solar geysers in houses, us replacing electricity in those houses, would be equivalent to planting approximately 160-million trees.—Mail & Guardian reporter.

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