While South Africa is in the midst of an energy crisis due to Eskom’s inadequate capacity, the solar energy sector has reported a spike in sales. Photo Elena Elisseeva.
While South Africa is in the midst of an energy crisis due to Eskom’s inadequate capacity, the solar energy sector has reported a spike in sales. Photo Elena Elisseeva.

Eskom’s inadequate energy capacity boosts solar energy sector

By Dieketseng Maleke Time of article published Mar 19, 2021

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The rush to get off the grid comes after Eskom announced that load shedding might last up to five years.

The power company Eskom has been struggling for years to provide electricity and recently, it said the grid remains severely constrained.

Eskom on Monday said that load shedding is likely to be a feature in South Africa until the stability of the grid improves.

The company added that this will only happen closer to September 2021 after planned maintenance programmes are completed.

The power utility warned that, without additional capacity added to the grid, there is likely to be a 4 000MW to 6 000MW shortfall over the next five years, as power stations reach their end of life.

Last year, The Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) president, Nigel Ward, said power outages negatively impacted the economy.

"Load shedding severely impacted the economy across crucial industry sectors resulting in the loss of productivity, which will inevitably lead to revenue losses and unplanned operational expenditure across industries and their value chains," he said.

Speaking to the Business Report Online Netherby Solar operations manager Adrian Whitehouse said Eskom was the big driver of their sales. “The more outages we get, the more sales enquiries and sales we get.”

Solar Ray salesperson Henk Strydom said the company also saw a spike in sales. “It was quiet when we opened in January and a couple of days ago, we have been busy. A lot of people are coming through.”

He said Solar Ray specialises in solar geysers and the company had been operational for 10 years.

The cost of solar energy

Whitehouse said some of Netherby Solar clients, which is based in Gqeberha, included businesses and domestic houses.

He said some customers were looking at getting off-grid, which means to be self-reliant upon their electrical demands.

He added that getting someone’s house off-grid takes about two to three days.

“You generate your power with panels some customers opt for a wind turbine to generate their power.

"To generate the power, you need to store the energy in your batteries. To do that you need multiple inverters. The energy in the batteries is then converted to AC power through the inverter to run your household,” he said.

Whitehouse noted that getting a three-bedroom house off-grid costs around R200 000 upwards. He added that a farm would cost between R500 000 to R1m.

Strydom said the price of installing a solar geyser depended on its size.

“If you looking at about 150 litres you are likely to pay between R15 000 to R20 000. If it is 200 litres the price is around R22 000-23 000.”

He said it takes four hours to install the geyser.

The grid-tied system

Whitehouse said he recommended that citizens not go off-grid completely, but rather to use the grid-tied system, which in his company is called the hybrid system.

“The hybrid system means you are also still connected to Eskom so your batteries can be either charged by Eskom or if you have the panels, the solar panels can charge the batteries. You can either use the batteries in the evening or keep them for times of load shedding.”

He said a hybrid system for a three-bedroom house may cost around R120 000 to R150 000.

Energy expert Chris Yelland reiterated what Whitehouse said. He said he wouldn’t suggest going off-grid. “It is not the efficient way and it is still expensive,” he said.

“The better solution in my opinion is to have a grid connection while you have your solar system.”

He said in the future, the grid might be open and citizens can generate on the grid.

Yelland said while in some towns and municipalities around the country generating to the grid is allowed policies in place are tough.

“In CT they allow generation into the grid but you cannot be a net exporter in a period of a year.”

Generating energy on the grid

Yelland said the amount of energy you put on the grid is measured. “You get paid for the amount you put into the grid. If you use the electricity from the grid, they measure it and you have to pay for it. They subtract the two and you pay the difference. That reduces your electricity bill.”

Yelland added: “Eskom cannot meet demand at the moment that is why we have load shedding. We need more people that are generating into the grid because it will help Eskom and the country so that we won’t need load shedding if we can use less electricity from the grid.”

The present

On Thursday, Mineral Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe announced the opening of Bid Window 5 of the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme, which will procure a further 2 600MW of renewable energy from independent power producers.

South African Wind Energy Association CEO Ntombifuthi Ntuli said: “This procurement window will add vitally needed power capacity to the country, which continues to struggle with strangled energy supply, an ongoing crisis that is economically crippling and has seen South Africa buckling under the strain of load shedding for the last few years.”


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