By Howard Feldman
It is a sad situation. Years ago, when you saw a group of men gathered excitedly around a shared cell phone, the likelihood was they were up to no good.
Today there is a great chance that they are comparing electricity consumption and production based on the information from their solar app.
Whereas in the past, if men were to compare the size of their storage, the options were vast, today it is the size of their inverter that gets them most excited.
The debate about preferred back up power is set to continue to consume us.
With the ANC’s Eskom becoming more unstable and less reliable, South Africans have accepted that their power is in their own hands (see what I did there).
The problem is that Solar owners are like vegans. No sooner have you met them, they will let you know that they have moved over, when they did, they did this, and what percentage off the grid they are.
This varies from user to user with one vegan telling me that they are 167% independent of ESKOM. And that’s on a rainy day. At night. With one panel tied behind their back.
Solar, it seems, is the new black. Which makes generators very last season.
Whereas the generators are far from quiet, generator owners are.
They seldom brag about the fact that they are producing enough kilowatts in their driveway to power a small city, or that they don’t need to keep checking the sky for clouds when their inverter is only at 60%.
They simply get on with it, continue to buy diesel (because ESKOM can’t) and relentlessly annoy the neighbors.
I saw a complaint on a street WhatsApp group recently. Apparently, they writer was concerned about the sound of the motors running and the smell of diesel in the air. The group responded with love and patience, commiserated with her but continued to feed the beasts, as so they should.
I happen to enjoy the sound of things working. Solar, to some extent is unnaturally silent (like electric cars). For me, the smell of burning diesel, the magnificence of the motor turning over fills me with joy.
The difference between Solar and generator is that little etiquette is demanded from panel producers.
Whereas solar users might be annoying personality-wise, generator owners let their equipment do the talking. Which has resulted in more than one neighborly dispute. And is likely to result in many more.
Some years ago, when we installed a generator in a home we no longer live in, I sent our neighbors flowers and a note saying, “please don’t hate us, hate Eskom.” Next week when the new generator is installed, there is little chance that anyone will even notice given the noise from their own backyard.
The power crises is unacceptable. It is infuriating because it is solvable. The government needs to remove all red tape, open the production of electricity to the independent producers and allow solar generation to be sold back into the grid. As is already the case in Cape Town.
In the interim, it is important that we remember that load shedding isn’t our neighbor’s fault.
That solar users are people too. And that deep down, all we are looking for is a little bit of light.