We can all agree that things get interesting once the power goes out. And 99% of the time, not in a fun way. Not having electricity negatively impacts any business or service.
Once the power goes out, two distinct categories of people emerge.
On the one hand you get those who sit back, shaking their fist and cursing the system; calling upon higher powers to strike down those responsible.
On the other hand, you’ve got those who push on, taking time to reflect on what is happening, and why. They’ve moved past the blame game. These people provide crucial services in our society. (Let’s not define the term “crucial service” though. You know who you are…) Suddenly stopping what they do has more than just financial consequences.
Let’s discuss Solar PV-Diesel-Battery Hybrid systems; technology that is definitely not new, but may well be the best currently available solution to load-shedding.
First off, yes, there are more sustainable/green fuel types than diesel. Yes, some batteries are better than others. The same goes for PV modules, inverters, cables and all the other components.
But show me a system made up of a hydrogen-powered generator coupled with >25% efficient PV cells charging a vanadium flow battery that is cost effective and deployable within six to eight weeks in the Free State and I’ll eat my words…
Although amazing technologies are being developed, it will take time to mass produce these and make them accessible. We need to address the current problem. Diesel gensets are more efficient than ever before, lithium-ion batteries are the best “all-rounder” battery storage technology we have, and the difference between a 19% and 20% efficient PV panel is insignificant in this context. Practical, currently available solutions are more important.
It's important to understand some facts about components of a PV-Diesel-Battery Hybrid system.
Solar PV modules are relatively inefficient, take up space, and produce less energy than one might expect. They work when the sun is shining and are sensitive to shading and soiling, underperforming and even constituting a fire hazard if not maintained.
Diesel generators are basically expensive cars with no wheels, needing as much, if not more, TLC than your overpriced pride and joy. They consume massive amounts of expensive diesel.
Battery banks are usually the most expensive component. They need replacing most often. Batteries are sensitive to temperature, humidity, overcharging, and undercharging. The list of safety precautions for the handling, installation and operation of batteries is extensive, to say the least.
Why the negativity? Well, better the devil you know…
But here are some more facts:
Solar PV modules produce low-cost, clean electricity. They are easy to install and maintain, quite robust and long-lasting. Guarantees of maintaining 80% performance after 25 years are industry standard, even for “cheap” modules.
Diesel generators are reliable sources of stable, ready-to-use electricity. Available in pretty much any size, the genset is the safety net of a Hybrid system. It’s the vital component that provides the power you need when other sources are unavailable.
Battery technology has evolved. Batteries now last longer, and are safer and more reliable. Monitoring systems allow us to track the performance and status of each individual cell in real time, whilst automated warning systems notify users of issues.
The combination of these technologies provides a very real solution to an unreliable electricity grid. When sized correctly, the PV array will produce enough electricity to see you through load-shedding. The battery bank ensures this power is available 24/7. The diesel genset is on standby to make up for shortfalls. The best part, however, is the system that controls the three power sources: it gives priority to the most suitable source at any given moment. These controllers can be programmed to take into account scheduled load-shedding and when ESKOM tariffs are higher.
It is important to know that an efficient Hybrid system must be tailored; it is not an off-the-shelf product. Furthermore, regular preventative maintenance and monitoring of system health is necessary. A Hybrid system, like most things in life, starts off fresh and strong and deteriorates over time. The maintenance requirements increase as the system ages and components will need to be replaced from time to time.
This all sounds expensive, and yes, it is. This electricity will likely end up costing more than what you pay to ESKOM, but definitely less than running a genset, and definitely less than not doing business.
Investing in a hybrid system will have a significant impact. Such systems cannot operate in the background without human involvement. Luckily, this is where the experts come in.
Finding a contractor to design and install your system is only the beginning. You’ll want to engage a provider long-term to take care of your system, at the very least, having someone on-call for troubleshooting.
TerraStruc Energy works with clients to understand specific requirements and formulate a plan to solve unique power problems. We build long-term relationships with clients and align ourselves with likeminded supply chain specialists in the field of battery and diesel generator technology.
We promote the sourcing of local products too. When appropriate, we also source skills from local communities and provide training during the installation process. This type of training enables people to become part of the operation and maintenance, monitoring or security teams.
In addition to saving our clients’ money, involving local communities in projects, and having them benefit, is probably among the best long term preventative security measures. And why not make your power solution part of the solution to one of the other biggest issues facing our country?
Apart from PV Diesel Hybrid Systems, TerraStruc Energy’s experienced team develops and maintains grid-connected PV plants, off-the-grid power solutions in remote areas and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
Adding value is core to what we do. We would also love to talk you through our flexible financing solutions.
Get in touch. We’ll develop the optimal solution for you and see it through from A-Z.