Surviving load-shedding and lockdown
Load-shedding is going to be with us for some time, with Eskom CEO Andre De Ruyter admitting that this is a result of overdue maintenance that needs to be scheduled at plants countrywide. Another energy-saving measure, load reduction, is being implemented in high-density areas to reduce pressure on the grid. Notwithstanding the terms used to describe outages, energy supply is going to be an issue in South Africa for the foreseeable future.
“South African businesses simply can’t afford to be at the mercy of an unreliable power supply, never knowing from day to day whether they’ll be able to operate at full capacity,” says Barry Venter, CEO of Nashua. Rolling blackouts, on top of the challenges brought to bear by the COVID-19 pandemic, could make staying in business unsustainable for some companies. The impact extends beyond individual businesses to the country’s economy, not to mention its unemployment rate. Load-shedding cost the country between 3.5 billion and 7 billion US dollars in 2019, according to the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. In 2020, there have been 661 hours of outages, with 1 383GWh having been shed, already exceeding 2019's figure. Moody's has warned that the power utility remained the single greatest contributor to the country's economy earning junk status.
Power outages can result in huge financial losses, as well as quality issues, occupational safety hazards and time delays that could lead to lost business. The upshot of this is that all businesses – regardless of size or sector – need to ensure they have access to a reliable, scalable backup solution if they want to ensure their continued productivity with minimal downtime. These can range from battery-based solutions to generators as well as solar alternatives, providing the business with backup power when it needs it.
Venter says there are several types of alternative energy solutions that businesses can consider for their backup energy requirements. Firstly, there are battery-based backup solutions, which offer business continuity, are plug and play, so easy to implement, are quiet and clean and have different types of capacity, depending on what services the business wants to keep running when the power goes down.Then there are generators, which, again, can run the entire business or just those portions that are considered essential.
When it comes to photovoltaic solar power solutions, these can be grid-tied or off-grid – the latter means the business is entirely independent of a power utility for its energy supply.
With the help of a standby generator or inverter and battery backup, a long-life UPS solution or a solar alternative energy installation, operations can continue to run normally, even without power.
The benefits of having a backup energy solution include:
- No lost productivity during load-shedding;
- WiFi and Internet connectivity continue;
- No loss of income owing to load-shedding;
- No damage to sensitive electronic equipment owing to power surges when the power returns; and
- Improved safety – no electricity means no electric gate or fences and alarms, which puts safety and security at risk.
Venter goes on to talk about the increasing affordability of solar energy solutions. “Over the years, the cost of solar power has decreased significantly, making it possible to generate power at a cost lower than the national grid. Our sunny South African climate is ideally suited to solar power generation, offering companies the opportunity to remove some reliance on the grid while reducing electricity costs and carbon emissions.”
The benefits of installing a solar alternative are myriad. It gives companies more control over their electricity costs while providing a constant source of power, which will benefit the business from both a productivity and a financial perspective.
“If you offset the electricity purchased from your local utility, solar can create substantial monthly cost savings. In South Africa, the general payback period of a solar system is between five and six years. With a system that lasts for 25 years, this means approximately 20 years of free energy.”
Another positive attribute of implementing solar energy systems are their low maintenance costs, as solar energy systems generally do not require a lot of maintenance.
Finally, Venter talks about the general affordability of any of the above-mentioned solutions, which is always a concern for businesses, particularly SMEs. “Businesses wanting to protect themselves against the rolling blackouts that lie ahead don’t have to lay out a massive capex investment in order to do so; they can embark on a power purchase agreement, which means they pay for the power that they consume on a kilowatt per hour basis. They pay a combined tariff that covers the hardware and the usage, with technical support included so they don’t have to take on that responsibility.”
As a result of the COVID-19 lockdown, with people having to work from home for the foreseeable future, demand for a reliable backup energy supply is going to increase. Load-shedding is not going to end anytime soon, so residential and business complexes are all going to require alternative energy solutions to ensure they remain productive during blackouts.