Choosing the right alternative energy solution for you

Johannesburg, 19 Mar 2021
Read time 5min 00sec
Barry Venter, CEO, Nashua.
Barry Venter, CEO, Nashua.

There’s a plethora of alternative energy solutions and choosing the right one for your requirements can prove overwhelming. We tell you the questions you should ask before deciding to invest in a solution, as well as the questions a provider ought to be asking you.

Barry Venter, CEO of Nashua, says it’s vital to have the right product for the right customer for the right application. “If you need a reliable power supply owing to your local municipality having been cut off by Eskom, you’ll need either a solar installation or a generator instead of a battery backup that will have to be charged on the grid. The only way to determine the right solution for your current and future needs is to do your homework and choose your partner on this journey wisely.”

Questions a provider should ask you

Look for a provider that is skilled and has the right certifications. A good supplier will ask what your current challenge is and design a solution tailored to solve that issue. Other questions that they should ask include:

  • Are you concerned about high tariff rates, or do you just want a backup solution to see you through the four hours of load-shedding every other day?
  • Do you need a renewable electricity source so that you can effect cost-savings and benefit the environment at the same time?
  • What are your long-term plans for the alternative energy installation?

Understanding your business’s challenges is key to providing a tailor-made offering that is scalable to accommodate your plans for the future.

Questions to ask a provider

It’s important to look at the type of warranties in place for the solution you’re considering so that you know how long you can expect the batteries to last. Consider whether the solution is scalable so that you can start with an entry-level solution and expand on that in the future. Also determine whether it’s solar-ready. If the solution isn’t solar-ready, what are the implications down the line, should you decide to go in that direction? Also ask whether the solution can be monitored remotely and if not, find out what additional hardware is required to enable remote monitoring.

Alternative energy solutions: pros and cons

Solutions range in size, starting from a small compact plug-and-play inverter with batteries in a case on trolley wheels. This type of alternative energy solution is specifically geared towards remote working. The combination of the COVID-19 inspired lockdown and Eskom’s load-shedding schedule meant people couldn’t just go to a nearby coffee shop and work from there, especially during the earlier stages of lockdown.

Added to that was the schools being closed and children having to home-school during lockdown. “A plug-and-play solution needs to be charged so that when there’s an outage you can plug in low current appliances (desktop PC, TV, phone, router) but it won’t operate a kettle or hairdryer. There’s no automation or installation required. It’s basically a box on wheels: you charge it and have power for the next 4-6 hours.”

A CPS (Compact Power Station) unit comprises batteries and an inverter on a bracket that’s installed and connected to the DB board. It will automatically kick in during a power interruption and power certain switches that are linked to the unit. It’s ideal for keeping lights, a TV, WiFi or a computer functioning during an outage.

Diesel-powered generators come in a variety of sizes ranging from small to large-scale depending on what equipment the customer wants to operate in the event of an outage. “These all come with an automatic switch, requiring no human intervention, switching on when the power goes out and running the electrical equipment connected to it.

“When going the generator route, it’s key to review the service and warranty portion of the offering as you’ll want a quick turnaround on callouts as well as remote monitoring of your solution. It’s convenient to be able to start your generator remotely, or to get alerts when the fuel needs a top-up or the solution is due for a service.”

The ultimate in alternative energy is a solar-powered solution. These installations come with a smart monitoring device that allows the user to set timers on specific appliances, monitor consumption and switch between solar and the grid via an application. They also receive alerts when there’s an electrical fault in the system.

“Solar has the advantage of a 20- to 25-year lifespan and, once the three- or five-year rental agreement expires, the user has free power, which makes this a great rental option.”

In order to choose the right solution for your needs, it’s essential to provide accurate information at the outset when the provider submits their initial request for information. A final site inspection must be carried out to ensure the solution works as it’s meant to. “There have been instances where customers understate their requirements to save on money.”

The provider needs to understand the customer’s requirements, what their needs are currently and whether there are any future developments planned that need to be catered for.

“We can’t emphasis sufficiently how important it is for both parties to have accurate information on hand from the outset of any alternative energy project,” concludes Venter. 

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