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Startup elevates local production, aims for rapid growth

8th December 2023

By: Nadine Ramdass

Creamer Media Writer

     

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To promote renewable energy and local manufacturing, lithium battery manufacturing startup IG3N produces battery storage systems to address the intermittent nature of renewable energy while providing an alternative to imported batteries and their associated challenges.

A drawback of solar photovoltaic and wind energy is that there are periods during which these sources cannot produce energy, IG3N COO Tumi Mphahlele explains.

Further, many manufacturers do not have sufficient space to build the solar panel array that their factories require. This is exacerbated during loadshedding, when grids are unable to provide energy and, therefore, renewable energy stored in the grid is lost.

By integrating battery storage, excess energy can be stored during high production for use when there is little to no production from renewable sources or when grid energy is unavailable.

However, Mphahlele notes that a significant challenge associated with integrating battery storage is that the majority of battery storage is imported.

Imported batteries often lack local support and result in higher overall costs for South African users. Additionally, the logistics for South Africa consumers of trying to reach foreign manufacturers are not favourable, she adds.

Imported battery storage solutions also negate the opportunity to build local capacity and create jobs, which Mphahlele notes is a significant concern in an industry experiencing rapid growth.

IG3N is tackling these challenges by designing and producing units locally. This allows for customisation according to local requirements, and the opportunity to offer more accessibility and support.

Locally produced battery solutions enable users to work directly with the manufacturers to develop customised solutions, resulting in specific applications that require a different size or specific functionality.

Local capability also allows for the design and commissioning of high-voltage batteries, which often pose significant safety risks during importing processes.

IG3N offers high-voltage solutions and has produced several large batteries, with some being containerised. A challenge associated with producing large batteries is transportation, as the weight of the batteries makes it difficult to transport backwards and forwards during build or maintenance.

The company has addressed this challenge in the batteries’ design by manufacturing modular battery units.

This design allows for isolating a cluster that is not optimally functioning, consequently enabling the battery to continue operating below maximum capacity during maintenance or repair.

“We have put a lot of effort into designing the hardware and a matching energy management system to provide the analytics that will optimise energy storage within the larger backup solution,” Mphahlele elaborates.

IG3N also invests in training technicians and installers to handle its products effectively.

The company maintains customer support by building a pipeline of technicians, from entry-level battery building to support on hardware and battery firmware, while a network of installers and engineering, procurement and construction workers are trained to understand IG3N batteries and how they interact with an inverter in a solar system.


Founded in 2018, IG3N aims to address the gap in local battery demand, with Mphahlele noting that the company has faced various challenges in doing so.

A key challenge has been negotiating with large manufacturers to provide necessary inventory at sustainable prices.

Further, capital is required to address challenges, but it is difficult to secure funding during the early startup phase, adds Mphahlele.

After an initial breakthrough with financial institution Standard Bank Business and Commercial Banking, in the form of a ‘soft loan’ of R1-million and a payment holiday, IG3N has secured a second investor.

The company's revenue has since increased tenfold in the past financial year and it is confident that rapid growth lies ahead and aims for a turnover of R1-billion in less than five years, she concludes.

Edited by Nadine James
Features Deputy Editor

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