Solar has now become viable, if not essential, option for business as capital investment costs decrease and solar providers compete to offer solutions. Photo: AP

CAPE TOWN – Eskom, the supplier of 95 percent of South Africa’s electricity, has just appointed its 11th chief executive in the last ten years, has R450 billion of debt and is surviving on state bailouts. 

Power shortages and policy uncertainty remain a continued threat to business and economic growth, and it remains to be seen how new Eskom chief executive Andre de Ruyter can work with the government to stabilise the energy provider. One thing is certain, power will not be getting any cheaper. 

Solar has now become viable, if not essential, option for business as capital investment costs decrease and solar providers compete to offer solutions.

International solar energy company, SolarSaver, has taken a unique approach: offering its clients solar photovoltaic solutions on a rent-to-own basis, eliminating the need for any capital investment on the part of clients. 

Customised systems are designed and installed free-of-charge, and clients then only pay for the cheaper, greener power that is produced.

SolarSaver has to date invested over R250 million in installations across Namibia and South Africa and now manages the largest fleet of self-financed rooftop installations in Southern Africa, with clients from fuel stations to manufacturing businesses to large shopping centres. 

While most of SolarSaver’s business was initially in Namibia, substantial investment backing from the Pembani Remgro Infrastructure Fund (PRIF), a US$302 million private equity fund established by Remgro Limited and Phuthuma Nhleko that focuses on infrastructure and energy-related investments in Africa, has allowed the company to aggressively grow its South African portfolio recently as well.

With South Africa’s electricity prices have increased by over 350 percent in the last decade, a solution that reduces this operational cost is very attractive to businesses, according to Tim Frankish, Managing Director of SolarSaver. 

“Our solar tariffs are significantly cheaper than the equivalent cost of grid power, so our clients get to start saving on their electricity bills from day one,” says Frankish. “Our rates then only increase in line with CPI inflation, so clients’ savings grow each year as grid tariffs increase significantly beyond that. SolarSaver also remains responsible for all ongoing monitoring, maintenance and insurance. 

“It’s in our interest to ensure that the photovoltaic systems are operating at peak performance and that translates into better savings for our clients.”

“We like to think of SolarSaver as offering ‘capex-free, hassle-free’ solar solutions – and on that basis installing a solar system from SolarSaver really should be a no-brainer,” says Frankish.

While initial solutions focus on daytime power generation through grid-tied solar, SolarSaver is already starting to update existing systems to include batteries as that technology becomes more cost-effective. 

“Our long-term goal is to provide our clients with 24-hour power solutions through fully-financed, customised solar-battery systems,” says Frankish. 

“We’re not looking to sell expensive quick-fixes to our clients – we’re offering to invest our own capital to provide them with long-term solutions. Grid-tied solar doesn’t solve load-shedding issues, but we believe that by partnering with businesses and investing with a long-term view, we can provide a real alternative to Eskom.”

BUSINESS REPORT