On-site solar photovoltaic (PV) renewable-energy systems serve as effective and cost-effective ways for companies to become familiar with the correct application of renewable generation to reduce energy costs, says South African information and communication technology company Sizwe IT Group fibre and facility management executive Rudi Fourie.
These systems allow for induction into mixed-energy models because they help to introduce and reinforce the correct behaviour to leverage renewable-energy sources effectively. Solar PV systems are well suited to offset grid power used for a company’s baseload demand, such as servers and other constant loads.
“The first step when deploying renewable self-generation is to improve basic energy-consumption behaviour in the company to get the baseload as low as possible. Low-cost and easy-to-use technologies, such as energy efficient lighting, and best practice behaviour, such as switching off lighting and idling systems, will help to reduce the baseload to a minimum.”
Once this minimum baseload has been determined, the PV system can be designed to meet this baseload. The amount of space that a company has available, typically in the form of rooftop space and/or parking lot space, must then be compared with the baseload.
However, Fourie notes that baseload power is one of the common uses of renewable energies, with the others being peak shaving – reducing excessive electricity charges as a result of high peak consumption – and reducing a company’s environmental impact, for example, to meet ISO 14000 environmental standards.
“The business objective of a solar system is the most important element because it determines the design and roll-out of the system. However, renewable-energy systems are well suited to phased and incremental installation, which also serves to provide concrete visibility of realised financial benefits, compared with expected benefits.”
Sizwe IT built a grid-tied solar PV system in the parking lot of its headquarters in Centurion, Gauteng, which provides a minimum of 50 kW during winter, which is the power used by its data centre.
“We have learned valuable lessons from our project and have also realised some unexpected benefits.
“For example, the power generated by the solar PV system has significantly less noise than grid power and is well suited to use in commercial offices. “Further, we can offset part or all of the power used in our office during the day with power from the solar array.”
However, Fourie emphasises that the cost of the electricity that can be replaced by self-generation determines the viability of solar PV systems in any industry. Solar PV technology is mature and solar engineering firms can often provide warranties for components that exceed the expected return on investment.
While the maintenance procedures for solar PV systems can easily fit into routine maintenance work, it is, however, important to get qualified and experienced solar engineers to design the system to ensure it can endure storms and produce the expected amount of electricity, he explains.
Fourie expects solar PV systems to become more commonplace in commercial properties, including in the business and residential property rental sector, as the systems provide power at a lower cost than the cost of grid power and have a longer life cycle than their average return-on-investment period.