Solar gaining traction in South Africa

29th July 2016 By: Robyn Wilkinson - Features Reporter

Solar gaining traction  in South Africa

KARAGLEN SHOPPING CENTRE The installation of 1 250 units of solar modules at the centre in Edenvale is one of the biggest solar projects of its kind completed in Gauteng to date

Adequate, reliable and affordable electricity supply remains a challenge for businesses and homeowners in South Africa, and solar energy is gaining momentum as a key area of focus to provide solutions for these challenges.

Cable management solutions provider HellermannTyton technical engineer Bennie Swanepoel notes there has been a boom in the solar energy market in South Africa over the past few years. He believes demand will continue to increase as technology improves through research and development, and as technology becomes more affordable.

Solar power systems engineering company Solar Power MD Hendrik Roux echoes this sentiment, noting in particular that many businesses are looking for solutions that will help them manage the effects of an unpredictable and expensive national power supply on their bottom line.

Solar Power sales manager Dean Ford highlights how important this consideration is for businesses in light of the possibility that the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) will approve State-owned power utility Eskom’s application for further increases in electricity tariffs within the next year. Earlier this month, Engineering News reported that Nersa had approved Eskom’s application for an extension – to April 1, 2017 – to submit a new multiyear price determination application, with Eskom indicating that it expects to apply for above-inflation yearly increases over the period, arguing that such increases are “necessary”.

Ford notes that increased interest in solar power locally has resulted in Solar Power completing 150 installations of solar systems in the past year. Among others, the Johannesburg-based company completed three notable installations in June – for property developer Zendai, in Modderfontein; the Mosaiek Church, in Randburg; and Karaglen Shopping Centre, in Edenvale. The Karaglen project required the installation of 1 250 units of Canadian solar modules and is one of the largest projects of its type to be completed in Gauteng to date, with a total daily yield of 2 550 kWh.

HellermannTyton also completed the design, manufacture and installation of a string combiner box this year for a 90 MW solar farm in De Aar, in the Northern Cape. Swanepoel notes that this is one of the largest solar farms in South Africa, and believes that the company’s success on this project will be key in securing several similar opportunities in the near future.

“People are realising the importance of renewable energy; homeowners and businesses don’t want to be wholly dependent on power fro m the national grid anymore. Banks are also becoming more open to financing solar power projects, and this is opening a lot of doors. Solar energy is here to stay,” declares Swanepoel.

Roux adds that many companies are looking for alternative solutions that will provide power security while remaining cost-effective. Interest in solar power is growing, as, for many companies, it is the most feasible option in terms of managing their operating costs.

“Different businesses have different – and often very specific – requirements, and . . . many factors must be considered to ensure that the system is engineered . . . [to realise] maximum benefits . . . Solar Power is well positioned to help businesses from this perspective.”

Moreover, to meet this growing demand, HellermannTyton has expanded its involvement in the solar power industry and offers a range of components for cable care and management in photovoltaic (PV) installations.

The company specialises in the design, manufacture, testing and installation of string combiner boxes, which are installed between the PV modules and the inverter to provide protection and performance monitoring on a PV system. Inside the box, the current can be increased, with a potential difference of 1 000 VDC being standard practice and an increase to 1 500 VDC being delivered in some cases.

While Swanepoel notes that HellermannTyton adheres to international electrotechnical commission safety standards in the design of their string combiner boxes, he highlights that there is currently no South African safety standard in place for the product. “Unfortunately, there are thus a lot of poor-quality and very dangerous string combiner boxes available on the market,” he says.

The electrical conformance board is, however, developing safety standards for the boxes to be incorporated into the South African National Standard 10142, which provides safety limits for the wiring of premises.