The biggest exciting event of October was the arrival and installation of our 5kw solar system we’d finished paying off over several months. We were very lucky to find a great deal on a pre-order. A local South African company (Solar Advice) were offering a deep discount on the price of the solar kit, in exchange for a set number of people paying an upfront deposit (obviously helping them finance the purchase) and then waiting the estimated 2 or so months for the kits to be shipped to SA and clear through customs etc. They also agreed to let us pay off the balance of the price over a few extra months, which really helped us be able to afford this system!
The kit consisted of a 5kw UFO lithium ion battery, a 5kw Sunforce hybrid inverter, a complete pitched roof solar mounting kit for the panels, cables and breakers, and 3 x 330 watt JA solar panels (the original kit included 6 panels but they reduced it to 3 for us to make it more affordable). Altogether it came in at around R60,850.00. Absolute bargain for a quality kit!
The inverter needed some updates to be installed that had been sent from the manufacturer, which proved tricky for us since neither of us has a Windows computer (Russ is all about Apple and I have a little Chromebook) and the software was Windows based. Luckily, our neighbourhood friend, builder and solar installer Tristan was willing to lend us his laptop, and we were able to get most of the updates done.
The system still didn’t work properly and we were starting to worry we’d bought a dud. Hats off to Solar Advice though, they went as far as putting us in direct Whatsapp chat with one of the manufacturing engineers in China to chat through the issues we were having when Solar Advice themselves weren’t able to solve the problem. We eventually established that 3 solar panels wasn’t providing enough juice to power the system, it is a big system and while scalable, not really designed to run that small. Again, Solar Advice stepped up – since they’d sold us the system with 3 panels assuming it would be fine, they shipped us an additional panel FOR FREE. We got the installer out again to hook it up and voila, power on!
WATER IS LIFE
In September we’d gotten a 2,500l Rototank rainwater collection tank, but there were a few steps needed prior to hooking it up to our new gutter off the afdak (undercover veranda). Harvesting rainwater was going to be a game changer – up to now, we had to collect potable (drinkable) water from the Tradouw Spring about 20 minutes drive from our place. While it tasted delicious, we really needed a water source on the farmstead itself. The river water isn’t drinkable, and while there are lots of waterfalls around, they aren’t a practical primary source of water, since they’re largely dependent on heavy rainfall to flow cleanly and they all require a bit of a hike to reach (not ideal for lugging large water containers back).
To start, we needed to shore up the shower floor to prevent the water from overflowing onto the ground next to it, where we wanted to place the tank. To this end, our neighbour Roger came in to teach me how to make a basic sand and cement mix to build with rocks.
Then we compacted the ground to make sure the water tank would be sitting on a flat, even and hard surface. Long term, if the ground sinks or shifts and causes the tank to shift, the weight of the water could crack the tank, so this was an important step.
Once the ground was sufficiently compacted we put the tank in place. Next was addings all the fancy bells and whistles to ensure our drinking water is as clean as possible.
- A leaf catcher is attached to the gutter, which separates out the large debris and leaves coming off the roof.
- Next, the water enters the “First Flush”, a large tube designed to catch the initial roof run off, while the rain is essentially washing the roof clean. Once the tube is full, a floating ball blocks the pipe and the water coming down the gutter is finally diverted to the rainwater tank itself. After each rain, we open the tap at the bottom of the First Flush to empty the tube ready for the next rain.
- Lastly, an automatic tank cleaner that works off vacuum pressure replaces the standard overflow pipe. Ordinarily, when the tank is full, the water pours out of a pipe at the top of the tank, meaning you’re losing the freshest water to overflow. With this clever little gadget, there is a pipe installed along the bottom of the tank, which then sucks in water from the bottom (where any sediment that’s managed to get in would settle) and empties that as the overflow when the tank is full. So as long as the tank is getting full enough to overflow a few times a year, you’re cleaning the tank out with no effort! Win.
And we are in business! We had rain the week after installation, and again the week after that – filling the tank to overflowing in just those two downpours! Since then, the tank has stayed fairly full and overflowed with every rain we’ve had, despite daily use.
IN CASE OF ZOMBIES
A fun weekend project hanging up the garden tools.