How to prevent loadshedding in commercial buildings

3 Options to proof your commercial and industrial building from load shedding

The nationwide spate of load shedding in South Africa is not just a highly frustrating situation for individuals: it is a hindrance to businesses and the economy in general. As South Africa starts to approach level 5 and 6 load shedding scenarios, it is important to look at the alternatives available to businesses around the country in order to prevent the loss of productivity across the board. At the same time, various different alternative sources of power should be evaluated based on their cost-effectiveness and environmental impact. The following article explores various load shedding prevention methods for commercial and industrial buildings.

Option 1: Using backup diesel generator

Option 2: Retrofitting a grid-tied solar PV system

Option 3: Going off grid using a solar PV/battery microgrid


Option 1: Using backup generators

This commonly used form of commercial backup power consists of diesel gensets that switch on when the power goes off. This is a good option for ad-hoc power cuts in places that cannot afford to lose power, such as hospitals, convention centres and large retail centres.

Before relying on a diesel backup generator, though, the system should be tested with the total load of the building to make sure that it is able to take the full electricity load. If it not possible for the gensets to handle the building’s entire load, an “emergency” scenario – where nothing but the critical systems are backed up – should be tested. An Automatic Transfer Switch (ATS) will be needed to ensure that when the power goes off, the diesel generators are initiated.

Within Eskom’s current loadshedding trajectory, using backup diesel generators is likely to be very expensive, depending on the load size of the building. Diesel itself is much more expensive per kWh than typical Eskom tariffs, and even more expensive when compared with the costs per kWh of solar PV. When evaluating the efficacy of installing diesel gensets, the following questions should be asked:

  1. How many hours per day will the genset(s) be required?
  2. How many litres of diesel are likely to be required?
  3. What are the ongoing maintenance requirements of consistently using diesel generators?
Robben Island has historically used diesel generators to provide the power needed on the island.
Robben Island has historically used diesel generators to provide the power needed on the island.

Option 2: Retrofitting a grid-tied solar PV system

In South Africa, many commercial buildings – hospitals, retail centres, distribution centres, etc – have grid-tied solar PV systems that supply power from the sun during the day. These relatively simple systems are tied to the grid, so they do not provide 100% of the offtaker energy requirement but rather supplement it. Unfortunately, grid-tied solar PV systems do not automatically prevent a building from experiencing load shedding.

Because solar generates Direct Current (DC) power, this needs to be converted into Alternating Current (AC) to be used in buildings as electricity. In order for a solar system to produce usable electricity, therefore, a solar inverter is required. However solar inverters are designed to switch off during a grid outage.

Why is this? For grid-tied solar PV systems, this serves as a vital safety mechanism for personnel that might be working on transmission lines during outages. With solar inverters off, buildings with solar PV systems are prevented from generating power during a grid outage and potentially exporting power to the national grid, which could be fatal for maintenance personnel.

Solar inverters are designed according to international safety standards that require this functionality, which means that grid-tied inverters cannot operate in off-grid conditions. As such, when Eskom goes down, most solar systems do, too.

However, this does not mean that large buildings with solar PV systems do not have options for load shedding. With careful engineering, It is possible to form one’s own “microgrid”, by replicating a fake grid-tied scenario to “trick” the solar inverters into staying on. This requires the use of a generator or battery, and specialised control equipment.

In order to retrofit a grid-tied solar system to operate during load shedding, two essential steps need to be taken. Firstly, the system needs to be isolated from the grid to prevent any exporting of power that could affect the safety of maintenance personnel. Secondly, a voltage forming source is required, in order to provide a reference voltage and frequency to the solar inverter.

Therefore, to prevent a grid-tied solar PV system from going out during a power outage, the following is required:

  1. Hardware that can disconnect the main supply from the grid, effectively isolating the building/facility from the grid.
  2. A diesel generator or battery bank that can provide backup power for the entire facility and provide the necessary voltage and frequency reference to the solar inverters.

These two points require careful engineering and a proper control system to manage the change-over, the dispatching of generators/batteries, and synchronisation of the solar inverters. It also has to oversee resynchronisation to the grid once the grid is available again. This can be automated and should not need any human input. Further, the system would need to be sized correctly in order not to trip under various loading scenarios.

With these two mechanisms in place, there would be a short down-time after an unexpected grid outage, due to the system having to switch itself on and switch to off-grid mode. Once switched over, however, the solar powered electricity which is being generated can be distributed throughout the building.

In order to avoid an outage entirely, it is possible to either isolate from the grid before an expected outage, or have an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) capable of providing continuous, uninterrupted power during an outage.

solar could help Africa's economy to grow

Option 3: Going off-grid: Using solar PV, batteries and Generators to go off-grid

Taking a commercial building off the grid entirely is another, although slightly pricier, option. Solar PV systems, when combined with energy storage, can store excess solar power produced during the day and distribute this later when needed. Solar PV is now one of the cheapest forms of energy, and its distributed nature means it’s perfect for use at source, where it is needed.

However, the costs of batteries and the sophisticated engineering of microgrid systems needs to be evaluated against the building’s requirements. Perhaps, a commercial or retail building operator does not mind paying a premium if that means consistent, clean power. (Microgrids also have particular relevance to supplying power in weak-grid scenarios – such as the one in Cedar Mill Mall which supplements the grid’s 250 kVA with an additional 250 kVA of power).

