Eskom Energy Woes: How to Plan and Save with Renewable Energy

Eskom woes are a reality that we have to prepare for, or suffer with grace…

An old joke recently surfaced since its last sighting in the 2008 blackouts, when Eskom implemented their latest national rolling blackouts during Oct-Nov 2014. The joke says, ‘What did South Africans use before candles? … Eskom”. Jokes aside, the Eskom situation is dire and a reality here to stay for the foreseeable future. Should we ignore it and hope it goes away? Or are there ways to continue with our current lifestyle and business operations independent of Eskom’s debacle? As with any large obstacle, it is best solved using multi-pronged approach and finding a robust, long-term solution(s). Below are a few important considerations when assessing your energy security:

Grid Shortages

The Eskom situation is well documented in the public domain. The current blackouts should be no surprise for anyone who was in the country in 2008. The Eskom reserve margin (power station capacity vs national demand) was perilously low at that stage. Unfortunately for the global economy and fortuitous for Eskom, the global financial crisis affected all markets, reducing corporate output and and energy demand. Eskom’s reserve margin took a relieved breather in 2009 as the country’s energy demand dropped along with global economic activity and has slowly been increasing since then. Now the Eskom reserve margin is back at its 2008 levels, causing expected grid shortages which we should expect to continue.

Inevitable Power Outages

Until the mega-coal power stations(Medupi and Kusile) come online, Eskom is going to be under constant pressure to manage the national grid. Any unforeseen problems or collapses at the heavily-under-maintained power stations could cause a complete grid breakdown, and Eskom has confirmed it could take up to two weeks to get the grid operational again. South African’s can live in denial or accept the reality and prepare for the inevitable Eskom power wobbles.

Rise in Green Technology

After the last blackouts, most businesses and wealthy homeowners installed generators to provide backup alternative power. This was definitely the best practical solution at the time. Low capital outlay and only the benefit of paying for diesel only when required makes it an attractive solution. Renewable energy solutions like PV solar and wind were far too expensive and inconceivable at the time. As more funds and resources flowed toward renewable energy companies, the price of these technologies have reduced drastically over the last five years. Prices of green technologies, especially solar and wind, have more than halved and are now extremely competitive against Eskom grid tariffs.

PV Solar & Wind Energy

PV solar works exceptionally well in the sunny parts of South Africa, typically the Highveld. Coastal areas have good wind energy potential, but require complicated assessment and monitoring of wind speeds before designing and installing a system. Solar on the other hand is far simpler. You can get solar radiation maps from the internet. As long as you install panels in the optimum orientation and without shading, you should get pretty close to the expected power production. No frills on a well installed PV solar system. When the sun shines you get free power.

Feeding Power to the Grid

Another complexity we South Africans have to become used to is the lack of clarity on feeding back into the grid. This is the process of sending excess power that your renewable energy system produces back to Eskom/municipality and getting credited for it. Actual rules and policy will differ between municipalities. Batteries are useful to store this excess power, for use when the when the sun is not shining. Batteries contribute substantially to the cost and complexity of the system. They do however provide ultimate protection against blackouts, if this happens when the sun is not shining for instance.

PV Solar-Battery System

A PV solar-battery system consists of the following parts:

• PV panels -> Robust, hail resistant, operate under harsh South African summers, warranty, manufacturer
• Framing -> Wind speed handling, load bearing, simple, unobtrusive, warranty
• Solar inverter -> Performance, wide operating range, warranty, manufacturer
• Battery inverter -> Performance, wide operating range, functionality, warranty, manufacturer
• Battery -> Performance, deep cycle gel, minimum maintenance, warranty, manufacturer
• Cabling and parts -> load and power bearing, performance
• Metering -> Installation, functionality, access, data costs, ease of use and reporting

Renewable Energy Savings

It is recommended to do a little research into the technology you are considering and assessing the cost-benefit analysis for yourself.  The savings from the renewable energy system production is directly related to the cost of electricity. The value of having power during Eskom blackouts is difficult to quantify. Consider a reasonable annual fee for maintenance and you can easily develop a projected net cash flow for your system.

If you are considering a solution for independence against Eskom, a pragmatic approach is to know how much power you are using and which appliances are the largest consumers. Identify priority loads, how many hours of independence you want and then decide on a budget. Reduce all possible equipment to efficient or renewable sources like LED lights, solar geysers etc.. You will then be better positioned to know your needs and assess what various installation companies available on the market have to offer. Forewarned is forearmed  in this industry.

Contact New Southern Energy at our Cape Town or Gauteng office for a free initial consultation.