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Energy Wheeling supplies power to areas located away from the direct source of power

SOLA gets approval for largest solar PV wheeling agreement in South Africa

A flagship renewable energy project, commissioned by Amazon, is set to demonstrate the flexibility and convenience of procuring independent power through the electricity grid. The project will see 28 GWh of solar energy wheeled via Eskom’s utility grid from a solar farm in the Northern Cape to Amazon’s facilities each year.

Energy wheeling holds tremendous value in that it enables the supply of energy to urban areas from energy projects in outlying areas, such as a solar farm located in an area where the sun is most powerful and consistent. This is done through the transfer of electrical power via a utility’s distribution system. In other words, the power generated in a sunny area is distributed to an offtaker where there might be less solar resource. 

Chris Haw, SOLA’s Executive Director, explains that although the concept of wheeling energy using Eskom’s existing infrastructure has been in place since 2008, certain administrative barriers have hindered the uptake of such services. “This project, which comprises a 10 MW solar PV farm, has also received a sought-after generation license from NERSA, a milestone that other similar projects have struggled to achieve.”

SOLA will be responsible for developing the project and will build, own and operate the solar facility.

Haw explains that the NERSA process requires a signed Power Purchase Agreement and fully developed project in order to obtain approval. “This creates contractual challenges because many inputs, such as the foreign exchange rate, are still fluctuating whilst the application process is underway. The high standard of development required for submission means that NERSA are not handing out licenses to projects that won’t proceed, which is a very good thing.” 

The project aligns with the South African Government’s intent to open the electricity grid, allowing independent generators of electricity and consumers to enter into bilateral agreements to optimise the cost and sustainability of energy, which has previously been difficult to achieve. The generation license received from NERSA is one of the first granted as part of the recent allocation made for distributed electricity generation in order to plug the short-term capacity gap.

Haw says that SOLA will deliver the energy via the Transmission Network though a Wheeling Use-of-System agreement. “This Wheeling Use of System Agreement is the first of its kind and the largest solar PV wheeling arrangement in South Africa to date.”

Haw credits the company’s multi-disciplined skillset and 10-year track record of developing, financing and building solar PV projects in South Africa with overcoming the many challenges that were faced.

The SOLA Group has a history of breaking down barriers to enable renewable energy projects in South Africa. The group developed some of the county’s first IPP projects, signed the first bi-directional metering agreements with municipalities, and are responsible for innovative solar-plus-storage projects like the microgrid currently powering Robben Island.

The project will be majority black South African-owned, demonstrating a pivotal dedication to transformation in South Africa’s energy sector. Mahlako a Phahla Investments, a black women-owned and operated energy and infrastructure investment holding company will own 45% of the project.

Other investors into the project include African Infrastructure Investment Managers (AIIM), through the IDEAS Fund, one of South Africa’s largest domestic infrastructure equity funds and one of the largest investors in the country’s renewable energy landscape.

The project’s success could mean that more companies like Amazon will look to procure cleaner independent power through the grid.

“This project is the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the electricity picture in South Africa could look like,” says Haw. “Projects like this demonstrate the potential of a truly modernized electricity market where consumers can procure cleaner energy through state-owned grid lines whilst paying for their upkeep in the process,” he adds.

The project will begin construction in early 2021.

How electricity generation has changed over the past 10 years – and what it bodes for our future

Alongside the global pandemic, electricity has been on many South African’s minds this year. And rightly so: South Africans can expect a 15% increase in their electricity costs from mid-2021, based on a recent court ruling which grants Eskom the right to recover operating costs through additional tariff escalations. This will mark more than a decade of average annual increases of 14%, relative to average inflation of just under 6%.

These escalations have fundamentally changed South Africa’s economy: the manufacturing and mining sectors have been particularly affected by the rising tariffs, and are doubly affected by the inconsistent supply caused by load shedding. South Africa’s electricity supply from the grid is subject to decreasing reliability, with 2020 already shaping up to be the worst on record for load shedding.

What South Africa is experiencing is not unique, but exposes the global trends that expose the high costs of maintaining an aging and centralised coal fleet. A decade ago, average Eskom tariffs were two times lower than they are today, and the costs of installing solar PV were two to three times higher. That situation is very different today: Eskom and municipal electricity tariffs are now substantially more expensive than solar PV installations on an average, lifetime cost basis. This is driving strong uptake of own-use solar generators, despite persistent policy and regulatory barriers.

This is because the electricity market has fundamentally changed over the last 10 years. The growing cost gap between the grid and solar PV means that the benefits of solar are more economically viable, even if the PV plants generate more power than required (for example on weekends, when a factory does not operate). 

For private electricity consumers, solar electricity is typically used to offset daytime electricity consumption through ‘own-use’ or ‘embedded’ generators that service the electricity needs of the facility on-site. The uptake of embedded solar generation has exploded in South Africa, particularly amongst the retail and manufacturing sectors, because of the cost savings generated by the plants. Despite this, embedded generators are largely restricted from selling power into the grid, although it is looking hopeful that this might change

The fact that solar PV is so much more affordable than Eskom’s grid is also changing the way in which solar PV is consumed by large commercial and industrial facilities. For example, some facilities choose to oversize their solar PV system relative to on-site electricity demand in order to increase morning and afternoon solar electricity production, generate more power in winter, save more diesel during load shedding, reduce peak grid demand charges, and achieve higher overall reductions in grid electricity consumption. 


