Loadshedding and sourcing reliable power supply remain challenges for all businesses in South Africa. The answer is to identify specific requirements, use the right technology solutions and be ready with a well-considered business continuity strategy says Raj Naidoo, Director of Enermatics, an established provider of smart metering technology and reseller of power to end users.
According to Enermatics companies need to understand what needs to be powered during a power outage and the best advice for businesses is to first assess why energy is required for business continuity.
“For some businesses, such as restaurants running gas, it may be as simple as I need to ensure I have lights, power for my point of sale devices and my telephone. For this business, the best solution may be to replace your lighting with energy efficient lights and have a UPS solution with battery and inverter for the lighting. Also, it is key to have laptops rather than desktop computers. For other businesses, a full standby generator may be required. Your provider can assist you to create a new distribution board for standby power with a switch that transfers power when there is an outage,” says Naidoo.
There is technology available that can provide the business with cost-effective and renewable energy. Naidoo identifies solar water heating (to replace hot water heating requirements) and solar PV as key solar solutions.
The advantages of solar PV is that prices have reduced of late, Naidoo adds, and the technology also aligns well with the power usage requirements for commercial customers that have day shift operations.
“Solar PV ranges from R20,000-R30,000/kW, depending on the supplier and the quality of the solution and requirements for power outside of solar production hours. A major disadvantage of Solar PV is still the cost. If your business is able to take a longer term view, then Solar PV is a very viable option. Solar PV is more suitable to business that operate during the day. Although Solar PV can scale easily, the space required for scaling is usually an issue,” the Enermatics executive continues.
It is specifically during loadshedding when technology choice and application will make all the difference. Enermatics is clear on this point. The company explains that several backup power solutions can be considered including petrol/ diesel generators, solar PV and Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) for lighting and PCs.
“However, in considering which alternative, cost and what is crucial for operation must be front-of-mind,” says Naidoo.
But Enermatics advises that businesses use energy efficient technology in so far as possible, and it is more cost effective to design a standby power solution if a business uses less power. “An oversized standby solution can be costly for your business and poor communication with staff on load shedding processes can cause problems.”
The most important thing to remember when deciding on technology and power supply solutions is the continuation of the business and mitigating risks.
“Businesses rely on power for continuity. Most companies need power for their telephones, computers, lighting, POS devices etc. Not having power means loss of revenue for most businesses. For clients, convenience is key. Let me illustrate this through an example. Lets say you walk into the shop and there is load shedding. You’re not going to wait until power is restored before you cut your hair (unless your hair was being cut when the power went out). You will probably go to the next nearest barber or return later, depending on your schedule. If the same barber had a standby generator and it took him 5 minutes to restore power, then in all likelihood, you will wait. For the barber, not having power means fewer hair cuts and less revenue. For larger businesses, the impact can be much bigger. The goal of any business should be to minimise the risks of loadshedding on the business. The strategies will take into consideration the possible duration of outages and critical equipment required for business continuity,” Naidoo explains.
Additionally, the main message that Enermatics wants to communicate to the market is that – irrespective of the size of the business – all companies need to understand what needs to be powered during a power outage, and cost will be key in deciding the best solution.
Generators typically cost between R1,500–2,000 per kVA, the cost of a UPS can be anything from R7,500 to R15,000 per kVA – depending on the quality of the product and Solar PV ranges from R20,000-R30,000/kVA, depending on the supplier and the quality of the solution and requirements for power outside of solar production hours.
“The cost of these alternatives will depend on how much power you use. If you look at your utility bill, you will be able to see your kVA usage. This kVA tells us how much power is needed to run our business. Once you know your kVA usage, you can get a cost of your solution. Many businesses immediately look to generators as the most effective standby power generation solution. Generators still remain one of the cheapest standby options. A disadvantage is the need to maintain and refuel the generator,” Naidoo concludes.