If your commercial or industrial building is currently using its diesel generators around 30% of the time, the business case for a solar PV and battery combined microgrid will likely look feasible. In a typical stage 4 load shedding scenario, power cuts generally occur for around 7 hours per day. Given the assumption that the energy load in the building is similar throughout the day and that diesel generators are being used to supply power consistently when the grid goes down, this would equate to around 30% of the total electricity consumption – making it a worthwhile investigation.

Whether it is a backup generator, installing a solar PV system with a backup generator or battery, or going entirely off-grid, there are options for commercial and industrial buildings in South Africa to prevent the damage that load shedding can do to business.

Cedar Mill Mall goes solar
Cedar Mill Mall in Clanwilliam is an islandable on-grid microgrid

Aries utility solar PPA in South Africa

Electricity in SA seems bleak, but it’s loaded with opportunity.

Originally published on LinkedIn

What the Eskom’s current state of nation-wide load shedding and their 15% tariff increase appeals are teaching us, it is that the fate of South African industry is tied fundamentally to the availability of stable and affordable electricity supply. The sustainability of the utility requires brave, informed and decisive leadership: but it is possible.

We’re in a landmark year that will determine not only the fate of Eskom, but South Africa more broadly. In May, the country will vote on whether to extend the term of the ruling party in a an uncertain global market.  The ANC’s latest manifesto has clear intentions around energy: more renewables, more private partnerships (IPPs), repositioning Eskom and ensuring fair treatment of South Africans as part of a Just energy transition. It also plans to integrate solar PV in state buildings and new developments.

This year, we’re looking at a year of continued change in a sector that badly needs a modern restructure.

Arriving at today’s energy market

In South Africa, 2018 held much in the way of energy sector developments. The renewables-vs-nuclear stalemate came to an end with new energy minister Jeff Radebe signing 27 long overdue renewables projects. Eskom’s mismanagement was placed under the spotlight and a new CEO, Phakamani Hadebe, was appointed in May. In August, the much-awaited draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) was released, showing favour toward renewables and gas and less coal and nuclear. Why the sudden change in South Africa’s energy landscape after years of stagnation?

One answer is that South Africa has started to take heed of global trends toward renewable energy. This is not simply a fad: the upsurge in solar PV technology, in particular, is part of a global market context. According to the Global Market Outlook report for solar energy, solar PV accounted for nearly 40% of all new generation technology during 2017: more than any other power generation technology. This was mostly driven by China, US and Japan, whose overall manufacturing influence also drove the costs of solar modules to record lows. It is undisputable that Solar PV’s cost per unit is now cheapest in the world by a significant margin.  Even more growth is expected in coming years.

The challenges for the energy landscape

Back in South Africa, Eskom has a major debt-service problem on its existing assets. The assets aren’t able to cover their own costs at Eskom’s current tariff rate, which is why they are asking for 45% increase over the next 3 years when inflation is just 5% p.a. Put another way, these assets are worth less than the R420Bn of debt that Eskom borrowed when building them in the first place.This is the primary cause of  Eskom’s death spiral.

The challenge for Eskom, and South Africa, remains that a different electricity path is cheaper. The cold numbers show that the lowest cost model is renewable energy and gas, with no new nuclear builds and limited further coal. This has brought up some valid social issues around transformation and the displacement of employment. These issues are important and need to be tackled head on, they also need to be seen in the light of education, upskilling, entrepreneurship and opportunity.

The opportunities for the energy landscape

The energy minister has recently said that the IRP will be signed off in mid-February.  The IRP draft, combined with the ANC’s policy manifesto, does show willingness to dissolve the electricity monopoly, bring private players into the market, reduce the costs of electricity and stimulate the economy, allowing the government to focus on the key areas of the country that need it most.

The President’s recent announcement of his intent to divide Eskom into separate Generation, Transmission and Distribution entities is not only in line with global trends, but it will also ringfence Eskom’s unprofitable generation assets from affecting its profitable grid infrastructure, which is crucial to our country’s stability as an economic entity.  It is hard to know the series of actions that will follow, but we can be sure that it will be done sensitively in an election year.

We’re already seeing large users of electricity investing in their own power consumption, and when the IRP is released, we’ll see generation licenses starting to be awarded to private embedded generators.  Most of this is, and will be in future, solar PV due to the ease of implementation and abundance of solar resource in South Africa. However, there will also be some cogeneration and biowaste projects too.  These steps are very positive, as they set the stage of a socialised electricity grid with multiple power sources, allowing the most affordable energy to be available to South African industry and encouraging economic growth.

The Future is Bright

We have an extraordinary opportunity for electricity reform in South Africa.  If our renewable resources are harnessed, we not only have 20 years of upskilling and job creation, but with our natural resources we could have, sustainably, the cheapest electricity in the world. If we get the structure right, and manage the transition in the best interests of all of our people, it will be a positive boon for South Africa’s economy. This is a major task, but if achieved, we have a lot to look forward to.

Fair Cape Dairies solar agribusiness

Is solar the green solution agribusiness needs?

Agribusiness contributes significantly to a country’s overall industry outlook, particularly because of its links to sectors such as chemical processing and manufacturing. Locally, SADC has identified agro processing as one of three regional priority value chains, along with mineral beneficiation and pharmaceuticals.

