Ahhh winter. The season of hot beverages, warm creamy soups and steamy windows. With the cold here already, we invest in even more heaters, water bottles, electric blankets and everything there is to keep warm – at work, home and play. This means that we use more energy too. We see it when we get the electricity bill at the end of the month, it is agonising to open that bill when we think of all those times we left energy efficiency and sustainability out in the cold.

Although power stations are generally used to produce energy, more and more people are turning to photovoltaics systems, in both their homes and businesses. This led to our country being placed among the top-10 countries globally for installed, utility-scale solar photovoltaic capacity. While this is a step in the right direction in terms of using renewable energy, there are other forms of renewable energy that are often overlooked, namely: wind, hydro and bio-energy.

South Africa is currently ranked as number 20 worldwide in terms of annual energy generation. We generate more than 200 billion kW/h – 80% of which is generated through coal-fired power stations and conventional thermal power sources, 5% from nuclear, 3.6% from hydroelectric and pumped storage schemes, and only 2.4% from renewable energy.

Given the increasing unreliability and strain that our grid is currently taking, not only because it is getting colder and we are using more energy, just in general – it is imperative that we join millions of others during this environmental (sustainability) month, in raising global awareness on taking positive environmental actions to protect nature and our planet from reaching its breaking point. This can be achieved by cleaning the air and waters, managing solid wastes and beating climate change – which stems from reducing our carbon footprint by using energy efficient devices and appliances, utilising renewable energy and supporting eco-friendly businesses.

In light of environmental month, our own technical interns took to the challenge through a project they dubbed #Sunny18. “We want to see how a grid-tied system will work with micro-inverters instead of string inverters, which are normally used in grid-tied systems” said Bafana Pelo, a junior technician. Thompson Ogbannaya, who is one of the interns, explained that they attached a multigate to the system to measure the power output. He also revealed that they are looking to introduce an IoT factor by exploring ways in which they can remotely control the system.

If successful, this system can be used as a power backup for an office space that is currently not connected to the building’s uninterruptible power supply. The use of solar energy also brings up the question of energy storage.

A South African Energy Storage Technology and Market Assessment study report that was sponsored by the United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) was released in August 2017. The introduction to the study stated that: “It has been suggested that the adoption of energy storage technologies could provide a cost-effective way of improving South Africa’s electric grid. Specifically, the adoption of energy storage could offset the need to use diesel and other fossil fuels for peaking and baseload power, provide backup power for commercial and industrial operations during blackouts, and increase the capacity of South Africa’s electric grid to successfully integrate renewable electricity generation sources, especially intermittent power sources such as solar and wind.”

The report also states that: “The relevant technologies are therefore the storage of available electrical energy, in the form of electricity, as mechanical, electromechanical or chemical energy, in a form that can later be efficiently converted back to electricity. Therefore, only storage systems for use cases that provide for electricity-in then electricity-out are considered.” At this point, it is safe to say that the most suitable way for energy storage in South Africa is power to power storage.

While strides are being made to improve and increase the capacity of our grid, and other forms of energy are explored, what can be done? We all know the rules of energy efficiency in businesses and homes by now, there really is no need to repeat them here. But why is there still so much strain on our grid still? Could it be a case of ignorance or a mild form of “someone else will do it” syndrome?

What most of us might not know is that with energy efficiency comes saving money. So, for every gas heater we switch to, the more socks and gloves we buy to keep our feet warm, and the more fleece blankets we replace our electric blankets with, it is a few extra Rands in our pocket; and less strain on our grid. If money is not enough to push you towards being friendlier to the environment, then woe to our poor grid, planet and your energy sucking pocket.

Resolution Circle is very passionate about energy efficiency management and photovoltaics solar systems – so much so that we recently installed a solar farm in the Kruger National Park. Read all about it here: http://www.resolutioncircle.co.za/electrifying-sunshine/. If you are interested in electrifying sunshine for your home and/or business, contact Retief Swart on +27 10 020 3370 or retief@resolutioncircle.co.za for a consultation.