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Back in May 2014, the luxurious Tortilis Safari Camp located at the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro was Kenya’s first Eco-Lodge to operate solely on solar energy. Situated in the middle of the African wilderness, the lodge was the first private company in Kenya to purchase solar energy on a pay-for-use basis.

Tortilis was awarded the 2015 Ecotourism Eco-Rated Camp of the Year award by Ecotourism Kenya. With many excelling customer reviews from the fantastic accommodation and service, to the magnificent surroundings, an abundance of wildlife and even a vegetable garden where fresh salads are prepared from daily, the Safari Camp continues to enjoy their Ecotourism status.

With over 190 solar panels installed on the camp grounds, the 47 kWp system was designed to replace 95% of the camp’s conventional diesel-sourced energy, saving over 1 400 bags of coal each year. The 257 kWp battery storage facility allows the lodge to go completely off grid by storing the solar energy produced by the sun during the day for use at night.

After four years in operation the camp has managed to save more than 100 000 litres of diesel reducing their carbon emissions by over 280 tonnes since switching to solar.

With Tortilis being SolarAfrica’s first solar energy customer back in 2014, the company has continued to expand and now provides their clean energy solution to over 50 sites throughout Southern Africa, resulting in a total of 17MW in projects. The innovative solar energy solution allows companies to lower their energy bills with no capital investment required, creating a positive impact on the environment.

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The Solar Energy Solution for Residential Complexes

The Solar Energy Solution for Residential Complexes.

Meet Sam. Sam owns a home in a sectional title complex. Did you know that your complex uses electricity while you’re at work?

For those things that run 24/7 such as the communal swimming pool, clubhouse, garden services, lights, electric fencing, as well as your fridges and geysers.

The energy used by communal property is paid for by the body corporate and forms part of your levies.

How does it work?

A residential complex has a bulk meter that measures how much electricity the complex uses.

The energy that comes from the utility passes through the bulk meter and then through each unit’s own meter.

This is where SolarAfrica comes in. They install solar panels at no cost, to provide daytime power to the complex.

Energy generated by these panels feeds the complex, reducing the amount of traditional energy purchased from the grid. So while Sam makes use of solar energy during the day, his electricity bill won’t change, and all the savings generated will go to the body corporate.

With less use of traditional energy and lower-cost energy generated by the solar panels, the body corporate ends up saving.

These savings can be used for general maintenance or upgrades on things like electric fences, parks and swimming pools or even pass this benefit through cheaper levies. Everyone benefits.

Now Sam’s complex can build that lekker communal braai he’s been wanting for years, so he can finally meet the lady in number 23.

SolarAfrica – the better energy choice.

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Solar and Roofing – Getting it right

Solar and Roofing. Getting it right.

By Dr. Kobus van Tonder, Project Manager, SolarAfrica Energy (Pty) Ltd.

We take a look at how to get solar and roofing right, without compromising the roof’s integrity. With a bit of electrical knowledge and an entrepreneurial attitude, it may seem easy enough to start a solar installation company. But you can’t simply put a solar panel on a roof and hope for the best. In a rapidly evolving industry, how do you stay ahead?

According to Dr. Joe Romm “solar employs more U.S. workers than Apple, Google, and Facebook combined. The global solar market has soared 30-fold in just nine years.”

What does the South African law have to say about installing solar panels? Unfortunately, not a lot at this stage. There is no single law regulating this part of the industry however, best practice guidelines and principles can be followed.

Health and safety is a paramount part of any installation to avoid being criminally liable. Working on rooftops with awkward 1.7m x 1m panels weighing around 25kgs each means that you should start with the working at heights approval. All workers who work at heights must use fall protection on a project and attend an approved working at heights training program.

If you are changing the physical structure of a roof you must go to the council, this applies to solar too. Starting with the roof at hand, is it a standard tile or chromadek roof? Most panels require only 100 mm clearance between the module and the roof. When installing on flat roofs, for example, there would be a fundamental change to the roof, as the panels would need to be at an incline to make the most of the sunshine.

Interestingly, the City of Cape Town requests all solar installations that, to the grid require a small scale embedded energy (SSEG) certification, regardless of whether you intend to apply for SSEG rates or not. This means that even if you do not intend to “feedback” to the grid (i.e. apply for SSEG tariff rates), you still require this certification.

Another best practice guide would be to join the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA) which is a not-for-profit body consisting of active players in South Africa’s photovoltaic (PV) market who have a genuine, invested presence in the country. A new initiative is the PV Green card, which will train and educate people interested in becoming reputable solar installers in South Africa.

Before installing solar, consider the location, roof structure, and individual customer requirements. Going green is trendy and consumers’ want solar as well as cheaper electricity but they need guidance to the correct solution.

Adequate space is needed in order to install the solar modules; a rough guide is 10m2 for every kW of power required. North facing roofs are ideal in South Africa, with a tilt of approximately 25-30 degrees. Furthermore, consider the structural integrity of the roof. Although no law currently requires the structural analysis of the roof, the reasonable man test should always be a guide when attempting a solar installation. Consider all possible consequences of adding additional load to an existing structure, and if in doubt, get the help of a structural engineer to guide you on the load bearing capabilities.