That being said, the economic challenge that farmers and agribusiness are facing is a tough one. Over the ten years up to 2017, electricity tariffs to state utility Eskom have risen by 356 percent – four times the rate of inflation over this period. The power utility has requested an additional 15% increase for the 2019/20 period, although the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) seldom grants the full requested increase. The coal shortages this November that led to the shut-down of 11 power stations also highlight the uncertainty of the operating climate for South African industry.

In addition to soaring prices of electricity and uncertainty of supply, business in South Africa is affected by climate change. Agriculture is particularly affected by the cycles of rain and drought, as well as temperature, which are both affected by climate change. And because agriculture is, ironically, one of the leading causes of climate change, consumers are now demanding that farming practices meet stringent environmental and ethical standards.

Trade and Industry Minister in South Africa, Rob Davies, acknowledged that uncertainty in this arena is hampering economic growth, following his announcement in October that agro-processing is one of the sectors that government will be targeting with incentives to revive South Africa’s struggling economy.

Solar could give a growth spurt

Given this difficult context, it’s no wonder that Agro-processing is in need of bolstering in South Africa. Embedded generation, which is the small-scale production of power within the electricity distribution network, situated close to the place of consumption, is a great solution to counteract the explosive costs, and unreliability, of grid-tied energy. The cost, per kWh, of solar PV (the most common form of embedded generation)  has dropped dramatically in the past years due to increased uptake globally that has pushed down manufacturing prices. Adopting this cheaper source, close to the point of consumption, can lower the running costs of agro-processing plants significantly, giving them a leg-up in tough economic times.

Financed solar through PPAs

However, in order to purchase a solar PV system, businesses need to outlay capital, which might not be the most appealing option for agribusiness, whose capital budget is used for much-needed maintenance and plant upgrades. However, power purchase agreements (PPAs), which are a way of financing renewable energy systems such as solar, are an attractive alternative.

Renewable solutions are now at the point where they can provide a viable and cost-effective alternative for businesses in this sector.

Entering into a PPA in South Africa is a way for agribusiness to shield themselves from Eskom tariff increases, as it is possible to purchase renewable energy at a lower rate than what Eskom can provide, with a fixed tariff increase.

This is particularly pertinent due to Eskom’s recent 15% tariff increase application. Should a large portion of their energy come from solar, agribusinesses can use solar PPAs to shield themselves from the volatility of Eskom.

Renewable energy is also a significant mitigator of environmental harm, because it reduces industry’s reliance on coal-burning power generation, which releases greenhouse gases into the environment. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is important for agribusiness, who often have sustainability targets.In fact, every industry should be concerned with addressing the realities of climate change – but none more so than agriculture, which is dependent on steady and predictable weather patterns.


Challenges and possibilities for agribusiness in South Africa

Solar PV power plants are also decentralised and can easily provide power in rural areas without having to erect new infrastructure, such as power lines. However, in South Africa, applying for a grid-tied solar PV system on Eskom infrastructure remains a challenge. Eskom’s independent power producer [IPP] connections do make provision certain for low- or medium-voltage connections, but they require a letter of exemption from Nersa, which is almost impossible to obtain without certainty around the IRP – which should be finalised in February, according to the Minister of Energy Jeff Radebe.

The energy landscape has changed significantly since that Eskom’s memo on low and medium voltage connections was released, and solar PV connections are now much more viable for companies and farms that are currently connected to Eskom infrastructure. Many more businesses would now like to opt for embedded power generation. The updated IRP restriction of only 200MW of embedded generation – which is where the low- and medium-voltage connections will be found – limits the generation capacity that the agro-processing industry urgently needs.

If more and more businesses lobby Eskom to allow low- and medium-voltage connections, they will be able to benefit from competitive electricity prices, while also reducing their carbon footprints. This will serve their stakeholders – and the environment they rely on – well into the future.

A reflection on South Africa’s energy landscape in 2018

South Africa’s renewable energy sector received a new lease on life in 2018, after years of uncertainty and lack of movement.

With the Ramaphosa government signing nearly R56 billion worth in contracts with 27 independent renewable energy producers during 2018, the way forward, notwithstanding legislative and business challenges, is looking much brighter.

Significant progress has been made in the private sector in adopting renewable energy as a viable and consistent energy supply, often beating the costs of Eskom-supplied power.

We believe that more businesses will make use of renewable energy sources either to supplement their power, or for their primary electricity supply, as batteries and solar PV costs continue to fall.

Robben Island is saving millions of rands on its electricity bill though its microgrid. Earlier this year, Cedar Mill Mall in Clanwilliam opened its doors after Eskom told the developers it could not provide the power needed to supply the large building. These project show that despite inertia and a struggling economy, South African business can still benefit from renewable energy.

Uptake is particularly impressive in the retail sector, with malls catching on to the value of solar to produce low cost power during their busiest hours of operations. Ilse Swanepoel, Head of Utilities at Redefine Properties, whose solar PV fleet produces about 35 754 600 kWh per annum, stated “Solar is no longer niche and is a well-entrenched renewable energy source underpinning the achievement of green-building goals. Demand has grown in recent years, with many large blue chip tenants prioritising their own sustainability efforts, expecting the developer to dovetail and help achieve their objectives.”