Other commercial and industrial facilities are opting to oversize their solar PV systems and store the excess affordable power in battery banks – something that, 10 years ago, would have been ludicrously expensive. However, with Eskom’s tariffs increasing the way they are, and with the reduction in the costs of energy storage components, the business case is starting to emerge. The advancement in electricity generation technology gives businesses more flexibility and options when it comes to their energy choices. Own-use solar – whether on or off grid – is an affordable and, by now, well-used option.

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. 

How Solar Power Systems Can Help Your Business?

Solar power systems are not only relevant to governments and large utilities looking to procure solar power, but to commercial and industrial businesses too. Currently, solar PV systems are the cheapest form of available power, and prices are continuing to drop. It is no wonder that businesses are keen to get on the solar trend. But how, specifically, can industrial businesses benefit from solar power systems? 

Solar power systems can assist businesses - ABInbev

Solar power systems reduce operating costs

The first and most obvious advantage of installing a solar power system is cost saving. Because solar is such an affordable form of electricity, it is an easy way to reduce operating costs dramatically, particularly for industrial businesses that have consistent loads or run 7 days a week. Two factors make solar PV a good investment for industrial businesses: they instantly reduce operating costs, and the great solar irradiance in South Africa means that they can produce a substantial amount of energy.

How much will a solar PV system save industrial businesses? This largely depends on the type of business, times of power use, and other factors that may influence the cost of the solar electricity generated. For an estimation of how much your business could save with a solar solution, get in touch with us for a free analysis of your electricity tariff. 

Solar Power Systems - Alrode Brewery in Alberton - industrial solar power system

Solar power systems can reduce diesel costs during load shedding and other power outages

Whilst most solar power systems are grid-tied, meaning that they do not operate during load shedding or other power outages, solar PV can greatly reduce the cost of diesel that might be required for backup power during an outage such as load shedding if this is taken into account whilst designing the system. 

Solar PV systems continue to generate power as long as it is light – and this applies to periods of load shedding during the day. However, solar inverters are designed to switch off during a grid outage, which serves as a safety mechanism for personnel that might be working on transmission lines during outages. However, this does not mean that large buildings with solar PV systems do not have options for load shedding. With careful engineering, It is possible to replicate a fake grid-tied scenario to “trick” the solar inverters into staying on. 

In order to retrofit a grid-tied solar system to operate during load shedding, two essential steps need to be taken. Firstly, the system needs to be isolated from the grid to prevent any exporting of power that could affect the safety of maintenance personnel. Secondly, a voltage forming source is required, in order to provide a reference voltage and frequency to the solar inverter. With these mechanisms in place, a solar PV system can continue to function seamlessly during load shedding, and thus reduce the costs of diesel and extend the life of on-site generators greatly. 

When does it make sense to go entirely off grid? If your business has a weak grid connection and thus has inadequate kVA supply, or it uses diesel roughly 20% of the time, it might be worthwhile to look at the cost-benefits of installing a solar PV microgrid with batteries. 

Solar power systems reduce carbon emissions

It goes without saying, but supplementing your business’s electricity supply with solar power is a great way to cut down on carbon emissions. In South Africa, the Carbon Tax was gazetted on 1 June 2019 – meaning that companies will have to take their carbon emissions into account when filing for their tax returns. According to the South African Revenue Service (SARS), the first phase of the carbon tax is R120 per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, which will increase annually by inflation plus 2% until 2022. 

There is a minimum threshold for emissions allowances in order to allow for businesses to transition to cleaner energy and invest in energy efficiency projects, but in general the carbon tax is here to stay – and if avoided, could save the business from tax expenses. 

In addition many large companies are heeding their stakeholders’ requests to be more responsible in the way that they do business. Global support of sustainable business practices have increased dramatically over the last few years, particularly in the manufacturing sector. In response to global consumer trends, a group of multinational corporations established the RE100 as a commitment  to going 100% renewable energy. One signatory of the RE100 is AB InBev, who recently entered into a multi-tiered Power Purchase Agreement with SOLA to supply their South African Breweries with 8.7 MW solar power systems. For them, the commitment to renewable energy is a no brainer – both in terms of cost savings and their sustainability commitments. 

Solar Power Systems - AB Inbev

By giving you a better overview, solar power systems can increase operational efficiency

Solar power systems are not only a way to reduce operational costs and lower carbon emissions, but they also provide an opportunity for businesses to evaluate and improve on their energy consumption habits. In order to correctly size a solar PV system, it is important to examine the load of the building, and with this will come insights into your energy consumption patterns. Is it possible to run some of the plant during the day when solar PV is at its cheapest? Are there additional energy efficiency measures that could assist with bringing your load during peak hours down? By encouraging a monthly overview of a business’s energy consumption, solar power systems can help to further energy savings even more. 

Solar power carport systems can provide cool, protected parking

Whilst many businesses in South Africa have ample roof space for housing solar power systems, solar power systems are perfect additions to parking lots and convert them into shady, protected carports. Solar carports are very similar to ground-mounted solar systems, but they have the added advantage of not requiring any additional land if a parking lot exists. What is more, because of global demand, these systems are becoming increasingly affordable. The solar carport at Old Mutual head office is an example of how a solar power systems can utilise existing space to create savings for businesses.