Grid-Connected PV Provides the Ideal Solution for Home and SME Solar Installations
By Kevin Norris, Executive Director, Jasco Power and Energy
Electricity is fast becoming a major cost centre for homes and small businesses, leading users to seek alternative energy solutions.
Energy costs continue to increase year-on-year, and while the National Energy Regulator has limited electricity price hikes to just eight percent over the past few years, this will likely increase in 2015.
Grid-connected Photo-Voltaic (PV) installations offer the ideal solution for the home or Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) consumer, providing a cost-effective solar power generation system that can be used to offset the cost of electricity from the utility provider and reduce the burden on the national grid.
PV installations, more commonly referred to as solar panels, are an increasingly viable option for sustainable alternative energy supply in South Africa.
Off-grid solutions are connected to a battery, which stores solar energy by charging the battery. These solutions are not connected to utility grids at all, forming completely separate or ‘island’ solutions, ideal for areas where there is no utility power supply.
However, in most residential or business installations, this is not an ideal solution, as the battery is often an unnecessary cost, and the purpose of solar energy in these scenarios is to complement utility power during daylight hours, rather than replacing it entirely.
Grid-connected PV installations, on the other hand, work together with utility power, providing solar energy when this is available and reverting to grid-supplied power when it is not. These installations also provide the capability to feed back into the grid, but this is not currently an option in South Africa.
The principle of grid-connected PV
A grid-connected PV installation consists of three components: energy generation, power conversion and energy utilisation.
Solar cells or solar panels generate electrical energy directly from the light that falls on them. This is direct current (DC), which cannot be used as is in a utility environment. Power conversion therefore must take place whereby DC is converted to alternating current (AC).
This task is performed by a Grid Tie Inverter, which includes monitoring and protective devices, and which also regulates the optimal operating mode according to the current solar conditions. Finally, energy utilisation can take place.
Grid-connected systems can be used for self-consumption, meaning that they will supply power to the home or office they are connected to in place of utility power. The excess energy generated can then be fed to the utility grid in two ways. Can be supplied on a nett metering basis (i.e. no money changes hand.
You either have a debit or a credit account with the utility) or in the form of a feed in tariff, where you get paid for every kWh of energy supplied back into the national grid. South Africa is currently not set up for two-way metering, on a large scale as a result of complexities with municipal legislation, however this should become available in the near future.
Grid-connected PV systems are less expensive than standalone off-grid installations with battery storage, since the energy storage component is not required.
This also improves the efficiency of the solution, and decreases its environmental impact, since batteries are not a required component.
In addition, the size of grid-connected PV systems is more flexible than off grid systems, as any desired size from 250 watts up to several megawatts can be implemented.
In the event of a power failure, grid-connected PV systems must be isolated from the utility for safety reasons in order to prevent uncontrolled stand-alone operations – in other words, when the power fails, the grid-connected PV system will also go offline.
This is a safety requirement to prevent the possible electrocution of any utility personal working on the grid during the power failure. However, without compromising the safety requirements required by the utility, a grid-connected system can also be configured to work in conjunction with either a diesel generator or UPS.
This will allow the solar powered system to continue to operate and provide power supply to the load. If the power is being generated by the solar panels, the Grid Tie invertor will prioritise the use of this energy and the generator or UPS will only supply a minimal load and will thus be highly efficient.
Grid-connected PV systems can thus enable homes to provide continuity of supply in the event of a power failure.
One additional factor to bear in mind is that solar installations require approximately 10 square metres of solar panels per kilowatt (kW) required to be generated.
A typical South African home system, suitable for a family of four people, would require a design capacity of between 3.5kW and 4kW.
This in turn requires a surface area of 35 to 40 square meters to accommodate the necessary solar panels. While many homes have a roof footprint of more than this area, in order to maximise the efficiency of a solar solution, the panels need to be north facing.
The majority of homes simply do not have enough north-facing roof real estate to accomplish this. Consequently, it is recommended that prior to embarking on a solar installation, users should upgrade conventional home geysers, lighting and appliances to the latest energy efficient products.
In this way it is possible to reduce the required capacity to as little as 2kW, which would require a PV installation of around 20 square metres - the average roof size of a double garage. This also dramatically reduces the cost of the solar installation, as the number of panels required is effectively halved.
Solar pays for itself
Alternative and sustainable energy solutions are fast becoming a must for home and SME users, as the rising costs of electricity are placing ever-increasing burdens on the monthly budget.
In addition, offloading the requirements of homes from the national grid will take the pressure off the utility providers, enabling them to focus on equalising supply and demand more efficiently.
Grid-connected PV solutions offer a cost effective option for users to leverage the advantages of solar power, and will pay for themselves within just a few years of operation, given the inevitable continued energy price increases that will be put into place in the coming years.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”