This is encouraging. However, uptake in renewable energy should not just be supported by the private sector. For the economy to benefit from renewable energy’s reduced costs, the contracts signed by the government with the 27 independent renewable energy producers must translate into action that is sustainable, consistent and measurable.

Independent Power Producers (IPPs) have reportedly created 35 702 jobs and have spent R766 million on education, health, social welfare and enterprise development, according to figures provided by the ministry.

I’m optimistic about the renewable energy sector, given the government’s willingness in 2018 to acknowledge and engage with alternative energy suppliers, which were on hold for several years. REIPPP’s Round 5 is crucial in terms of accelerating the government’s transformation plan as it is set to bring about higher levels of transformation, localisation and community upliftment requirements.

In addition to this, the successful implementation of the Small IPP programme, aimed at smaller scale projects with a focus on SMMEs, high black ownership and local supply chains is exactly what the renewable sector needs. Going forward, we will need to work closer with all role-players as we better understand the sector and its ability to grow and develop South Africa.


Solar will be a boost for SA's economy

One of the most significant documents is the government’s draft Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), which outlines the way for South Africa to meet its growing national electricity demands by 2030.

The IRP was released for public comment in August. The construction industry (with its high electricity costs it incurs) has already welcomed the IRP, with some saying it could revive the industry. It has also been praised for its proposed increased allocation to renewable energy and the phasing out of coal and the pursuit of the ‘least cost option’ which rules out nuclear at least until 2030.

However, the IRP still lacks in clarity and allocation for embedded generation – which is one of the fastest growing energy sources and key to reducing corporate energy costs. A future-facing IRP takes into account not only the cheapest form of energy, but also the changes in the energy environmental happening globally. Coal-based, heavily centralised energy systems are fast becoming redundant with the introduction of smarter technology.

South Africa is no exception in this picture, with state utility Eskom plagued with difficulties in 2018. Still, Nersa’s (National Energy Regulator of South Africa) announcement giving Eskom the go-ahead to recover R32.7 billion (already approved as part of its adjudication of three separate Regulatory Clearing Accounts), will result in further tariff increases.

Embattled state utility Eskom

This will encourage businesses to look at alternative, consistent and cheaper forms of electricity – resulting in less income for Eskom and municipalities that rely on selling power through their grid.

Nersa continues to agree to Eskom’s requests for increasing tariffs. The embattled parastatal has again asked the regulator to push up tariffs – this time a 15% tariff increase per year over three years – this is on top of a 4.41% price increase Nersa has already granted Eskom. This proves to be one of the many reasons why a balanced energy mix should be put in place.

Another piece of legislation crucial to the sector is the so-called Carbon Tax (revised Draft Regulation on the Carbon offset), which Treasury published on 12 November for a second round of public comment.

Small and medium-scale renewable energy projects with a generating capacity of up to 50MW have been listed by Treasury as eligible for carbon offsets, but Nersa’s regulations might hinder national uptake.

Renewable energy trading, embedded generation and renewable IPPs needs to be supported by South Africans. Renewable energy solutions have the potential to jumpstart our economy; legislation is a step in the right direction. It will be interesting to see how the energy sector will develop in 2019.

solar could help Africa's economy to grow

SOLA and project 90 by 2030 worked together on solar PV mentorship programme with Khayelitsha youth

Salt River Secondary receives a solar system, thanks to Project 90 and SOLA

On 7 December, SOLA Future Energy was privileged to build a solar PV system for Salt River Secondary School in Cape Town. This was a culmination of SOLA’s involvement in the “Playing with Solar” project organised by Project 90 by 2030.

The 3.96kWp solar system will save the school around R 8 200.00 on its annual electricity bill. It will also help the school cut back 5 tons on its yearly carbon emissions. The school was awarded a Wessa Eco-Schools flag in 2017.

SOLA installs PV system at Salt River Secondary School

The project and donation came after two months of collaboration between organisation SOLA Future Energy and the YouLead Warriors – youth taking part in Project 90’s climate-focused youth leadership initiative.

The YouLead Warriors were given practical training on the mechanics and benefits of solar power at workshops held earlier in the year. This consisted of two 4-hour workshops at SOLA’s offices, detailing the basics of solar system design and media strategy and communications. The youth also visited two of SOLA’s sites – the iconic Robben Islalnd Microgrid, and Kenilworth Centre’s solar system.

Project 90 site visit Kenilworth Centre

Project 90 site visit to Robben Island

Dom Wills, CEO of SOLA Future Energy, says that it was a privilege to work with these future leaders. “Through this project, we have been able to teach learners that providing a reliable, cheap and clean form of energy is something that can benefit communities and create jobs.”

The ‘Playing with Solar’ initiative was made possible by generous funding from the HCI Foundation.  The installation was made possible through donations from Ingeteam and Lumax Energy, who sponsored the solar inverter and mounting gear respectively.

Acting school principal, Fairuz Patel, thanked everyone who worked on the project, saying that the money they are saving “can make a massive difference in the kind of education we can offer our learners, while also making a real and tangible difference to the environment”.

