POWER outages have become a way of life, with 1130 hours of planned power cuts experienced in 2021 alone. Eskom recently announced to prepare for 61 days of load-shedding between April 1 and August 31 2022.
Typically, we experience fewer power outages in the summer months. But in the colder winter months, electricity supply is under pressure owing to higher demand, which effects electricity generation capacity.
Energy experts at FM Solutions recommend that companies that have been considering investing in solar power avoid delaying the decision any further. “We can say with a fair amount of certainty that load-shedding and interruptions to power supply will continue for a long time to come. If businesses wish to remain competitive, they should aim to become self-sufficient as soon possible,” suggests FM Solutions David Petrie.
Solar powered systems are rising in price
Renewable energy has become more affordable in recent years, with the cost of solar PV reducing by around 90 % since 2000. Unfortunately, recent global events have had a negative effect on the solar industry’s value chain and negated these savings. According to Petrie, the pandemic, growing global demand for solar PV equipment and international shipping delays have caused a sharp increase in the cost of solar PV systems in South Africa.
“Current world events such as the Ukrainian war, COVID-19 and unstable economies are impacting fuel prices. This has a knock-on effect on transportation and shipping costs. South Africans have the added burden of being reliant on fuel to keep their generators running during load-shedding. On the other hand, our country’s power utility also relies on diesel to supplement electricity demand during peak times and when coal supplies are insufficient – necessitating the 300 % increase in electricity tariffs we have seen over the past ten years ,” he explains.
It appears as if there is no quick and easy way to escape this conundrum. South African businesses wanting to install solar-powered systems should prepare for long delays before they will finally be able to unshackle themselves from erratic supply and surging electricity tariffs.
“Even though we are entering the winter season, our recommendation would still be to get your orders in as soon as possible. Installing solar PV panels during the summer months will undoubtedly yield more impressive returns on investment, but there is too much uncertainty about infrastructure lead times. If you are planning a big installation, you might even be able to pre-book pricing with suppliers to help cushion you against future price increases,” Petrie advises.
Feeding solar energy back into the grid
The question arises whether home and business owners who have invested in solar panels might be able to feed their excess electricity back into the grid in order to reduce the impact of load-shedding on the rest of the country or the municipality.
Petrie explains that technically it is possible for commercial and residential property owners to feed renewable energy back into the power grid.
“Small-scale embedded generators (SSEG) can get around 72 cents for every kilowatt hour pumped back into the grid via a bi-directional electrical meter. This may sound like a workable solution and an easy way to recoup the money you have spent on installing the system, but, unfortunately., the high monthly admin fee and cost of changing over from a pre-paid electricity meter to the required bi-directional electricity meter makes it unattainable for most households and businesses. Additional meter reading fees also apply,” Petrie says.
Although there still are a few outstanding details that need to be gazetted by municipalities before the purchasing of privately produced power becomes a workable reality, it could become a feasible solution in the near future.
Measuring your solar system’s performance
Government announced on December 8 2020 that non-residential buildings and state entities must declare energy consumption by displaying an energy performance certificate at the entrance to their buildings. This will mean detailed and ongoing reporting of a company’s energy usage.
“FM Solutions facilitates the entire process of installing the correct PV solar system, starting with an energy audit to determine an organisation’s energy needs. We manage and oversee installation and provide live monitoring and reporting of the solar system’s performance after installation. This allows us to identify what the energy thieves are and address problem areas, thereby ensuring the system’s optimal performance and maximum return on the client’s investment,” says Petrie.