Aug 2020

Load Shedding Solutions for Your Business

Load Shedding, unfortunately, has become a norm in South Africa. Even though load shedding takes place to stop the entire country from experiencing a permanent blackout (by the collapsing of the whole electricity supply grid), load shedding still has major negative effects on the economy in South Africa. 

Several reports now estimate that South Africa will experience severe load shedding for at least two more years. The frequency of load shedding, even during COVID 19’s economic standstill, indicates just how fragile Eskom’s fleet has become, and businesses have to find a solution to remain operational. The positive news is that a plethora of technology now exists which can help your business to find a solution to ending the nightmare of operational disturbances.

The causes of load shedding 

Load shedding happens when there is not enough electricity available to meet the demand of all customers. In order to maintain grid stability, the electricity utility supplier will interrupt the energy supply to certain areas on a rotational basis.  The winter-months are prone to load shedding, as it can be  caused by the higher demand for electricity during cold weather, which causes the power station stations to be overloaded and  struggle to  keep up with generating the needed electricity capacity.

According to Eskom and government officials, the solution is a capacity problem, requiring the construction of additional power stations and generators. However, the procurement of additional national capacity could be a lengthy process. In the meantime, there are alternative electricity solutions to help businesses during load shedding.

Various methods can be used to minimise the impact of load shedding, and below we suggest a few solutions businesses can use to see their operational disturbances be minimised. 

Solutions to load shedding

1. Uninterruptible power supply systems (UPS systems) 

A UPS is an electrical apparatus that provides emergency power to a load when the main power supply or utility power fails.

A UPS is the bare minimum when it comes to business operational management, as it allows for the safe, orderly shutdown of computers and connected equipment. The size and design of a UPS will determine how long it will supply power.

A UPS will only work if power banks are fully charged and on standby when needed. Unfortunately these are short term solutions, due to the fact that the power banks may run out of power before the electricity comes back on. This means that, once the UPS’s reserve has been depleted, there is no alternative supply of power, which might negatively impact productivity and affect day to day operating of the business.

2. Backup generator  

Many businesses have turned to backup generators to ensure the continuous supply of power. Generators typically use diesel or gas, and convert mechanical energy into electrical energy as the output. 

Gas generators can be used for residential emergency power supply and can last about 2 to 3 hours,  which may not be ideal for a business function. Diesel generators, on the other hand, can run for 20 – 30 hours, depending on their capacity.

However, with the ever increasing price of fuel, running a generator can become prohibitively expensive. The lifespan of a generator depends on its run hours – a generator that is used infrequently could last around 20 years. In a scenario of increased and consistent load shedding, generators may need to be replaced more frequently. 

In addition, it is important to consider the noise and fumes that a generator might emit, which can be an additional frustration to an already stressful working environment. 

Diesel generators on Robben Island

3. Grid-tied PV Solar system 

A solar PV system is composed of solar modules combined with an inverter and other electrical and mechanical hardware that use energy from the sun to generate electricity. PV systems can vary greatly in size, from small rooftop or portable systems to massive utility-scale generation plants. In South Africa, which has fantastic irradiation, solar PV tends to be the most affordable kind of power to generate.

However, typical solar PV systems are grid-tied, meaning that they would go down during load shedding. This is because, although the sun may continue to shine during a power outage, the inverters will automatically switch off in the event of a grid outage. An inverter is required for solar PV systems in South Africa, to convert the DC power generated by the modules to AC power, which is used in buildings and commercial operations. Inverters are designed to switch off in the event of a power outage, to ensure the safety of personnel that could be working on the grid during an outage.

Luckily, a simple “workaround” can ensure that during the day, a solar PV system can still remain operational during a power outage. As we explained in our previous post about load shedding, installing hardware and a simple generator/UPS system can ensure that inverters remain on during outages, and the solar PV system can continue to generate low-cost power during this time. Several SOLA customers have used this technology, such as Old Mutual Park. 

Old Mutual Solar Carport

Installing a solar PV system is a great cost effective way to get your business not having to deal with the crisis of load shedding in South Africa.

4. Off-grid solar PV system

An off-grid solar PV and battery system, also known as a stand-alone power system (SAPS), or solar PV microgrid, works by balancing several electricity sources, such as solar PV and batteries. Solar PV microgrids work by generating electricity from solar modules and using them to charge a battery via a charger controller.

An off-grid system works independently of a utility grid , which makes it an independent power generation source, ideal for remote or rural areas, such as the microgrid in Clanwilliam’s Cedar mill Mall.  However, with increased load shedding, this form of electricity generation is starting to make financial sense in urban areas too.

