It seems that every time we get a new round of loadshedding, South Africans are caught by surprise, and there’s a sudden run on inverters, batteries and generators.
But as we start to realise that the power supply situation is not going to revert to normal any time soon, more businesses and individual households are looking to protect themselves and their equipment by installing alternative power solutions.
Channelwise asked the Power and Energy Solutions team at Mustek to outline the power issues facing South Africans, and suggest how resellers can make themselves part of the solution.
It’s been 14 years since South Africa first experienced load shedding in 2008, and we don’t seem to be much further along in tackling the issues. What is your prognosis for the future: what kind of interruptions can we expect, and for how long?
Over the last couple of years, the supply from Eskom has increased marginally with the introduction of Medupi and Kusilie.
However, new restraints brought on by climate change and resolutions from COP26 (the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference) mean that a few of our older coal-fired power stations are earmarked to be moth-balled – and this will create a further shortfall in supply.
Today, coal is by far the major energy source for South Africa, comprising around 80% of our energy mix. But the 2019 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) calls for almost half of the coal generating fleet to be decommissioned within 10 to 30 years.
New gas power plants are still some way in the future, while the move to renewable energy sources could take some years to come to fruition.
Solar power is available now, and almost any business or household can utilise it.
There is certainly no shortage of the raw ingredient: sunlight. The annual 24-hour global solar radiation average is about 220 W/m2 for South Africa, compared with about 150 W/m2 for parts of the US, and about 100 W/m2 for Europe and the UK, making South Africa’s local resource one of the highest in the world.
A recent market study by Technavio estimates that the Solar Energy Market Share in South Africa could increase by 23.31 TWh from 2021 to 2026, at an accelerated CAGR of 29,74%.
Meanwhile, a separate study indicates that the South Africa solar photovoltaic (PV) market is expected to register a CAGR of over 7% between 2022 and 2027.
Winter is coming, and we can expect a new round of load shedding over the coming months. In your experience, are businesses and individuals ready for the expected outages?
Load shedding has become the new normal for South Africans. And, in typical South African fashion, businesses have found various work arounds.
During the height of the Covid pandemic, businesses were incredibly dynamic and many enabled their employees to work from home. With remote working, smaller pockets of employees are affected by load shedding at any time.
And there are also many smaller backups power units available at much more cost-effective pricing, so both employer and employee have more options to help them overcome the power challenges.
As an example, the Mustek BBone, BB-M1 and BB-M2 products have been very successful in keeping “work-from-home employees” up and running.
For resellers, these cost-efficient and easy-to-deploy solutions let them offer new systems and services to the client base – and they are available today.
Despite the many years of load shedding behind us, there still seems to be a lot of ignorance around solutions to address it. How could the IT reseller be more involved in educating and helping customers?
It’s important to realise that no one solution fits all customers, so resellers need to take the time to to understand the needs of each individual.
Power isn’t an easy field to get to grips with, so partners need to make sure they equip themselves with the right knowledge.
At Mustek, we can help with short, effective sales and technical workshops to get resellers au fait with the many issues they will confront in the power solutions market.
Please outline the different types of solutions that could be used, and where they would be applicable.
UPSes are used as a pure backup solution. Some are designed to keep running for five to 15 minutes, and some are designed for home office use to last three to six hours. More backup time requires more battery – and batteries are generally at least 50% of the cost of the unit.
Inverters changes your battery’s DC (direct current) power to the AC (alternating current) you need to run your home and appliances. Inverters can range from 1kW to 11kW.
Solar installations involve using photovoltaic (PV) panels to supplement your Eskom power and/oror to charge batteries that will then power your load during any off-grip situations.
Generators and mechanical power supplies for short periods like load shedding. Being hydrocarbon-powered, they do not supply clean energy and they can be pretty noisy.
The traditional UPS was designed to smooth and clean “dirty” power, protecting sensitive, critical equipment and computer programs from damage due to power loss. This protection time was only initially just long enough to run critical procedures and close files to secure databases while, in the background, alternative power could be initiated to temporarily compensate for loss of municipal power.
Today, the problem isn’t just dirty power or unplanned power loss but long-term scheduled power loss ranging from two-and-a-half to four-and-a-half hours a session – often multiple times per day. This means that, while there’s still a need for UPSes, reliable and stable battery power is now needed to keep them operating efficiently.
Battery banks can provide power ranging from 1kWh – sufficient to run a laptop, external screen, router and small printer for three to five hours – to 100kWh or more, which could run a 100-seat call centre for a full load shedding session.
These battery banks can be recharged and maintained by traditional diesel generators, but bear in mind that these need to maintained and supplied with fuel. The fuel supply situation could become a challenge as we move to more frequent load shedding sessions per day as there are limitations to how much petrol or diesel can be kept onsite.
Or you can turn to solar, for an intelligent and sustainable power source.
Granted we can’t guarantee sunshine every day, but intelligently and well-configured systems can repay their investment within a few years. For instance, Mustek invested in a solar system and LED retrofit eight years ago, and benefited from a payback on investment within four years.
What are some of the pros and cons of each type of solution?
UPS is a cost effective system to supply sufficient power to power down electrical device. Typically, they have small batteries and are used for 10-15 minutes. They are not usually suitable for prolonged outages, although there are some products designed to provide power for longer.
Inverters can be sized with various batteries to give prolonged working hours. However, load versus backup time is often miscalculated, which results in a system that is expensive or doesn’t have sufficient back up time.
Solar installation is arguably the best return on investment on the market. Once installed, the cost to repay via a loan will remain constant compared to the ever-increasing electrical tariffs. A solar installation will often have a return on investment ranging from four to eight years depending on the battery component. The main drawback is the high capital cost that needs to be laid out at the start.
Generators are cost-effective to start off, but there’s an ongoing cost for diesel/petrol, and they require maintenance every 2 000 to 5 000 hours of use. Many generator failures are due to lack of maintenance.
What common mistakes do people/resellers make when installing alternative power solutions and what are the implications for the user?
The most common mistakes come about because of misunderstandings around the various components in a system; and finding the right balance between solar array, inverter, battery and load.
A miscalculation in one of these components will result in poor performance of the whole system – and the usual blaming of one component over the other.
But you don’t have to start big: you can install a relatively small system and build on to it as the customer sees the saving on their electricity bill.
We can’t emphasise enough how critical it is to have qualified people installing the system. The qualified electrician knows the regulations involved to keep human life and equipment safe.
What do they need to do to make sure they don’t make these mistakes?
There are a couple of ways that resellers can ensure they calculate load correctly.
The first is to manually record every item to placed on the system with its power rating. This may be long and tedious, but allows the client to understand what is going to be placed on the system.
The second method is to purchase a power data logger, which will allow the reseller to confirm the customers’ load profile and work on an optimal system.
Typically, we advise that heat-generating appliances like geysers, ovens, hairdryers, heaters, stoves and kettle be excluded from the system.
Installations need to be done by a qualified electricians, and a certificate of compliance must be issued to accompany your existing certificate.
In your opinion, what is the alternative power market worth to the channel?
The alternative power industry is growing year on year, and more people are realizing the benefits of solar – partly because of increasing electrical tariffs.
Customers have invested in cost-saving appliances and lights and seen the benefits. These small savings are driving an appetite for larger systems in the home and small businesses.
Mustek offers solutions that let partners provide these solutions, and to grow with their customers over time.