Is energy security a priority or not? For those with a stable grid, selecting a solar solution without batteries would be preferable as grid-tied solar systems are less complicated and more economical to purchase but no mains power means no solar either. For those customers who have complaints with energy stability, batteries are the way to go.

Once the type of solution has been selected you must then decide three things – the type of module, the inverter, and mounting system solution.

There are different types of technologies available today that are utilised in solar panels; these are monocrystalline, polycrystalline (known simply as mono or poly) and thin film amorphous. The poly modules are the most popular technology in South Africa, but there is very little difference between mono and poly on price and technical performance. Thin film technology has better shading and high-temperature characteristics than the crystalline modules. At the end of the day, it is important to pick a reputable brand to ensure the best quality, safety standards, and on-going support.

String inverters are best suited to rooftop solar installations as they usually have multiple maximum power point tracking (MPPT) systems giving better performance. Also, power optimisers are a valuable addition if you are faced with multiple roof orientations and partial shading. Central inverters are better suited to bigger, ground mount systems as they typically only employ one MPPT system per inverter.

Installation mistakes are common, yet one of the biggest risks to a successful solar PV installation is the quality and condition of the roof. Before starting a solar installation it is best practice to complete a detailed issue report of the roof condition to protect both installer and customer. Think of it akin to a checklist the car hire companies make you sign before you drive off; are there any visible scratches or dents? If you miss something you know they will make you pay when you drop the car off later! Document all roofing issues and get sign off on this off before starting. Again, on completion do an impact report and water test and request sign off by both parties. As the last person on the roof, the comeback later for roofing damage or leaks will fall on you.

A simple flex test is always recommended. If the roof flexes under your own weight, request a professional opinion on the roof structure before going forward. Each roof is different and a structural engineer will be able to advise the integrity of the roof before proceeding.

The most damaging mistake to a system’s overall performance is shading. A simple thumb print size of shading in one corner of a single panel can lose a third of that whole strings production. There’s ‘near shading’ to avoid such as trees in the garden, a chimney or even a TV aerial, and ‘far shading’ such as skyscrapers, mountains, clouds etc. A general rule of thumb is that if a portion of the roof is shaded 70-80% of the day between 9 am and 4 pm, rather do not locate a panel in this shaded area.

Another common mistake is galvanic corrosion (also called bimetallic corrosion), where two metals don’t get on when they have contact with another, in the presence of an electrolyte. Add high humidity and a salty environment and that’s the perfect recipe for galvanic corrosion. In solar installations, this could occur where stainless steel comes in contact with aluminium. Either ensure all metals are the same where possible or use an insulating rubber so they do not touch each other.

Finally, the mounting system design should be purchased from a reputable supplier, ideally with a vast knowledge of the structural design of a roof including wind and load analysis experience. The last thing you want is a solar panel to blow off and end up in your customer’s garden or worse. A reputable supplier will know which mounting system to use for the particular roof you are working with as well as the module and inverter you have selected.

So how can you get it right when it comes to solar installations while maintaining the roof integrity? Prioritise the health and safety of your staff, work to best practice guidelines at all times, train and select reputable products. This industry is expanding and the opportunities are plentiful if you can get it right.

*Source: http://goingsolar.co.za/solar-grid-tie-legalities-in-cape-town-south-africa/

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Making Solar Accessible will Stimulate Entrepreneurialism, Small Businesses, and help create Jobs

Making Solar Accessible will Stimulate Entrepreneurialism, Small Businesses, and help create Jobs

By James Irons, CEO, SolarAfrica

Growth in renewable energy over the past ten years has been impressive. According to a United Nations-backed report, coal and gas-fired electricity generation last year drew less than half the record investment made in solar, wind and other renewables capacity (N1). However, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this also coincides with the hottest 15 consecutive months ever recorded. Consequently, the issue of renewable energy accessibility is becoming more urgent and, as such, businesses that can provide consumers with energy alternatives must be supported.

While this move to carbon-free electricity is driving an investment in new capacity, we are slowly re-tooling ourselves for a carbon-free world, demonstrated by the proliferation of solar contractors, installers, and other service providers. This escalation of service providers is sparking entrepreneurialism and job creation globally. For the industry, this increased interest in this space by entrepreneurs is exciting. It means many good things, and for a country like South Africa, its greatest impact could be on job creation.

While there’s already a growing number of contractors, suppliers and installers that can sell and install solar panels for the select few who can afford it, for the vast majority of middle to lower income households solar energy is still out of reach. By continuing to service this niche market there’s never going to be a meaningful impact on job creation or climate change.

In order for the solar industry to grow, South Africa needs to provide a fertile environment for entrepreneurs and small businesses to enter the renewable energy sector and provide solar solutions to the mainstream market.

Entrepreneurs can unlock this potential by solving two pressing challenges: How to attract the billions of rands needed in competitive financing to invest in this massive move to renewables, and secondly, how to store energy competitively so that solar energy can last both night and day.

