The future of energy
Alternative energy is coming to the fore as a conversation that the majority of businesses are having at the moment. As the energy supply ship continues to flounder, businesses either want a solution that will enable them to function during load-shedding, with lower electricity costs or they want to get off the grid completely.
“Customers find deciding to deploy alternative energy solutions a stressful decision to make. They’re faced with the double issue of dealing with their energy provider and having the money to install the solutions. Also, often customers don’t know how the different municipal tariffs work or which tariff should apply to them,” says Barry Venter, CEO of Nashua South Africa.
A third challenge faced is that businesses don’t know where to start their alternative energy journeys. They all want to go off-grid, but when they see how much it’s going to cost, they flinch. All too often the journey is presented to them as a single big installation with a once-off payment instead of as an incremental journey over time with staggered payments.
To counter these challenges requires a methodical approach to alternative energy, which starts with providing customers with an advisory service, where customers are educated about the process and the possibilities.
This includes advising the customer on where their business falls on the tariff structure and why they pay what they do for electricity. “We can design a journey for them to move off-grid over time to become independent of the grid. It’s key to tailor-make a solution for each customer based on their individual business circumstances and requirements,” explains Venter.
It must be remembered that the majority of customers aren’t energy experts and can feel overwhelmed by the whole process, so they need to be shown how the solution will map out from both a cost and journey point of view, with the customer guided through the process step-by-step. “You have to look at where they are and where they want to go and design a solution to get them there. It’s important to walk a journey with them.”
Some providers look at the customer’s municipal account and do a proposal based on the recorded electricity consumption. Venter says a key aspect of the consultation process is the assessment of the customer’s actual load on the grid. “Instead of taking the municipal account’s word for it, the solution provider should deploy load management software and devices to monitor the customer’s operational equipment. This will provide an accurate view of the customer’s electricity consumption and when peaks in usage occur so that the alternative energy solution can cater for that.
“It makes more sense to consider the business’s essential devices, appliances, lighting and servers that need to function when the power is off. Look at the load capacity required by essential items before looking at the municipal account. You can’t tell from a piece of paper the impact on the load of the customer using a welder for a period of time, for instance.”
He highlights that access to consistent, reliable energy isn’t just about keeping the lights on, it guides the business’s future. “Once we know where the customer wants to take the business, we can devise an energy plan that will accommodate that growth.”
As mentioned, often customers are disheartened when they see the full cost of an off-grid, hybrid or grid-tied alternative energy solution. However they can start their journey with a small step and grow incrementally. As an example, he mentions the deployment of an inverter and battery backup system that, when connected to the DB box, supports lights or security cameras overnight so they still work even if there is an outage.
Looking to the future of alternative energy, Venter says energy backup as a utility is under consideration. “As much as the municipality provides you with water, refuse removal and energy, it should also be able to sell you energy backup as an additional service. This is called ‘behind the meter’ storage. Customers can opt in and have access to backup power during load-shedding and other outages. This type of initiative is already being trialled by the Thaba Chweu Local Municipality – it’s the start of the smart city. The fourth industrial revolution (4IR) cannot happen without consistent electricity supply.”