Since the issue of Maverick containing my Solar Photovoltaics vs. Diesel Generators article is off the newsstands, I can now publish the article in full on Greenerhouse. Enjoy:

Bringing Back the Light:

Diesel vs. Photovoltaic

It began with an email. My brother-in-law asked me, the family’s resident green guru, to weigh up the relative merits of diesel generators vs. solar power.

Load shedding is clearly driving him to distraction. Computers are crashing in his home office, and he has scrambled to reschedule meetings of 30 and 40 people to stay out of the dark. He wants to know that the power will be there where he needs it, when he needs it. “I’m looking for a complete solution, and I don’t want hassles,” he told me, admitting that he was close to choosing the diesel route.

But he also knows that his green credentials need some buffing since he traded in his Honda Jazz for a Land Rover Discovery last year. Is solar electricity an affordable alternative?

Until the beginning of this year, the answer to his question would have been simple: In South Africa, solar cells may be virtuous, but they don’t pay for themselves. (Solar hot-water panels do pay for themselves, but you can’t run your PC on hot water.) Even the national sales manager for Sanyo photovoltaic panels in South Africa, Win Kurzyca, says, “it doesn’t pay me to put 10 of these on my roof—even at staff price—instead of paying 32 cents a kilowatt hour for electricity.”

But suddenly everything has changed. In fact, the question has changed. My swaer is not asking whether photovoltaic panels pay for themselves; he wants to know whether solar electricity is competitive with diesel-generated electricity.