According to Abdul-Khaaliq Mohamed, Head Electrical Engineer at Schletter South Africa, the private sector always needed to initiate the switch to the adoption and entrenchment of sustainable energy use in South Africa. With the costs of solar- gathering technology dropping, this marks the beginning of a solar revolution for South Africa. Just a few years ago, bigger corporates in the country started the conversation around solar energy by installing solar panels on their vacant roof top space, to supplement some of the base load energy for running their offices. More recently - and clearly now picking up speed as a developing trend in South Africa - is the growing number of SMEs and industries using solar energy. With inconclusive data around the timeline of global coal supply, the transition to renewable energy supply is no longer a nice-to-have but a necessity.
Mohamed says that South Africa has an abundance of sunshine for PV installations. SMEs can take advantage of this and tap into unused roof space as well as specialised carport structures to fit solar panels. Schletter provides specialised carport solutions for industrial (as well as residential and commercial applications) which serve the dual purposes of protecting your vehicle and gathering solar energy, which can be fed into the user’s energy system. A transition to solar can save businesses approximately 30% in overhead electrical running costs by swopping some of their energy imported from the grid (fuelled primarily by dirty coal) with clean solar PV energy. In the near future, businesses also stand to generate revenue from solar power by selling it back to the national power grid or to owners of electric vehicles as done in other countries, a practice pioneered in Germany and widely applied in the United States.
As Eskom tariffs rise, SMEs stand to save more on electricity costs by going solar. Government tax incentives also allow businesses to pay back their PV capital investments even faster. This cements solar PV as a logical and sustainable long-term financial investment. Businesses can also adopt power purchase agreements (PPAs) where they will not have to spend a cent on PV infrastructure, but simply pay for the clean energy that the PV system produces at a predictable and affordable price. The minimal maintenance of PV systems and their exceptionally quick, simple, modular and plug-and-play manner of installation means fewer interruptions to businesses processes and low operational costs. Sceptical business owners unfamiliar with the proven PV technology can opt to install small pilot PV systems or roll out larger PV systems in stages.
Looking at a tangible local example in the industrial sector, Mohamed says recently measured statistics on a business that has adopted a solar programme is a large sanitary ware corporation in the East Rand of Johannesburg. “After installing solar energy panels, the company mentioned is currently saving up to 922 kWh per sunny day, which equates to an energy saving of around R 700 per day and a reduction of approximately 900 kg of carbon dioxide”. He adds that estimating the monthly cost savings and the reduction of carbon emissions reveals an even more impressive picture. Approximately 20,000 kWh can be saved monthly, which translates into an impressive monthly energy cost reduction of R 19,000. Furthermore, the company avoided the emission of around 19,725 kg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
All SMEs and South Africans should strongly consider reducing their energy consumption and commence the transition to using sustainable/green energy sources such as solar PV. If all SMEs strive to have solar PV cater for 20-30% of their energy needs this will reshape South Africa’s energy mix and make a massive difference to the countries carbon footprint, thereby ensuring a sustainable energy supply for future generations.