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South Africans flock to solar, thanks to load-shedding

In January, Versofy Solar received over 1500 enquiries from Cape Town alone. The company offers a range of solar solutions, including rent-to-own and solar subscriptions, ranging from an entry-level system priced at R1 999 a month.

The intense interest was in no small part due to Mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis’s announcement of his cash-for-power programme. From June businesses and, soon thereafter, residents with City-approved generation capacity will be paid to feed their excess energy back into the grid.

Further fuelling national interest in solar, in his State of the Nation Address, President Ramaphosa declared the energy crisis a State of Disaster and announced that businesses and households that install solar panels would benefit from tax incentives. (In July 2022 the President stated that “those who can and have installed solar panels in their homes or businesses will be able to sell surplus power they don’t need to Eskom”. This feed-in tariff was not mentioned in the SONA address but may still be in play.)

“We strongly support these moves,” says Ross Mains-Sheard, Director at Versofy. “The biggest problem that Eskom faces currently is their inability to generate sufficient energy to meet demand. Allowing those with embedded generation systems to feed their excess into the grid effectively increases generation capacity using private capital. By paying these solar customers for their excess power, the City of Cape Town will create a virtuous cycle, as will the government’s proposed tax breaks. The case for solar is even more appealing, incentivising more people to invest in solar, which further drives adoption and subsequent economies of scale.”

Hill-Lewis had previously announced the City’s Power Heroes programme, where residents are offered an incentive for voluntary energy savings at peak times. “We are very excited about the development of time-of-use tariffs,” said Mains-Sheard. “Our Versofy systems will give our customers the ability to take advantage of energy arbitrage. Such opportunities will encourage reduced demand during the peak hours and essentially flatten the energy demand curve.”

Countering objections

To the nay-sayers, Mains-Sheard points to examples like Vietnam, a developing nation with aspirations to become a developed, high-income country by 2050.

In April 2020, as the world locked down during the pandemic, Vietnam announced a 31 December deadline for those wishing to enjoy a 20-year rooftop-solar feed-in tariff of USD $0.0838 per KWh. According to PV-Tech, Vietnam’s rooftop solar installations skyrocketed after the announcement (particularly in the last two months of 2020) by 2 435%, “rising from a 2019 base of 378MWp to 9.583GWp, spread across almost 102 000 systems”.

On 31 December 2020, the Vietnam Ministry of Industry and Trade announced that cumulative PV capacity had reached 16.449GWp (13.160 GWac) – this included ground mount and floating solar projects.

Significantly, Vietnam uses gross metering for rooftop solar PV producers instead of net metering. “We urge Government and local municipalities to make the installation of bi-directional meters a feasible one,” Mains-Sheard notes. “The current costs of these meters may be a barrier to entry, as the payback period on the meter itself is not attractive.”

The main objection to 100% renewable power, says Mains-Sheard,  is the fact that wind and solar are reliant on natural conditions and cannot provide the continuous base load power that the national grid requires. “In the short-term, we agree that a stable grid will be a hybrid of traditional power plants, such as nuclear and coal, but with a much larger contribution of a renewable generation coming from wind and solar.”

Storage of renewable energy holds the key, he adds. “At a micro view, rooftop solar with storage has proved that renewables have the ability to provide perpetual energy generation. When aggregated, it has the ability to make a meaningful difference to both the adoption of renewables and, more importantly, dependence on the national grid.”

In the past year, Versofy has supplied:

Over 9 000 solar panels are producing more than 18MWh/day (4.14MW installed).

More than 1 700 batteries, equating to approximately 9MMh of energy storage. 

1 000 inverters

To put that in perspective, 18MWh/day: 

Can power a typical 300-bed hospital, power ±1 000 households, and equates to ± R1.5m/month worth of savings

*Note: the above figures are estimates and may vary depending on usage.

Versofy clients will have access to a super consumer-friendly, easy-to-use app. Unlike those currently available, the Versofy HOME App is built expressly for the South African energy landscape and consumer. Features include:

Dynamic load-shedding settings – the Versofy HOME App adjusts the system settings to best accommodate each client’s individual load-shedding schedule. Stage 6 suddenly announced? No problem, your batteries will automatically charge up to ensure that you are never without backup. Load shifting – the app has the ability to shift loads to get the most out of your solar system. Smart homes – they can be configured to control geysers, pool pumps, security cameras etc. In-app electricity purchase and sales rewards for good consumption behaviour from 3rd-party energy-conscious partners

“When the initiatives by the City of Cape Town and the national government go live, we will do our best to help our clients take advantage of the opportunity. As Former FNB CEO and Bank Zero founder Michael Jordaan said recently, South Africans will eventually find their own solutions to problems if the government or state-owned enterprises can’t perform. Look at how Capetonians ‘made a plan’ during the 2015-2018 drought. We’re not at all surprised that inquiries about our solar products have soared, and we look forward to being of service.”

To find out more about Versofy’s solar systems or their innovative rent-to-own/solar as a service solution, visit versofy.com

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