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Off the grid solar guest house - Installers and financing advice needed


Val
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Hi Guys

We own a guest house with 14 Rooms and are really considering going off the grid. My questions is what will it cost more or less for such a system. Below I will give a breakdown of what each of the rooms have more or less electrical appliance wise.
 

  • 1 x 32 inch flat screen 
  • 1 x 12000 btu air-con - 3 or 4 of the rooms have bigger aircons * non-inverters
  • 1 x small bar fridge
  • +- 5 x lights - the bigger rooms obviously have more.

Currently the rooms have kettles and microwaves in them as well, but they can be taken out since I know they take up a lot of power. We do not currently have solar geysers so that will also be needed.

What options do we have and will financing be possible?

 

Any advice will be appreciated!

Thanks!

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Hi Val, Welcome

Firstly, where are you situated? It might be better to get an installer to come see you. Trying to get to an accurate price on the forum might be difficult. 

I can already see one item that will escalate the price a lot and that is the 12000btu non inveter aircons. If you want to run them during the night, its going to cost a lot. 

25 minutes ago, Val said:

We do not currently have solar geysers so that will also be needed.

This in my opinion is a must in your situation. How many geysers do you have?

Second question: How often is all 14 rooms occupied at the same time?

25 minutes ago, Val said:

What options do we have and will financing be possible?

I saw company's that offer finance, but cant remember who they are. 

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ABSA has finance options for solar I read the other day.

Quick search:
 https://mybroadband.co.za/news/energy/126712-say-goodbye-to-eskom-load-shedding-with-absa.html

https://blog.absa.co.za/category/money-matters/save-money-possibly-planet-green-tech/

And these guys: https://greenfin.co.za/

Or just add it to the existing bond, as it is part and parcel of the building once done.

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The only issue with finance, is that the interest rate is often indistinguishable from a personal loan, which I suppose makes sense on some level: It is not a secured loan (like a car or a house that can be easily repossessed and of which the risk is well understood). But in the case of a guest house, where I suspect the repayment period might be significantly faster than for normal residential single-family homes, it might well pay to do it that way.

If you can do it out of the existing bond, that would be the best option with the lowest interest rate.

As Jaco said though, the issue will be those air conditioners running through the night. You're going to spend at least half a million on a large battery alone. Blue Nova makes large big ones that are used for lodges and the like (65kwh units).

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Going full off grid is quite expensive especially if you are going to work with the general public as you will need  predict what crap they are going to put into the wall sockets. I would say a good start would be to check what is your average base load as peaks can be picked up by the grid. A Kettle running for 2 minutes is a lot cheaper than a 100 w globe running 24/7. 
Grid tie might be a lot cheaper in capital with much higher returns. 

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@ValBefore I make some suggestions, I'd like to know more.

These questions may seem a bit prying, but am engaged in a similar quest with a large guest house operation presently, and maybe able to save you money without it costing you anything.

It's all about knowing where your powers going and prioritizing the best things first. I also realize that paying guests have no intention of being conservative.

Do you serve meals, breakfast or dinner, in other words do you have a power hungry kitchen?

Are the rooms in the main building or surrounding grounds, in other words do you need lights on walkways and are your grounds sufficiently large to distance the sound of a generator?

Do you have a swimming pool and/or a central bar/ braai area?

How is your occupancy consistent throughout the week? or busy on weekends and thin throughout the week?

Do you launder your own linen/towels?

How reliable is your power normally (without load-shedding)?

How is security, will panels get stolen?

Do you purchase power directly from ESKOM?

Which is more important to you, reducing your bill or having a consistent supply?

 

Edited by phil.g00
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6 minutes ago, phil.g00 said:

Hi Phil

Thanks for taking the time. Below I will answer the best I can to your questions.

@ValBefore I make some suggestions, I'd like to know more.

These questions may seem a bit prying, but am engaged in a similar quest with a large guest house operation presently, and maybe able to save you money without it costing you anything.

It's all about knowing where your powers going and prioritizing the best things first. I also realize that paying guests have no intention of being conservative.

Do you serve meals, breakfast or dinner, in other words do you have a power hungry kitchen?
Yes - Thing is our kitchen/breakfast area is on a adjacent property. I did not included that since we can cope by using gas and we have a 6.5kw generator to cover the lights and so on for that area

Are the rooms in the main building or surrounding grounds, in other words do you need lights on walkways and are your grounds sufficiently large to distance the sound of a generator?
There are multiple buildings - Yes lighting would be a requirement on the outside * only a few*. The property is rather large - over the 2HA so we have the advantage of space.

