By Jan van Ravenswaay – Forced by energy insecurity and in pursuit of a sustainable future, the concept of going off the grid has gained traction as a symbol of independence and environmental stewardship.

More and more businesses and households are exploring ways to reduce their reliance on traditional energy sources and transition towards clean, renewable alternatives.

But what are the practicalities, nuances, key questions and common misconceptions when going off the grid?


Is it possible to be completely off the grid?

People use the term loosely – but, yes, it is technically possible to go off the grid. However, we need to evaluate the proposals carefully to ensure the solution implemented operates optimally and does not produce unused surplus capacity.

It also requires a shrewd combination of several techniques and technologies to implement the optimum solution.

Any energy solution should ensure savings and, with ongoing loadshedding, also address energy security. Such an integrated energy solution can include energy conservation, human behavioural change and energy efficiency amalgamated with renewable energy sources and energy storage.

With reduced battery pricing, options are becoming more affordable. Recent allowances for feed-in tariffs and virtual wheeling provides for additional revenue streams for clients to fully utilise the installed capacity of their energy system when it is not in use.

For businesses, the decision to go off the grid involves careful planning, investment and commitment to the process. The first step is to conduct a thorough audit to assess current usage patterns and identify areas for efficiency improvements.

Implementing measures such as insulation, LED lighting and efficient appliances and equipment, can significantly reduce demand and lay the foundation for a successful transition to off-grid systems.

Human behavioural change is also something to address. The best energy saved is the energy use avoided.

Businesses need to also evaluate their renewable options and determine the most suitable sources suited to their specific needs and location.

Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, wind turbines and biomass systems are among the most common choices for generating clean, renewable electricity.

Factors such as available space and roof orientation for solar PV, local climate conditions, local renewable energy resource and regulatory requirements will guide the selection and sizing of renewable systems.

Households interested in going off the grid must take several steps to transition to clean, renewable sources.

Measures such as installing energy-efficient appliances, improving insulation and reducing waste through behavioural changes can help minimise consumption and optimise the performance of off-grid systems.

For residential off-grid systems, solar PV panels are often the most practical and cost-effective option for generating electricity. Depending on the location and available resources, homeowners may consider supplementing solar power with wind turbines, micro-hydro systems, or biomass generators to meet their needs.

Apart from generating renewable electricity, off-grid households need to address other requirements such as heating, cooling and hot water.

Solar thermal systems, geothermal heat pumps and efficient wood stoves are examples of technologies that can provide clean, renewable energy for space heating and domestic hot water.

To ensure the long-term viability of off-grid living, households must adopt an integrated approach that encompasses energy conservation, production and storage. Regular maintenance, along with conscientious management practices, is essential to achieving self-sufficiency and resilience in the face of fluctuating markets and environmental challenges.


Only one piece of the puzzle

Going green often brings a focus on environmental conservation and reducing carbon emissions through the adoption of renewable energy and eco-friendly practices.

While this is an important aspect of sustainability, a truly sustainable answer to energy insecurity goes beyond mere environmentalism to encompass social, economic and equity considerations.

Sustainability entails meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. In the context of energy, this means not only reducing greenhouse gas emissions and minimising environmental impact, but also ensuring equitable access to clean, affordable energy for all communities, regardless of socio-economic status or geographic location.

These projects can create meaningful jobs and employment opportunities and can be used as a platform to create business opportunities in the value chain.

A sustainable approach requires addressing systemic inequities and disparities in access and affordability. This may involve implementing policies and programmes to promote efficiency, expand renewable energy deployment, and support community-based initiatives in underserved areas.

Building resilient systems that are decentralised, diversified and locally controlled can enhance energy security and reduce vulnerability to external shocks.

Going green is an important step towards sustainability, but it is only one piece of the puzzle. A sustainable answer to energy insecurity requires a comprehensive approach that considers social, economic and environmental factors and strives to create a more just and equal energy future for all.


Upkeep is key 

Maintaining alternative energy systems powered by clean energy sources requires regular inspection and maintenance to ensure optimal performance and longevity.

Some key maintenance tasks include:

  • Solar PV systems – Cleaning solar panels regularly will improve efficiency. Checking for shading from nearby trees or structures and trimming vegetation as needed. Inspecting electrical connections, mounting hardware and wiring for signs of wear or damage. Monitoring system performance and addressing any issues promptly.
  • Wind turbines – Performing routine inspections of turbine blades, tower structure and electrical components for damage or wear. Lubricating moving parts such as bearings and gears as recommended by the manufacturer. Checking and tightening bolts, nuts and fasteners to ensure structural integrity. Conducting periodic maintenance on inverters, controllers and other electronic components.

Apart from these specific maintenance tasks, it is essential to follow manufacturer recommendations and guidelines for routine inspections, servicing and troubleshooting.

Regular monitoring of energy production, consumption and system performance can help identify potential issues early and prevent costly downtime or repairs. By investing time and resources in proper upkeep and maintenance, users can maximise the reliability, efficiency and the lifespan of their clean energy systems, ensuring long-term sustainability and grid independence.


Jan van Ravenswaay is the chief technical officer and chief operations officer at Blue Energy Africa