Solar PPAs are an affordable way to access the benefits of solar electricity

5 FAQs about solar PPAs

In some of our previous posts, we’ve alluded to the benefits of a solar PPA: both as a way to provide more options for business owners wanting to go solar, and as a way of reducing costs in certain sectors. At this point, you may be convinced that solar finance is an affordable way to access green energy for your company, but you may have a few questions. In this blog, we explore the 5 most common questions about the most common form of solar finance, the solar power purchase agreement or PPA.

Why a PPA?

As we mentioned in the previous blog, a solar PPA usually enables an electricity consumer to utilise solar energy at a rate that is cheaper than the existing utility. In addition the ownership of the solar system remains with the PPA provider, and the user only pays for the electricity that they consume, rather than for the overall cost of the solar system – making it an affordable choice for several sectors. Below follow some of the most frequently asked questions about solar PPAs.

1) How long does a solar PPA last?

In fact, this question gets asked so often that we wrote an article about how long solar PPAs are already, and if you’d like a detailed answer to the question, have a look at that article. The summarised answer is, “it depends”. Whilst as a rule of thumb, the longer the PPA, the greater the  immediate cost-savings will apply, many businesses prefer to enter into a shorter PPA period for a higher tariff, after which time the system ownership is transferred to the energy user. It all depends on the requirements of the client, as well as the overall objectives of the project.

2) Do I have to own the building to enter into a solar PPA?

PPAs ideally take place between a building owner and an energy provider, since the construction and ongoing maintenance, as well as energy distribution throughout the building, will require the building owner’s input and buy-in. However, if the building owner agrees to make the rooftop available for the solar system and the agreement takes the building and end user into account, tenants may be able to enter into a PPA.

3) If it isn’t sunny, do I still pay?

Depending on the type of PPA agreement you enter into, you shouldn’t have to pay if the system is not generating energy (take into consideration though, that even on cloudy days solar systems generate a good amount of power). However, the opposite does apply: if it is very sunny and producing more than what the building is consuming, the client may be liable for a minimum payment for the energy that is wasted, should it not be used. That is why it is essential to ensure that the system is sized correctly.

4)What happens at the end of the PPA?

Depending on the type of agreement, the system may transfer over to the client who then will take ownership of the solar system. This could work well if the building owner wishes to take  ownership of the system after a period of time. However, there can also be “early exit” options, if the property owner is concerned that the building might be sold during the PPA term. Again, each situation is different, and when entering into a PPA it is best to check if the agreement contains provision to either buy the system, or to get the new building owner to assume the PPA, should the building be sold.

5)What is included in the PPA tariff?

Depending on the type of agreement you enter into, the tariff will include the costs of designing the system, procuring all necessary components, and constructing the system on the suitable rooftop or ground-mounted area so that the solar electricity is readily available for the client. The tariff also includes the costs of maintaining the system on an ongoing basis, such as cleaning and part replacement as needed. Typically, these combined costs will be similar, or less than utility based power when comparing on a per-kWh basis.

 

Are you interested in finding out more? Contact our solar finance department to learn more about our solar financing options.

Fair Cape Dairies 100 kWp solar system

When cost reduction is king: 3 sectors perfect for solar finance

If you’re in business in South Africa, you’re likely feeling the squeeze of a slow-growing economy. Whilst some sectors have been more affected than others, it is safe to say that cost reduction remains a top priority for most facilities managers in today’s economic environment. At significantly lower cost to coal-based power, solar PV is a perfect solution for reducing overall electricity costs. However, for those that do not have the capex to outlay for the purchase of a new system, solar finance options remain a good choice. In this post we’ll explore three sectors that lend themselves particularly well to solar finance.    

What is solar finance?

Solar finance usually involves a Power Purchase Agreement, or PPA, between a producer of electricity and an end-user of electricity. In the case of solar PV, this usually enables an electricity consumer, such as a building, to utilise solar energy at a cheaper rate to the existing utility. In addition, although the solar system may be installed on the user’s rooftop, the ownership of the system remains elsewhere, and the user pays for the electricity that they consume, rather than for the overall cost of the solar system.

  1. The Manufacturing Sector

Industrial processing, particularly the manufacturing sector, remains one of South Africa’s most important, given the potential to create and maintain jobs. However, in a weak economy, manufacturing is one of the first sectors to suffer: and South Africa is lagging behind its regional peers. Although South Africa needs support and policy certainty when it comes to manufacturing, it is also of chief importance that each individual facility maintains its profitability through slick and efficient and operations – and this should include using the cheapest energy.

At a much lower LCOE than grid-based power, solar is a great option for manufacturing businesses. Solar finance is especially relevant as manufacturers are not necessarily interested in owning and maintaining their own solar system – they just need to access affordable and reliable power. By entering into a solar finance option such as a solar PPA, they can maintain low operating costs and remain competitive in a struggling economy.

Dynachem Industrial manufacturing facility

Dynachem Industrial manufacturing facility, 60 kWp

  1. The Agro processing Sector

Agro processing is a subset of the manufacturing industry but focused on processing raw, agricultural materials. A key growth sector in South Africa, Agro processing has been emphasised by the Department of Trade and Industry, as well at the Eastern Cape’s Department of Economic Development, and for obvious reasons: it accounts for almost 14% of South Africa’s manufacturing sector.