Do you have a swimming pool and/or a central bar/ braai area?
No

How is your occupancy consistent throughout the week? or busy on weekends and thin throughout the week?
We are busy throughout the week- Weekends it quiets down somewhat.

Do you launder your own linen/towels?
Yes - It is near the kitchen/breakfast area.

How reliable is your power normally (without load-shedding)?
Mediocre - Would be the best word unfortunately.

How is security, will panels get stolen?
Been lucky in that department - So no I do not think theft would be a problem

Do you purchase power directly from ESKOM?
No - We buy from our municipality.

Which is more important to you, reducing your bill or having a consistent supply?
Those 2 unfortunately are of equal importance in this industry.

 

I hope this gives you a better idea. Once again thank you for the help!

 

 

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Thanks for all the advice guys I really appreciate it.
The reason for looking at a offgrid system is due to Eskom's tariff hike over the next 3 years... Also I read a article that we might be paying double what we are paying now by 2021. Usually I take articles like that with a pinch of salt...but with all that is going on in Eskom now.. that might become our reality. 

We are already paying around the R20k mark a month for electricity, that makes me a bit worried if that does happen.

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@ValOk, great,

 Kitchen Gas is good for reliability, but your kitchen will probably be your biggest and most consistent user of hot water. It sounds like your laundry is close by as well. This is where your 1st solar geyser should go. Don't skimp on the size of this one. A lot can be done in the education of hot water usage in a commercial kitchen, using a plug etc.

Serve dinner with candles regardless of whether the power is on or off, it adds ambience anyway.  You also get those stainless steel serving serving things with inflammable gel things underneath.

Regarding, solar geysers they are one of the biggest savers, consider your own dwelling,  ( I assume you live on the property) as the next most consistent user for SG2.

Then adopt a practice of which rooms get let first and in what order and go in for SG3 , SG4 until you basically cover your average occupancy.  It's not really worth cost effective going past that stage. If you're full you can pay the electricity.

Set geysers to 60C, not lower, because of legionaires disease. If you switch unused geysers off in un-occupied rooms and you should, switch them on with ample time to reach 60C before guests arrive.

Outside lights, it goes without saying these should be on day/night circuits and energy savers and LEDs if possible. I didn't ask if you had 3 phase, but if you do try to put all lights on one phase.  Also try to all lights supplies centralized, this isn't always possible. The idea here is lights are a relatively light load, but provide the maximum benefit during a power cut at night.

You can achieve a lot for a little in other words.

Your preference, but see if you can launder in cold water.

Give the plugs in each room sat a 10A MCB. When guests plug in their 3 bar heater it will trip, it maybe inconvenient for you, but they wont do it again, but it'll stop them ironing holes in your carpet too.

Purchasing from the municipality, to me means that you're not in a rural setting and likely to get away without a legal installation. Public liability insurance would probably demand it as well.

So now I am going to recommend two things side by side:

Solar and generator(s), I know that there are other system but after Solar geysers and thermal insulation in the ceiling, we want to go on to the next best options.

Solar:

Initially I recommend PV inverters, these are inverters that don't require batteries ( which are very expensive), but which are the best bang for your buck to reduce the bill.

I would not recommend going off-grid that is a very expensive option, like multiples of cost, in essence it is cost-effective keeping ESKOM to handle power peaks.

 I would do this, and then see where you stand.

You will have a large selection of roofs available for solar. Many people want to align their solar panels at the perfect tilt facing North. Assuming you are going the legal route, you want be allowed to install the amount of solar inversion you could actually use in a day. Legally you'll be limited to an inverter size.

But the power you do make you actually do want to use it. 

The PV panels themselves are a relatively cheap commodity. Install them to favor East and West aspects, but install more than your inverters' capacity.

This way you will have a longer solar generation day, not just a hump of extra availability around midday. There should still be enough panels (even if they aren't at the perfect angle) to give you full power around midday. You'll just start making power earlier and for longer, and over the day you'll make more usable power by a wide margin. It's no good having a bunch of power available around midday if you don't have use for it.

Next thing align your loads to daytime, it is a simple matter to flip a day/night switch's operation using a din rail mount contactor with a normally-closed contact. ( I know that's a bit technical, but I am saying it so you can repeat it to your electrician, who (hopefuly) will understand).

So we've minimised load, maximised generation and aligned what loads we can with solar generation.

I am assuming with the municipality, you are on municipal water, if not there solar pump options.

On to generators, these are noisy, but quieter ones are available. Certain generators can be paralleled as well. All in all generators are a far better option than batteries, they are cheaper, more durable and more capable. Battery power is more expensive than ESKOM, it is not free. Besides which you wont be allowed enough PV generation to support your loads and batteries.

