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Hybrid Solar Now Within Easy Reach In South Africa

Hybrid Solar Now Within Easy Reach In South Africa

Vincent Maposa 3 March 2022


South Africans need a reliable power solution now. Confronted with loadshedding, power outages and price hikes, there is a real sense of urgency around securing a reliable power solution – capable of operating for extended periods of time. 

Production at the point of consumption is an obvious solution for individual residential consumers. To support remote work and home businesses, most residential customers have resorted to generators, uninterrupted power supplies (UPSs), inverters and batteries, but all of these solutions have their limitations. 

Generators are noisy and costly to run for extended periods. UPSs, inverters and batteries alone cannot last through days of power outages. Those with the resources have long since turned to solar – or photovoltaic (PV) systems – as a long-term solution. How does the rest of the country benefit from the solution, and how can access become a reality for everyone? 

The solar solution

With most areas of South Africa averaging 2 500 hours of sunshine a year, and high solar irradiation levels of between 4.5 and 6.5 kWh/m2 per day, solar simply makes sense. The situation is similar across southern Africa, and we have the bold vision of finding a Wetility PV system at every home in the SADC.

A rooftop PV system is relatively quick to install, it is clean and it pays for itself in the long term. But until fairly recently, the upfront costs have priced this option out of reach of most South Africans. 

We have now reached a point at which ordinary South Africans can afford to start the solar journey, with lower-cost components and new lease-to-own systems putting rooftop solar PV systems within reach of millions more people.

The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) reports that the cost of PV system components has dropped by as much as 80% over the past decade, while at the same time, the technology has become more efficient. This trend is continuing, making these systems a viable proposition for suppliers and residential customers, as well as for financers who may have seen them as a high-risk investment and an asset that does not retain resale value.

First steps to power independence

This changing environment has set the scene for companies such as Wetility to emerge, aggregating hundreds of distributed home systems into a plant comparable to a commercial or industrial plant. By using quality products that stand the test of time, we are de-risking the entire process for the lender and enabling customers to benefit from economies of scale. 

Taking this a step further, we can now make the technology available to customers with no upfront costs – they have the option of a simple power purchase agreement or fixed monthly lease. This puts potentially millions of households on their first steps towards complete off-grid independence.

Hybrid first

While off-grid may be the goal of many, we recommend going hybrid first. This is because rooftop PV components have an expected lifespan of 15 to 25 years, and we have to remain cognisant of the fact that PV costs will continue to come down and the technology will continue to improve. 

A hybrid solution uses both solar energy and grid power, ensuring that the home has sufficient power for even appliances that require a lot of power, and also stores power for use during loadshedding and outages. The sun charges the battery during the day, and after dark, it powers the home for six to eight hours, depending on the home’s consumption. When the battery is drained, the system switches over to the grid. Because solar power is brought into the equation, the use of grid power may decrease by as much as 60%.

With a hybrid solar solution instead of a complete off-grid solution at this stage, customers will have greater power security and be able to keep the lights on during outages, as well as enjoy double-digit cost savings on utility power from day one.

However, they won’t have to make what remains a significant financial commitment at this stage. They can scale and build on their modular system over the years as their needs – and the environment – change. This starts customers on an energy journey that is efficient and cost effective, which grows with them and continues to improve their lives over the long term.