From Eskom’s &*%! to solar (and buckets of rain)


From Eskom’s &*%! to solar (and buckets of rain)

They weighed the pros and cons carefully before they had a solar system installed. But when the sun went into hiding for a month, trouble suddenly erupted in their household, MADELEINE BARNARD writes.


IT takes a while before you realise how load-shedding creates little cracks in every aspect of your day. Then you decide enough is enough. 

Until about three months ago, we had a routine of enjoying our morning coffee on the stoep. We would fleetingly glance at the weather app — after all, it's always the same here in Prince Albert: very hot and dry. Or warm and dry. Sometimes slightly cold and dry. But when you look up, you see the sun clinging to the flank of the cloudless blue sky like a big yellow tick.

In fact, it rains so little here that I once had to pull over and wait on a dirt road during an unexpected downpour because my car's windscreen wipers had by then not been working for about three years.

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Load-shedding preparation…

After checking the weather app, we would check the EskomSePush app for the load-shedding schedule. While we emptied the coffee cups, we talked about how to arrange our day around hours of power cuts.

We launched a military campaign to charge everything we could — computers, cellphones, torches, fans, power banks and lights.

During summer, the fans are the most important. A fan directed at your body will prevent the Karoo's notorious summer mosquitoes from getting a foothold on your skin. Even if that means you wake up with dry eyeballs and gums.

Sometimes all our preparations were in vain. We knew a dark blue rattle from the Laingsburg side spelt big trouble. A bolt of lightning would cleave the sky near the N1, Thor the thunder god would flatulate over the Koup, the substation at Leeugamka would conk out … and so would our electricity.

…and load-shedding humiliations

The man in my life — born under the zodiac sign of the Virgin with a need for extreme orderliness — eventually started cursing Eskom viciously on an hourly basis.

After a power cut lasting 48 hours during high summer (with the temperature having reached 42°C the day before), I woke up alone one morning.  

I found the Virgo on the stoep couch with a rechargeable fan next to his head and a pointillist network of mosquito bites on his overheated, exposed limbs. He couldn't stand the oppressive heat in the house without air conditioning. 

One night, I once again stumbled to the bathroom in load-shedding darkness, and was still half-asleep on the throne peeing when the power (and the bathroom's harsh tube light) suddenly came back on. There I sat, bleary-eyed, with the door wide open and my panties around my ankles. One's dignity is really affected by such watt-driven humiliations.

Rainy weather and kettle trouble

After a while, the possibility of solar became a daily subject of discussion. After all, there is ample sunshine here in the interior — we might as well use it to get Eskom out of our lives.

Account statements were studied and calculations made; we turned pale when we saw the quotes. But then we gritted our teeth, dove into our nest egg and had solar power installed.

More and more people in our town, and elsewhere, are taking the solar route. Around the corner from us, Richard has a solid system in place to keep his borehole pumping. And across the road Bertus and company are so alert to any eventuality that they have Eskom power, gas, solar and a generator.

It was Bertus who, the day our system started whirling, alerted my man to the fact that they had cut the greedy kettle's electrical cord since they started using solar power and now boil water on gas in a jaunty little pot-bellied red kettle. 

Shortly before the team of electricians arrived to trump Eskom with the solar panels, the arid, sunny Karoo became cloudy and the heavens dropped bucketfuls of water on the town. Suddenly there was much less sun than usual.

The day after the installation I stumbled to the kitchen for my first Eskom-free morning coffee, only to find the kettle missing in action. I looked at the household's Virgo with distrust. He confessed and retrieved the kettle from the bottom of a cupboard.

It drains our battery too much."

“Really? You will hide my kettle from me?”

Another app, and a weekly bath

Part of the system is a brilliant app that tells you how much power the solar panels pump into the battery, how much power the house draws, and when it switches to Eskom power if it gets low.

In the morning it is no longer EskomSePush but the Hubble Cloudlink app which is obsessively studied and discussed over coffee on the stoep.

A week later it is still rainy or partly cloudy. I announce that I want to take a bath. The Virgo looks constipated with anxiety.

The geyser draws an awful lot of power…”

“And now it's my bath? Really?”

No one comes between me and my bath.

After a squabble and gnashing of teeth, the app is investigated and the geyser is turned on for me.

Peace, love — and a wet patch

More than a month after the instillation it was still raining in the land of thirst. In that month, almost 100mm had been measured in a region with annual rainfall of about 150mm. The sun was mostly in hiding.

But by now we had mastered the use of solar power. The electric kettle was back in its place in the kitchen and I puffed up like an angry cat when the Virgo questioned the two to three hours required to heat up the geyser.

However, the kettle is used with great discretion, and when it's cloudy I boil water on gas. I'm diligently searching for an affordable pot-bellied kettle for the gas stove. The air conditioning's warming function is switched on only if the sun is shining on the panels. Otherwise I use a hot-water bottle.

There is also peace and love in the house again. But tonight someone is sleeping on a damp patch.

The hot-water bottle and the roof both leaked on the bed last night. 

♦ VWB ♦

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