I talked earlier about lights being off a centralized circuit or one phase. Be ruthless, in the circuits you decide are essential. Freezers will stand a fairly long power cut without issues

When there is a power cut guests will appreciate any power, lights including outside lights and centralized TV.

A generator can be manually started or auto-start, I suggest early days  do it manual.

Establish what circuits are what in your distribution box, color code essential/non-essential them. Then during a power cut flick down the MCB's on the non-essentials.

If these are spread across 3 phases you can install a generator switch that takes off the 3 phase supply and joins them all together so they can be fed by a single phase generator.

If you get through this lot above you'll be doing well. Now reassess your needs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by phil.g00
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3 hours ago, Val said:

The reason for looking at a offgrid system is due to Eskom's tariff hike over the next 3 years... Also I read a article that we might be paying double what we are paying now by 2021. Usually I take articles like that with a pinch of salt...but with all that is going on in Eskom now.. that might become our reality. 

We are already paying around the R20k mark a month for electricity, that makes me a bit worried if that does happen.

The challenge with going off grid is that the alternative energy get expensive very quickly , yes batteries are getting cheaper but there is a fair amount of risk tied to them . I have said this every person that I have come across who were considering going Solar/Off Grid.

First get your house/business solar efficient , if you dont do it solar will force you , once you have gotten your place running as efficient as possible you will also know how much energy you will need at what times and what would be the best route to go.

Ill take my self as an example , we bought a property a few years ago where by Eskom wanted to charged a silly amount for a deposit and line rental.All in all it made sense to go off grid rather than giving Eskom an odd R 80 000 over 10 months. I wrote down every appliance consumption and "designed" my system. Bought the Genny , Solar Geyser , Gas Stove and a fairly sized battery bank. 
The thing that complete tripped us up was not a kettle or  toaster but the BIG screen tv and my Gaming PC. Good grief If the wife and kids was watching TV and I was on the PC you could almost hear the SOC fall at night as they were constantly drawing power. So that came to a halt and the kids eyes would lighten up when ever time they saw the sun because then they could watch TV. I then resized that if I wanted to go through the night with out hammering the battery bank I would need to get my base load as low as possible so and so it became an obsession / hobby to get all the appliances as low as possible. Then the rainy season started , funny thing is we have less sunshine in summer than in winter. 
I knew that I would need to use the genny from time to time but when we had two full days of rain and the house was already running just the freezer and nothing else and the generator was running for five hours to heat the geyser up and charge the batteries for the night I realized that this could get very costly very quickly. 
So the next week I started with Eskom to get a prepaid meter from them. Fast forward to today , 
I moved from a 5 kva inverter to a 3 kva inverter that is grid tied and we use about 3 units a day from Eskom and that is with the TV running , but only when some one is sitting in front of it else its off! 

So first get your account as low as possible while you are on Eskom and once you have that sorted check if the numbers makes sense if they do go for it else wait for the silly price hikes then the figures will makes sense. Dont make a financial depositions  on what ifs and maybe's but rather on the current facts at hand. 
 

BUT if want to move on principal then all of the above does not count for anything and I say go for it and show them  good!!!

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3 hours ago, phil.g00 said:

Initially I recommend PV inverters, these are inverters that don't require batteries ( which are very expensive), but which are the best bang for your buck to reduce the bill.

I want to add that going with grid tied (aka a PV-inverter) at this point is not a dead end. If you later want to add backup, there are inverters that can work together with a PV-inverter, such as the Victron inverters. Initially you might AC-couple just one PV inverter, and maybe use it for the lights, or whichever way you prefer. Point is, though you will spend a little more in total (PV inverters cost more than MPPTs), you can spread it over a longer time.

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@Val

I will support the idea of going string inverters as it is the most effective for your situation. With big loads (your 14 guest room will need more than 1MegaWH!!! of battery if you want to go completely offgrid to sustain good source of power and this is without the microwave, kettle etcc, Only ligting 12000 BTU, etc.. and for only the guest house) 

My 2 cents:

Don't separate source powers for guest house and main building. Aggregate and centralize, then use Genset (at least two, better than a big one) with syncro to follow your load (of course after a good optimization exercise as refered to by #PaulF). 

Here you need to introduce a third element which is the solar genset control (there are few in the market, DEIF is a good example) to ensure that your genset will not run below the minimum load. 

 

 

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@Val You mention the kitchen is on another property. 

If you want to stay legal, there is a ceiling on the size of your inverter,  I think that is per grid connection and for single phase I think it's 4.6kVA, with 3 times size that for a 3 phase connection. Given your electric bill you could probably use 30kVA or more of solar.

