BUSINESSES FLY SOLAR
Whether they are looking to keep down operating costs as we begin the tough climb back to economic normality or simply to waylay the fall-out from Eskom’s every unreliable electricity supply, more and more South African businesses are looking to installing solar power.
Makro led the charge for the retail sector and, while many malls were spending substantial sums on generators to deal with the ever present load shedding lurgy, this retailer was using the large surfaces on the top of its carports for solar panels that now meet a substantial portion of its electricity needs.
The retailer got cheap electricity while the customer enjoyed shady parking during hot summer months – a true win-win.
Apart from simple contingency planning, retail brands are also riding on the back of sustainable and eco-friendly forms of power generation to boost their brands’ images in the eyes of consumers. More and more, customers want to know that their shopping comfort isn’t damaging the environment as gas guzzling, belching generators tend to do once Eskom turns off the lights.
Unsurprisingly, it seems that the move to solar is now no longer confined to stand alone big box retailers such as Makro.
Durban’s Springfield Retail Centre and Park Boulevard Centre in Durban North have now announced that they are greening their electricity supply.
A solar energy plan has been implemented at Springfield Retail Centre with panels being installed onto a large section of the roof area. Although not able to provide the centre’s full energy requirements, the Centre’s electrical power supply demand from Eskom will be substantially reduced.
In addition to this, Springfield also plans to replace all light fittings and globes with LED’s.
Air-conditioning units that have exceeded their life-span will be replaced with inverter units which use R410a gas. This is better at absorbing and releasing heat, making them more energy efficient than the current units. This initiative will also help reduce the Centre’s carbon emissions.
Kyle Durham, Head of Alternative Energy Solutions at FNB Business, points out that businesses that are dealing with the financial impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and have already had to put up with a stint of load shedding from Eskom simply cannot afford to be caught off-guard without a reliable alternative energy solution in place.
“Our customers and the economy, particularly the manufacturing sector and other sectors, will have to start looking at alternative energy again to ensure uninterrupted business. The cost of losing business time has never been more urgent than now as thousands of businesses start up again with the easing of the lockdown,” he says.
“In addition to the prevailing challenges of power interruptions pre-Covid-19, energy experts are already forecasting an above inflation electricity price increase and there remains notable uncertainty regarding electricity price increases into the future. This means from an energy cost point of view, particularly in a depressed economy, businesses also need to be looking at every way they can save costs,” he adds.
SUMMING UP SOLAR
The long-term benefits of implementing alternatives such as solar renewable energy solutions certainly outweigh the costs.
“For example, an average-sized retail property would require a solar plant with a size of approximately 500kWp costing approximately R4.7m. However, the energy savings based on current electricity prices alone would amount to just over R1 million with the cumulative savings over 10 years projected at R11.8 million. Moreover, the business would also benefit from the S12B tax allowance which includes a 100% accelerated wear and tear deduction in the first year,” Durham explains.
He says one of the most effective solar solutions for most businesses would be a grid-tied solution. Grid tied systems consist of two key components – solar panels and a dedicated grid-tied inverter. All the electric power generated by the solar panels feeds through a mains-synchronized inverter directly into your distribution board and offsets the power you would normally consume from Eskom or the municipality.
“This means you are trying to use your solar plant in such a way that by noon on a sunny day, the plant is generating maximum electricity and, as you go towards the evening and mornings, you revert to using municipality or Eskom electricity. You can save 30 to 50% on your electricity bill,” he notes.
A hardware client that had extremely limited grid capacity used a grid interactive solution. In this case, it acts as a normal grid-tied system to reduce the instantaneous power required from the municipal feed point in order to supplement the shortfall experienced. The battery system is programmed to supplement the solar system in scenarios when low irradiation levels are experienced, for example, during early mornings and late afternoons, as well as cloudy times.
“The system cost of R3.8 million allowed for a R300 million business development with the knock-on effect of significant job creation for the local community at the large retail hardware store,” concludes Durham.