Unlocking the potential of solar energy
Farmer's Weekly|April 23, 2021
With solar energy becoming increasingly affordable and reliable, more and more farmers are using it to reduce their electricity costs and dependence on Eskom power. Claude Peters of RenEnergy spoke to Glenneis Kriel about this trend.
Glenneis Kriel

Historically, South Africa was considered one of the countries with the cheapest electricity, but prices increased by more than 177% between 2010 and 2020. The escalation has resulted in a profit squeeze for most businesses, with power cuts and intermittent supplies adding to this financial burden.

RenEnergy, a UK-based supplier of solar power solutions, expanded into South Africa in 2012.

“Britain experienced a massive solar power boom around 2010, thanks to heavy subsidies,” explains Claude Peters, managing director of RenEnergy Africa. “But interest in South Africa, in spite of its solar energy potential being among the best in the world, only really took off four years ago, due to the technology becoming cheaper and more competitive in comparison with Eskom prices, and load shedding making supply unreliable.”

The business environment was also unfriendly towards alternative energy, with legislation and finance being the biggest restrictions previously.

“Eskom simply wasn’t geared and had to reverse-engineer to accommodate systems that were connected to the grid, whereas traditional banking institutions weren’t positioned to comfortably finance these types of assets.”

The situation has now improved dramatically, with new rules introduced in October 2020 that allow municipalities to generate or source their own electricity. Eskom also accepted that it needed to allow private generators to export excess energy onto Eskom’s network to assist with supply constraints.

On the financing side, many banks now consider renewable energy as value addition and employ specialised bankers to accommodate businesses and homeowners who want to make the switch, says Peters.

According to him, RenEnergy’s competitive edge lies in the quality of its service and components.

“Solar panel manufacturers are ranked internationally in tiers. We only use components of Tier 1 manufacturers, regardless of origin, as this tier is reserved for listed big brands with a good reputation for quality and performance, so we know they’ll be there tomorrow.”

The solutions are sourced from a variety of manufacturers depending on the cost and the unique requirements of an installation, such as whether the area of installation is particularly dusty or hot.

One of the challenges with a solar system is that it operates silently, making it difficult to spot problems and inefficiencies, unlike wind turbines that might stop moving. RenEnergy addresses this issue by monitoring the energy output of its clients’ systems remotely.

BATTERIES HAVE BECOME CHEAPER; A 60KWH UNIT THAT COST R480 000 THREE YEARS AGO NOW COSTS ABOUT R290 000

“Our ultimate goal is to become a small energy supplier, almost like a mini Eskom, but much more efficient, with mini-grid infrastructure in combination with turnkey maintenance and repair services for our clients (from municipalities to factories and farms) when and where it’s needed,” says Peters.

Since it started operating in South Africa, RenEnergy has designed, built and maintained more than 130 solar systems on farms, in packhouses, at processing and manufacturing businesses, and elsewhere. Of these, about 105 are monitored remotely.

CONSIDERATIONS

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