However if your site consists of multiple plots, it might be worth exploring additional prepaid connections ( with no intention of drawing power from them), to increase your overall solar allowance and still be legal from a maximum capacity/connection point of view.

Given your electric bill it would certainly be worth an enquiry as to cost and availability of extra prepaid supply points.  In other words act like neighbors to yourself with an entitlement per property. Just thinking out of the box.

Edited by phil.g00
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having a guest house, and knowing people with guest houses, make sure you cost suitably sized quiet generator that can pull all (or most) of the geysers at once. Cold water is instant complaints, trip advisor and hello peter will crash if a full guesthouse has no hot water.

In fact with the current load shedding, that would be the place to start before you start with the solar equipment.

As you are on municipal power, going off grid will not save you money (currently) as your tariff is probably still too low. My advice would be to start the process now, get a good generator for load shedding, start understanding your power consumption, start replacing the power heavy equipment with more power efficient stuff, then do your sums and see if off grid makes sense. My feeling is not (for now).

Edited by DeepBass9
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Further in terms of the cost, you could spend R20-30k (or something like that) and get a generator that sorts out your power needs when Eskom is down. You will just buy diesel when you need it. To go of grid, for the size of the installation you need you are looking at around R500k or more at a guess as an upfront cost. Tricky to justify.

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4 hours ago, DeepBass9 said:

Further in terms of the cost, you could spend R20-30k (or something like that) and get a generator that sorts out your power needs when Eskom is down. You will just buy diesel when you need it. To go of grid, for the size of the installation you need you are looking at around R500k or more at a guess as an upfront cost. Tricky to justify.

Bear in mind that it would save her money on her Eskom bill over time, especially since guest houses operate during the day as well.

 

IMO a grid tie inverter with enough PV to offset her usage during the day, and then enough battery backup to cover basic needs at night when there's load shedding would already make a big difference.

Then later on one could add a large LifePo4 battery bank as they are cheaper to run than Eskom, on higher usage installations.

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Of course it won't it's for backup. 

This is a guest house, so most of the power use is at night. You can't tell guests that half of you can bath tonight and half in the morning, unless it is cloudy then have a cold shower. It doesn't work that way. There is no amount of PV and batteries that will cost effectively heat up 14 geysers on a rainy weekend, or during load shedding. 

At our place it is sold as being off grid, but is is still a long explanation as to how a solar geyser works. Like last weekend the one guest has a luxurious shower in our outside shower in the bush. Best shower ever he says. Wifey comes to bath and there is no hot water. Phones to complain . Diplomatically explained that hubby used it up having the best shower ever, just be happy for him. (www.dreamlodge.co.za)

Edited by DeepBass9
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Just a thought, combining all the options.

Grid tied is the quickest way of saving with solar, batteries the biggest expense, generator to drive the huge loads of the geysers.

What if one was to consider the following:
Grid is connects to a Victron Quatro with a auto-start diesel generator connected to the Quatro.
Fronius connects after the Quatro so if Eskom fails it does not matter as the Quatro is "the grid".
... with enough batteries on the Quatro to hold the load whilst the generator auto-starts and settles?

It is not a new idea, has been done before.

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8 hours ago, DeepBass9 said:

Of course it won't it's for backup. 

This is a guest house, so most of the power use is at night. You can't tell guests that half of you can bath tonight and half in the morning, unless it is cloudy then have a cold shower. It doesn't work that way. There is no amount of PV and batteries that will cost effectively heat up 14 geysers on a rainy weekend, or during load shedding. 

At our place it is sold as being off grid, but is is still a long explanation as to how a solar geyser works. Like last weekend the one guest has a luxurious shower in our outside shower in the bush. Best shower ever he says. Wifey comes to bath and there is no hot water. Phones to complain . Diplomatically explained that hubby used it up having the best shower ever, just be happy for him. (www.dreamlodge.co.za)

No amount of solar or battery power will save a fiasco like this. But even with solar geysers you can have a 4Kw element which can heat up the water again. Or even use a heatpump. The problem is that more luxury cost more money. 

I hear what you're saying about the guest's routines, though  have also seen people at the Kruger leave on their aircons all day long while on out a game drive. 

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No baths anymore, only put in showers now.

In fact it might be cost -effective to re-model the bathrooms that have baths.

Also there are water-saving, (read energy-saving) shower roses available.

No idea of the retrofit cost involved, but its almost universal in Europe that the room key is a programmable card, it sits in a slot just inside the rooms door on the wall.

Once you've entered the room, you put your card in the slot, and you have power, when you leave you have to take your key card with you. So automatically the power is killed to all lights, plugs and appliances. I have no idea if this is a wireless setup, it is it would seem it would a worthwhile retro fit.

Edited by phil.g00
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