Although many companies may be reluctant to move off-grid,  solar PV microgrids are becoming the most long-term and cost effective solution for permanent power supply in South Africa. 

Cedar Mill Mall Solar PV Microgrid

Conclusion

With the prospect of load shedding being around for at least another three years, considering viable alternative sources of power is important for business. With the rising tariffs and other issues at Eskom, companies need to seek out the best alternative power generation options for their businesses. 

Now that we are ready to “reopen” our economy after the COVID 19 lockdown, load shedding will be a reality for many businesses. The good news is that there are lots of options for business owners to ensure continuous power – whether through a  UPS system, backup generators or solar PV systems. The options are there to help ease your mind with the effect that load shedding has caused to businesses.

Women in STEM: SOLA engineers share their experience

Women’s Day in South Africa commemorates the importance of women’s involvement in the struggle against apartheid, particularly the march against pass laws in 1956. As a company, SOLA is in the business of engineering, a sector in which women have been historically underrepresented. But SOLA is committed to diversity – and believes in the power of diverse thought to enhance the work that we do.  Today, we take a look at two women engineers at SOLA who are on their own mission to change the world.

Solar engineer at SOLA

Abi Majoka is an electrical engineer with four years of experience designing solar PV facilities. Her mother, an architect, was purportedly the reason that she decided on engineering as a career. “I was encouraged to make a change to the narrative that women can’t handle certain tasks,” says Abi. 

Role models are an important aspect of driving more women to choose male-dominated fields for their career path. Amelia Bergh, a mechanical engineer by training who started as an intern at SOLA, was lucky enough to have several strong female role models in her family. She believes that she was drawn to engineering through her interest in finding and solving problems.

Women solar engineers at SOLA


“Growing up on a farm…I very soon found myself interested in fixing each and every problem. Engineering was the best degree I could think of to back up this interest.” 

Since beginning her career as an intern at SOLA, Amelia has come to be responsible for several large-scale solar PV designs, including one for Prospecton Brewery in Durban, a 1.3 MW solar system that is one of the 8 MW fleet that SOLA built for ABinBev last year. Abi was also involved in this project, designing the 1.3 MW system at Polokwane Brewery in Limpopo. 

Solar PV engineering for AB InBev at Prospecton Brewery Durban
All hands on deck: Amelia with colleague Milano Singh on site at Prospecton Brewery, Durban

Despite their experience, both engineers are proudest of their first designs. “No one forgets their first labour,” Abi laughs, remembering her first design at SOLA, a 944 kWp system at Dainfern Mall in Fourways. Amelia’s first design, for the Western Cape Blood Service, also made a meaningful impact. “It was a small project but I am still very proud of it,” she adds. Indeed, a career in engineering means being able to tackle challenging problems and be rewarded by providing workable, cost-effective solutions. “In many cases, my work measurably improves the safety and/or quality of life for people,” Abi adds. 

But being a female engineer isn’t always easy. “Being outnumbered, on any front, is not enjoyable, and being a female engineering student or professional you are outnumbered 1/10 at a good time,” says Amelia. The effects of having few women in engineering fields are widespread and high impact – from the design of seatbelts meaning women are much more likely to die in car crashes to design of stoves that impact negatively on women’s health. Thus having a diversity of perspectives is important – particularly in engineering.  

Being in the minority can also manifest in day-to-day work scenarios for women in engineering. “I have to constantly show my strength and ability to execute tasks that are not ‘womanlike’,” Abi states. Amelia agrees. “Being a woman in our industry definitely gets people thinking. I am gaining momentum on my experience and am proud to be showing everyone that a woman can do it too,” she adds.

SOLA has always been committed to diversity, formalising their policy in this regard in 2019 and solidifying diversity as one of their core values. Whilst there is a long way to go, the rewards serve everyone, both internal employees and clients alike. “We are lucky enough to have quite a few supportive women within our company which I turn to when I am wanting to chat to a female,” Amelia adds.

What advice do Abi and Amelia have for other women who would like to start their careers in male-dominated fields? “Don’t settle for a work environment that does not support your growth and give you opportunities to expand your knowledge,” says Amelia. “Make sure to surround yourself with people that see past your gender and are proud to have you in their team.” Abi puts it more simply. “Show up and be relevant. We can do it!”

If you are a female engineer or interested in becoming an engineer, have a look at this list of resources for female engineers. Also, keep an eye on SOLA’s social media and careers page for job opportunities.