Similar to the manufacturing sector, agro processing runs on a tight margin and reducing operating costs are welcome. Although the input material costs may fluctuate significantly depending on the seasons and weather, entering into a solar PPA will ensure consistently low electricity prices for the processing of the raw materials.

As an added bonus, agro processing plants are often situated in rural areas, where there is access to adequate land for ground-mounted PV solutions, or large agricultural buildings for  rooftop PV solutions.

Fair Cape Dairies 100 kWp solar system

Fair Cape Dairies 100 kWp solar system

  1. The Hospitality and conferencing sector

The hospitality sector is undeniably important to South Africa, with it contributing 9.3 % of the countries overall GDP in 2016. However, the sector is also facing challenges – as disruptive technology such as AirBnB continue to grow and tightened budgets mean less cause for business conference travel.

As any facilities manager of a hotel or conference centre will tell you, running a well-oiled ship is a key aspect of ensuring that their facility remains competitive. This means finding innovative ways to ensure costs are kept to a minimum. When budgeting, planning is very important, particularly because there are several variables year-on-year that can affect the overall cost of maintaining the facility.

This is why a solar finance option is perfect for the hospitality sector: entering into a solar PPA will ensure a fixed escalation on the cost of electricity for several years – meaning greater control when planning energy costs. Ensuring that the building management system is also optimised toward solar energy – for example, ramping up the aircon mid-morning rather than early morning – can ensure even greater savings. The bonus with a PPA, furthermore, is that the system will be operated and maintained externally – giving facilities managers one less thing to worry about.

Century City Conference Centre goes green through solar energy installed by SOLA Future Energy

Century City Conference Centre 260 kWp solar system

Solar finance options are fast-growing way of tapping in to the cost and environmental benefits of solar power. Although these three sectors here are ideal for a solar finance option such as a PPA, it is not only these sectors that can benefit. Contact us to get a sense if a solar finance option will work for you.

SOLA’s Robben Island Project wins SANEA Project of the Year Award

SOLA Future Energy has won SANEA’s Energy Project of the Year Award. The award, which recognises an energy project that has brought significant recognition internationally to South Africa’s energy environment, was given to SOLA for their design and build of Robben Island’s Microgrid – a project funded by the Department of Tourism.

The award was given based on the project meeting a stringent set of criteria, including:

  • Leadership
  • Innovation
  • Initiative
  • Role model
  • Visionary qualities
  • International recognition
  • Contribution has had impact in South Africa

The Microgrid has assisted Robben Island, historically a grim landmark of isolation and oppression, to evolve into a space for critical dialogue, remembrance, education, tourism and conservation.

The installation of a state-of-the-art microgrid on Robben Island is the largest combined solar and lithium-ion storage facility in South Africa. The Department of Tourism had set aside funding for a microgrid project with solar photovoltaic systems (PV) to improve both the island’s image and function. SOLA Future Energy was awarded the contract to design and install a PV farm comprising nearly two thousand high-efficiency modules that would generate in excess of 666 kWp.

The Robben Island Solar project is a prime example of a technologically innovative and sustainable initiative.

Since adopting a green energy system, the island has already produced 650 000 kWh of solar energy – an average of 3250 kwh per day – which has significantly reduced its reliance on traditional diesel generators, a noisy and expensive feature of the old system.

In the past, diesel had to be transported by ship from the mainland, primarily to desalinate the island’s water supply. The cost of purchasing and transporting the diesel formed a substantial portion of the island’s operating budget. From a financial perspective, the solar plant is estimated to save the island over R6 000 000 in energy costs each year. The initial cost of installing the solar plant is likely to be paid off within four years. The snowball effect of the reduced spend on fuel is, at this stage, difficult to quantify. However, the savings could be used to upgrade existing infrastructure and create jobs on the island.

Over and above the financial considerations, the noise and dust emanating from these generators were not creating a tourist-friendly environment. In terms of carbon emissions, the solar farm is expected to reduce the CO2 emissions of the island by 860 Tons per annum.

Mmekutmfon Essien, Senior Project Manager at SOLA Future Energy, receives award from the Chairperson of SANEA

Mmekutmfon Essien, Senior Project Manager at SOLA Future Energy, receives award from the Chairperson of SANEA

Solar finance options make solar PV available to large businesses in Africa

Finance options for rooftop solar PV in Southern Africa

If your business is considering a solar PV system, chances are that you have looked at the advantages of the system in terms of the reduction of electricity acquired from the national grid and reduced carbon emissions, but the most important question will remain: how will a solar system save money for your business?

Although many companies will choose to purchase their solar PV system outright – meaning that after paying a once-off amount for the system, they’ll be able to use the system’s free energy over the next 25+ years – this is not the only option available to go solar. As opposed to purchasing a solar system outright, there are several solar finance options requiring little to no upfront costs, allowing more flexibility for a company.

For companies that don’t want to outlay capex to acquire an embedded solar system for their building, a financed solar solution is a great way to enjoy the benefits of solar – including reduced electricity costs and carbon emissions – without the upfront capital. Solar financing options generally allow businesses to pay only for the solar energy they use, depending on the type of agreement that is entered in to. The following blog explores the various solar finance options for commercial and industrial businesses in Southern Africa.

Introduction to solar finance

Simply stated, solar finance is a way to enjoy benefits of solar PV without the upfront capital costs. Instead of owning the solar system from day 1, businesses can “rent” a custom solar system through various solar finance options. Businesses can therefore still enjoy a diversification of energy sources and reductions on energy costs, without acquiring the solar system themselves.

