As Eskom continues with rolling blackouts, businesses across the country have been subjected to significant amount of downtime.
This continuous disruption to productivity is costing South African businesses, and the economy, money they can’t afford to lose – especially amid rising inflation.
According to The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), load shedding costs South Africa a staggering R700 million in lost economic output per load shedding stage per day, and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) estimates that it cost the nation around 3% in real GDP growth in 2021.
With the dark lords of Megawatt Park having no concrete plan in place on how to deal with the load shedding crisis, many people, including businesses, are looking at alternative energy sources including going off the grid.
Manie de Waal, joint-CEO of the Energy Partners Group, says it is no surprise that so many people are talking about going off grid.
He explains that there are two energy problems facing businesses that quickly lead to the notion of “going off grid.”
“To be clear: ‘off-grid’ means absolutely no connection to the electricity grid of South Africa. The first of these challenges is the direct impact of the rising cost of electricity. The solution to cost control is definitely not to go off-grid. Simply put, any off-grid solution will in fact increase any current cost of electricity supplied by Eskom.”
The second issue, according to De Waal, is one of reliability, or security of supply [due to load shedding] and has indirect cost implications through loss of production and productivity.
“Reliability issues are not addressed by a solar system on its own, when the Eskom or municipal grid is down solar production also stops in its entirety.”
“This is one of the biggest misconceptions regarding solar systems, that they keep producing when the grid is down. For that to happen you have to integrate the solar system with alternative back-up systems like Batter Energy Storage Systems (BESS) or a generator,” said De Waal.
He says complete off-grid systems are prohibitively expensive to implement when compared to the current cost of Eskom electricity.
“In many cases it is simply impossible, due to the space required to accommodate a large enough solar system.”
De Waal says security of supply concerns must be addressed by energy back-up systems that are not intermittent and that can provide a stable reference grid – currently either BESS or generators.
So, is South Africa ready to go off grid? No, says De Waal.
“Going off grid is the biggest misconception of the South African energy industry – it simply isn’t feasible. But, becoming less dependent on the grid, getting through load shedding with fewer operational disruptions, and benefitting from significant cost savings – that is possible and feasible. And it can be achieved without any capital investment.
De Waal says companies should be exploring ways to maximise on site embedded energy generation and storage capability to work better with the grid.