LINKED-IN POST: JASCO SEES LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL
30 Mar 2019
It’s difficult to see light at the end of the tunnel when the national utility switches the lights off on a regular basis due to grid supply constraints, but some companies are finding a bright side to the current energy crisis.
Businesses involved with alternative sources of renewable energy and backup power are welcoming increased demand for services as customers stock up on solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, grid-tie inverters, standby generators and UPS back-up systems to reduce their sole reliance on the alleged state-captured entity.
JSE-listed Jasco’s Power and Renewable Energy divisions have emerged from 18 month in a troubled economy with a largely stable grid supply, says Dave Smith, Managing Director of Jasco Power & Renewable Energy. Now its streamlined business operations are improving by helping customers to prepare for more load shedding, and by designing alternative power and renewable energy solutions for businesses tired of erratic grid supply. Jasco has turned its own headquarters in Midrand into a shining example of the possibilities of solar PV power. The carport roof is covered with solar PV panels, and on sunny days they supply a significant amount of all the electricity needs for commercial enterprise building, including lights, air conditioning, hot water, data centre, workshops and business computing.
Over weekends, the excess solar power being generated is exported into the grid to boost Johannesburg City Power’s supply. The 33% saving on Jasco’s electricity bill per month will see the solar PV panels pay for themselves within five years (or sooner if tariffs are increased at higher rates than originally envisaged). However, it’s a misconception to think that grid-tied solar PV panels can keep your systems running during a power cut. The panels generate direct current (DC) electricity, but commercial and industrial buildings consume alternate current (AC) electricity, so the DC power is converted to AC through a set of inverters. During a power cut the inverter suspends operation and so does the solar PV power output to ensure the safety of grid repair personnel. The grid-tie inverters can of course be “powered” by a standby generator on site and will then cut your diesel consumption by augmenting its energy supply with solar PV power.
Since a generator takes a few seconds to kick in when the power is interrupted, Jasco is also seeing large demand for uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) back-up devices to protect critical electronic equipment, computers and production lines with sophisticated control systems from costly and critical downtime.
Smith says some companies are now requesting UPS systems sufficiently powerful and with the necessary battery capacity to keep a business operating during four hours of load shedding. However, that isn’t always economically viable because of the cost of UPS batteries. Currently, the best mix of technologies to survive the blackouts is a UPS for instant back-up, a standby generator, and solar PV power to reduce your sole reliance on the grid from a total energy consumption perspective.
In the future it may become economically viable to run a business on solar PV power coupled with batteries to store the excess power generated until it may be needed during non-solar irradiance hours. As battery prices fall through higher demand and mass production, there may also be a business case for partially running a business on batteries at certain critical times. That would be most cost-effective in areas where time-of-use electricity tariffs fluctuate with peak, standard and off-peak prices. A factory could recharge its batteries at night when electricity is cheaper, then power its equipment from the battery storage when much higher peak period tariffs kick in.
These are a similar type of battery to those that power electric cars, so they are destined to become cheaper and more ubiquitous. As more people buy electric cars and replace the batteries at recommended intervals to ensure transport reliability, older batteries with residual capacity could be repurposed as useful power supply devices for their homes for loading shedding or energy shifting circumstances.
The future certainly lies in alternative renewable energy and energy storage, and with the national utility supply crisis bound to last many years, companies that generate alternative energy, supply those solutions, or simply use those solutions will be the ones to gain while the grid supply authority and those who don’t will lose.