Solar finance could be a particularly appealing option if:

  • A business does not have capex budget for the cost of a solar PV system
  • A business has a portfolio of buildings and does not want to buy separate PV systems for each; removing the “hassle factor”
  • A business would like to achieve electricity cost savings without impacting the balance sheet
  • A business wants to plan accurately for costs of electricity and wants greater stability with regards to tariff increases

A solar finance option will still entail a custom built embedded solar system being installed on the client’s building, but instead of ownership for the system being with the building owner, it will belong to the finance provider. In this way it differs from wheeling green energy or buying renewable energy certificates. With an embedded solar system that doesn’t belong directly to the business, there is little reason to get very involved in your building’s electricity supply – as long as the power is efficient, reliable and cost effective. Furthermore, dependent on exact structure of the agreement, the solar asset remains off balance sheet, allowing for a greater return on assets.

In contrast, owning one’s own solar system means that the building will have its own embedded power generation that belongs to the business. If the business has a good Operations and Maintenance contract in place and wishes to spend Capex upfront, this is a good option.

However, business owners may want to have even less involvement: as long as the cheapest and most reliable form of electricity is available. In this case, it pays to enter into a solar Power Purchase Agreement with a company specialising in solar PV, who will concentrate on all aspects of the system’s design, operation and maintenance over the lifetime of the system. The business can thus maintain its independence, only paying for the electricity that it uses.

Market overview of solar finance options

There are three types of solar finance agreements which are generally used for commercial and industrial business owners in Southern Africa. They differ slightly in scope and objectives, but the outcomes are similar.

  1. The solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).

The first and most common solar financing option is the solar Power Purchase Agreement (PPA).

A business who enters into a PPA agreement will only pay for the electricity that the system generates on a monthly basis, similar to municipal or utility power. This tariff will increase gradually over the years, but dissimilar to utility tariffs, the increases are usually at a fixed escalation that is agreed upon upfront, shielding business from price volatility.

Often  included in this agreement is an “early purchase option”, or an option to purchase the solar PV system anytime after an initial period. This enables flexibility for the business, should they decide at a later stage to purchase the system rather than continuing to pay for the solar electricity through the PPA.

At the end of a PPA term, the client is usually offered the option to purchase the system for it’s residual value or the system ownership automatically transfers to the client for no value. This is an important matter that can affect the starting tariff of a PPA and potential clients must make sure they know who the system belongs to at the end of PPA before entering into it.

  1. A roof rental agreement

A roof rental agreement is the second type of solar finance commonly used. In this type of agreement, a business leases their rooftop to a solar provider who builds a solar system and enters into a PPA to sell the energy from the system. The company entering into the PPA does not necessarily need to be the same as the company leasing the rooftop, which allows for several possible arrangements.

For example, a building owner with tenants could earn rental income from having a solar system installed on their roof and then have their tenants enter into a PPA, who would benefit from cost savings of the PPA. Alternatively the building owner can be the lessor of the roof rental agreement as well as the offtaker of the PPA and decide how to pass on the PPA savings to his tenants.

This option provides commercial building owners a yield enhancement of their property, turning previously unused roof area into income-making asset.

  1. An equipment rental/lease agreement

The third common form of solar finance is an equipment rental or solar lease agreement which is very similar to a PPA, in that a client pays a monthly fee towards the use of a solar PV system. The major difference with this type of solar lease agreement is that the fee is not linked to the output of the system but is rather fixed. In other words, the client would pay a similar amount, agreed in advance, every month, rather than paying for the energy that is generated in a specific month based on an agreed-upon tariff.  

Fixed tariff escalations: risk or reward?

For conservative business owners, signing on to a fixed tariff escalation for energy costs might seem risky. After all, what happens if the costs of state power go down significantly in the coming years?

This is a fair question, and the best way of mitigating this risk is to ensure that the fixed escalation on a solar PPA will be significantly lower, on average, than the utility’s escalation. In general, tariff escalations for many Southern African state utilities are quite high and fluctuate significantly year on year. Generally PPA tariffs increases range between 5-10% per annum, whilst Eskom and NamPower have had 10-year average increases of 13.8% and 13.4% respectively.

The graph below demonstrates the average tariff increases for South Africa and Namibia’s utilities over the last 10 years. Whilst some years, the increase was lower than the 6% increase typical of a solar tariff, the average increase is much higher than 10% (the grey line demonstrates a typical PPA tariff increase of 6%).

PPA tariff increases in South Africa and Namibia

Furthermore the discount offered by the PPA in year one offers further buffer from the PPA tariff ever crossing the utility tariff.

Conclusion

Solar financing readily makes clean, renewable energy available to a range of energy users in the commercial or industrial property environment. Offering both flexibility and stability, they are a very helpful way of promoting the accessibility of solar PV solutions to business owners across Southern Africa.

Do you have a business that could benefit from a solar finance solution? Contact us for more information.

