Completely off the grid

2011-12-11 10:00
Lucas Ledwaba
When he moved to Kwena Moloto last year, Thole Makunyane (47) realised he had a huge challenge on his hands. The newly established village on the outskirts of Polokwane had no running water or electricity.

Those who could afford it had to cough up about R12 000 to get connected to an electrical power supply that skims the edge of the village. This amount excluded the cost of running electricity cable directly to the house.

But instead of throwing up his hands and waiting for government to deliver Makunyane, an IT and social development consultant, began looking into other ways to address his predicament.

“There were only about three houses when I got here in July last year,” says Makunyane, casting his eyes across the burgeoning village of Kwena Moloto where grand, Tuscan-style houses are going up alongside temporary zinc structures.

Makunyane built the house after acquiring land in the village early last year.

Another structure is going up adjacent to the house, which Makunyane hopes to use as office space for his consultancy business. As construction on his house began, Makunyane researched the possibility of using solar power.

He trawled the internet and phoned solar suppliers as far away as Cape Town. By the time the first phase of his house was completed in July,
Makunyane reckoned he had done enough homework.

“I have always been fascinated by solar power even before I faced this situation,” he tells City Press. He ordered two solar panels, a regulator, an inverter and eight 24-volt batteries.

It cost him about R20 000 but, he argues, in the long term he will save much more than that while also saving the

The goods arrived, but when he looked around for someone to install his new energy saving gadgets, he could find no one.

He says: “All the people I ­approached only knew about conventional electricity. They had never worked with solar.”

Being a man of enterprise and action, Makunyane made an ­executive decision and appointed himself to do the job.

And through trial and error, he laboured and finally got it right. Now, even his neighbours come to him for advice.

He uses solar energy to power a television set, satellite decoder, a laptop, a music system, a small fridge and lights.

Cooking is done on a gas stove which is also used to heat up bath water. It costs him about R400 to fill up the 19kg gas cylinder, which lasts the household almost a year.

But it doesn’t end there. Makunyane’s neighbours also come to him for water.

Makunyane explored the possibility of establishing a borehole on his property, and when workmen found water after just 14 metres he was delighted. But eventually the dig went to 40 metres, to make sure. The borehole pump is ­powered by a 17-litre petrol ­generator to fill up a 2 500-litre water tank, which lasts three months.

“Once a week we fill up the tank and neighbours come on Saturdays to draw water,” he says.

Makunyane’s off-grid innovations didn’t stop there. He has also designed an eco-friendly drainage system whereby bath and toilet water travel down a pipe to an underground septic tank, carefully packed with rocks and stones to absorb the water and waste.

“This tank is only two metres underground and there is very little chance of it contaminating the underground drinking water,” he explains.

Makunyane pronounces his very own solar system reliable and efficient.

“You will always find a cold beer here,” he chuckles.