Solar Power: an end to load shedding in South Africa?
SegenSolar is a Southern African subsidiary of Segen Ltd group, the UK’s largest photovoltaic specialist wholesaler and distributor. Here, SegenSolar share with Business Chief its answers to the race against time to avoid the next national blackout and grid collapse:
For residents and businesses in South Africa, Eskom has long been a source of frustration. Generating approximately 95% of the country’s electricity, the company holds a state-supported monopoly on the energy supply in South Africa – where rolling blackouts are a daily occurrence as the national grid falters.
Load shedding has been a part of South African life since 2014 when it first became clear Eskom could not keep up with post-apartheid demand – and unfortunately, it seems it is here to stay. Minister of public enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, has previously said the government and Eskom are determined not to go beyond Stage 4 load shedding (where 4,000 MW has to be shed in). But now, it is clear that plans have been laid for Stage 5 (5,000 MW) and Stage 6 (6,000 MW) load shedding schedules, which would mean even longer periods of power outages for residents and businesses.
Officials have warned there is a race against time to ensure a national blackout and grid collapse –
like those which have crippled Venezuela – do not happen in South Africa. Gordhan said: “We don’t want to remain in a vicious cycle where load shedding shifts to other crises. We are committed to rebuilding the energy supply and energy confidence”.
What’s the solution?
Almost 70% of South Africa’s energy is currently generated by coal, whilst solar and wind combined only make up 0.1% of the national energy supply. However, many of the country’s ageing coal power stations are up to 50 years old – despite stations normally only producing sufficient electricity for 30 years, according to Eskom board chair Jabu Mabuza.
Gordhan has also admitted that Eskom’s two newest coal plants were“badly designed and badly constructed”, with many sources claiming they are only 40% reliable. As a result, the South African grid simply can’t cope with demand.
Opening up the market for Independent Power Producers would help significantly plug power capacity shortages, as competition would provide greater incentives to maintain and develop new energy systems. Unfortunately, the government is unlikely to take this action anytime soon – so residents and businesses need to prepare for the worst.
One thing South Africa isn’t short on is sunshine, which is why solar power could provide a sustainable solution to counteract the Eskom problem. A solar photovoltaic (PV) system can provide up to 30% of an average home’s energy, for example. As such, many South African home and business owners are looking to solar. Although they can be expensive to install, the cost of solar PV systems has fallen dramatically – making them a hugely beneficial long-term investment.
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Choosing the right Solar PV system
The principle of yielding electricity from the sun remains the same but there are many ways a PV installation can be connected to best suit both homeowners and businesses. There are five different types of solar PV systems: grid-tied, grid-backup, enhanced self-consumption, peak-shaving and off-grid.
A pure grid-tied system with no storage or load management is a viable option for South Africa as a nation which experiences steep energy price hikes year on year but does not provide power in the event of a blackout. Instead, there will be continued demand for grid-backup systems – which use a battery to store power and can operate with no grid for prolonged periods of time – if frequent load shedding, or even fear of it, continues.
Enhanced self-consumption where surplus energy is stored and used to heat water could also provide a cost-effective solution. The storage option may take the form of a battery system instead; however, this could add significantly to the cost and would have a long financial payback time at current electricity prices.
Many energy users in South Africa pay a high tariff when using greater amounts of electricity than normal during peak times. A PV system can also be used to limit the amount of higher-cost electricity consumed by storing energy during the hours of sunlight and releasing it during the high-cost periods – this is known as peak-shaving.
Finally, there is an off-grid system which requires significant investment including a large capacity battery and an inverter capable of supplying the maximum load. Operating totally off grid cannot normally be justified if there is a good-quality grid connection available but if South Africa continues down its current route it may become a viable option in the future.
Fitting a solar system is complicated and requires a knowledgeable distributor and expert installers who can advise on the most suitable system to meet the customer’s requirements. SegenSolar’s unique portal is a crucial tool for installers looking to fit a solar PV system onto their customers’ homes or office buildings to provide power in the event of a grid failure or load shedding.
5 minutes with... Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO, Tapoly
Founder and CEO of award-winning insurtech firm Tapoly, Janthana Kaenprakhamroy heads up Europe’s first on-demand insurance platform for the gig economy, winning industry awards, innovating in the digital insurance space, and leading with inclusivity.
Here, Business Chief talks to Janthana about her leadership style and skills.
What do you do, in a nutshell?
I’m founder and CEO of Tapoly, a digital MGA providing a full stack of commercial lines insurance specifically for SMEs and freelancers, as well as a SaaS solution to connect insurers with their distribution partners. We build bespoke, end-to-end platforms encompassing the whole customer journey, but can also integrate our APIs within existing systems. We were proud to win Insurance Provider of the Year at the British Small Business Awards 2018 and receive silver in the Insurtech category at the Efma & Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards 2019.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to be as inclusive a leader as possible. I’m committed to creating space for everyone to shine. Many of the roles at Tapoly are performed by women and I speak at industry events to encourage more people to get involved in insurance/insurtech. Similarly, I always try to maintain a growth mindset. I think it’s important to retain values to support learning and development, like reliability, working hard and punctuality.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
Build your network and seek advice. As a leader, you need smart people around you to help you grow your business. It’s not about personally being the best, but being able to find resources and get help where needed.
How do you see leadership changing in a COVID world?
I think the pandemic has proven the importance of inclusive leadership so that everyone feels supported and valued. It’s also shown the importance of being flexible as a leader. We’ve had to remain adaptable to continue delivering high levels of customer service. This flexibility has also been important when supporting employees as everyone has had individual pressures to deal with during this time. Leaders should continue to embed this flexibility within their organisations moving forward.
They say ‘from every crisis comes opportunity’, what opportunities do you see?
The past year has been challenging, but it has also proven the importance of digital transformation in insurance. When working from home was required, it was much harder for insurers to adjust who had not embedded technology within their operating processes because they did not have data stored in the cloud and it caused communication delays with concerned customers at a time when this communication should have been a priority, which ultimately impacts the level of customer satisfaction. This demonstrates the importance of what we are trying to achieve at Tapoly in driving digitalisation in insurance and making communication between insurers and distribution partners seamless.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
Start sooner, don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks and make sure you raise enough money to get you through the initial seed stage.