 

Operations and Maintenance ensures that solar systems perform optimally

How to save through solar: 3 tips for commercial and industrial property managers

It’s long been known that managing commercial and industrial properties sustainably is not only about environmental, but also economic, sustainability. The good news is that for many facilities managers, managing properties sustainably can also deliver on their bottom line. One of the key areas of this is building electricity consumption – one of the largest expenditure chunks in any facility manager’s budget. As we know that reducing electricity consumption is a sure-fire way to save money, using a solar PV system to offset energy consumption makes sense. In this post we’ll explore three ways to ensure the economic benefits of solar PV are guaranteed in managing commercial and industrial properties.

Electricity consumption: a key concern for facilities managers in South Africa

In South Africa, electricity tariffs have increased on average 9% per annum for the last 5 years – and we may be in store for a further tariff increase in September due to Eskom’s RCA approval. These increasing tariff costs mean that it electricity is likely one of the top concerns for facility managers.  In fact, both cost savings and sustainability were highlighted as two “game changing” aspects of Facilities management for the next few years, according to the Facilities Management South Africa Knowledge Executive Report. With increased pressures on facilities managers to deliver high quality service at a reduced cost, electricity savings are imperative for facilities managers.

Much of this pressure has lead the property sector to invest in solar PV. Grid-tied solar PV systems can save properties between 20 – 40 % of their total energy consumption, making them an attractive option for saving energy costs. Increasingly, property companies and Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITS) are rolling out portfolio-wide solar PV interventions. The reason that this is so attractive is because of the rapidly decreasing prices for PV technology over the past few years, causing the costs to fall by 80% since 2009.

However, in order to make sure that a solar PV intervention actually saves money, there are a variety of factors to consider. Below are our three tips to follow in order to maximise the cost-benefit of the solar PV investment.

Tip 1: Implement in-house energy efficiency measures first

The lowest hanging fruit when it comes to building cost saving is often implementing in-house energy efficiency measures. If you haven’t already implemented in-house energy efficiency, this is the place to start for any kind of cost-saving, but it will also help any investment in solar PV to be more cost effective. A typical solar PV system has an output which ramps up in the morning, reaches peak output at midday, and then slows in the evening, such as the red line in this graph demonstrates:

typical solar PV load

Implementing energy efficiency measures to shift some load to mid-day when solar PV is at its peak production will ensure that you will fully utilise the cheaper energy when it is abundant. As an added advantage, peak tariff times are generally in the mornings and evenings, meaning that there will be an added saving. In order to fully optimise energy efficiency, implementing electrical submetering is a helpful way to analyse the energy load and understand the main energy-guzzling activities – in a typical commercial building this will likely be HVAC (air conditioning), lighting and electrical appliances.

The benefit of analysing a building’s load and implementing energy efficiency measures before procuring solar PV it twofold: it can not only shift the load more optimally as highlighted above, but it can also ensure that the solar PV system that is procured is the optimal size.

Khayim Fredericks, National Technical manager for Old Mutual, recommends looking into energy efficiency as a first measure.

“[I recommend] looking at [your] building and asking, is my building operating as efficiently as it can be, so that the solar system can be sized as efficiently as possible? […] When we explored the solar option [at Old Mutual head office], we had already reduced our consumption from 30 – 35%”.

Old Mutual solar PV system

Tip 2: size the solar system correctly.

As mentioned above, sizing solar PV systems correctly is key to enhancing their cost-reducing benefits. When sizing a system correctly, there are several factors that need to be understood, including:

  • The required energy load. This includes a thorough knowledge about the amount of energy that the building uses on a daily basis, including seasonal variations and power required.
  • The tariffs that apply. It is important to understand the energy tariffs that apply to the building, including what their tariff structure is and if peak demand charges apply. This will help when designing the solar system to see if excess energy stored in batteries might be cheaper than peak-demand municipal electricity tariffs.
  • High-rise, large commercial office blocks typically have less rooftop space available than sprawling retail centres. Understanding what roof space or ground is available around the commercial property is an important aspect of designing the solar system and its size.

What is wheeling?

Wheeling is the process of using energy from a location where it is not produced. Due to the way in which cities are set up, wheeling has great potential as it will enable building energy users with more roof space but less energy requirements, such as distribution centres or warehouses, to transfer power into energy-intensive urban hubs.

Tip 3: Add Operations and Maintenance into your ongoing energy costs.

Like any asset, the operations and maintenance of an installed solar PV system is paramount. Monetary savings generated by solar PV systems will be consistent if and Operations and Maintenance plan is followed. Factoring in the costs for operations and maintenance in the overall IRR of the solar system is important, because it will allow diagnosis of any possible problems early and thus ensure that the system continues to produce the predicted savings.

Make sure that you scrutinise what is included in an O&M contract. A comprehensive plan should include:

  • Access to software that provides real-time data on the production of the solar system
  • Remote monitoring and corrective action, when required
  • Access to technical staff who are able to assist with problem solving
  • Collating, analysing, and reporting on monthly and annual data
  • Inspecting the site and/or replacing components
  • Cleaning of the modules

A comprehensive Operations and Maintenance arrangement for your solar PV system will ensure that the system is running smoothly without you spending time diagnosing and troubleshooting, should there be a problem.

Operations and Maintenance ensures that solar systems perform optimally

By implementing in-house energy efficiency measures before procuring a solar system, sizing the system correctly for your load, and employing a comprehensive operations and maintenance plan, you will ensure the economic savings of a solar PV system on a commercial property.