There’s plenty to get excited about on both fronts. Solving these problems is already stimulating a ‘startup’ culture that’s traditionally been the domain of Silicon Valley. It is also attracting top talent away from financial, legal and mainstream corporates.

Every indication is that affordable storage alternatives are on track and will start appearing in the consumer market soon, which could fundamentally change the face of this industry. But another avenue that entrepreneurs can explore in the solar market is aggregation services. Aggregation services spread the risk of owning and providing solar services to many off-takers, technical and payment risks across many commercial and residential customers, allowing service providers to lower the cost of capital applied to buying these systems and ultimately making it viable to provide more affordable electricity options to end consumers.

South Africa’s current national electricity demand is 36,000MW and the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), albeit somewhat out of date, predicts that as much as 8,400MW in new build options for Solar PV could be possible by 2030. If this were the case, that could require as much as R540 billion in investment (excluding batteries), and result in as many as 1,000,000 installations. A loose calculation suggests an installation of this magnitude could need as many as 10,000 contractors for 10 years to reach this target. The downstream impact of this number of jobs created could be huge. In terms of employment opportunities, that could make the distributed solar industry (over its anticipated lifespan, and with no half-life) bigger than our entire gold mining industry. We haven’t even considered the secondary industries that would be supported by this sort of economic activity.

There are some real-world examples of the impact of the renewable energy sector on the job market; in the US 1 out of every 30 jobs was directly attributable to the solar industry, and it now has more employees than either the Oil & Gas or Coal Extraction industries. At the end of 2015, the solar industry employed approximately 208,000 individuals as opposed to 190,000 in Coal Extraction. Although a few years ahead of South Africa, that is tangible evidence of what unlocking this market could create.

If we’re to solve this problem we need to give it to the entrepreneurial minds of the world. As with many disruptive industries, there will be no silver bullet, this shift will be created on many fronts and each deserves attention. One thing is clear, though by lowering the barriers to entry for players in the solar market, the more it will be possible to make solar energy a mainstream option for almost any electricity consumer, and the greater the impact we can have not only on climate change but on employment in South Africa and on the greater African continent as well.

Part of the solution lies in enabling many participants in the industry, to work together in partnerships, challenging the notion that solar energy is not reliable or affordable and empower entrepreneurs to create jobs and grow this country.

Notes (N1):

Coal and gas-fired electricity generation last year drew less than half the record investment made in solar, wind and other renewables capacity, according to a United Nations-backed report released today.


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The Other Value of Solar is Data

The Other Value of Solar is Data

The amount of energy generated by solar power is expected to increase six-fold by 2030, and the International Renewable Energy Association (IRENA) predicts that with the lower costs, solar will become a formidable force by 2025. But as renewable energy plants are increasing exponentially, solar energy adoption in South Africa still has a long way to go, says Johan Pienaar, Commercial Director, SolarAfrica.

While there is work to be done in the policy space, South Africa has a very well established industry of solar providers; from architects to solar installation experts and OEMs that offer world-class products and services. There is no doubt that technology is leading the charge on the accessibility of renewable energy.

Currently, there are three pillars to facilitating renewable energy adoption in South Africa: Financial accessibility, policy enablement and, technology. While the policy debate continues and NERSA work to balance its commitment to protect the interests of the power generator as well as those of consumers, embedded generation is the only route through for consumers wishing to gain control of their energy requirements.

It is widely understood that embedded generation solutions such as solar offer customers excellent savings on their energy.

The real value though can be seen in the technology supporting these solutions. Many people think of a solar system as solar panels, whereas it should rather be seen as units of energy, or kWh. The solar panel is simply the technology that delivers that energy to the customer. We need to break through the tech barrier and get to the kWh. When we shift our mindset to appreciate that the kWh is the product, then our perspective on solar energy solutions change.

Besides the potential savings, the value that technology offers those consumers with embedded generation solutions is the capability to have better visibility on their energy usage. This is no longer a reactive insight gained from tracking how much diesel your generator used last month – but, a more evolved software solution that allows customers to monitor their energy usage in real-time through integrated data insights.

Monitoring solutions that integrate various consumption data offer customers the chance to proactively manage their energy usage as well as help them remain within the requirements for embedded generation – that is, to produce energy sufficient only for your own consumption.

The reality is we live in a data-rich world. Technological innovations highlight just how much can be gained when we shape solutions to overcome the associated barriers to accommodate technology. In this case, technology is not just about the solar panels; it can improve our lifestyles through the information it provides us with and thereby, the informed decisions we now have the power to make.

Consumers want to make decisions about their energy usage; managing how much they use each month, prioritising usage – either for financial or environmental reasons – and, perhaps lifestyle reasons.

Unfortunately, despite the advances made in the technology space, policy issues remain a hot topic right now. Where it will end up remains the cause for much debate, but while that discussion continues, consumers still have the choice to employ embedded generation in their homes and benefit from significant savings and data insights straight away.

While the US and Europe may be streaks ahead regarding legislation and policy enablement, when it comes to the key decisions regarding whether to adopt solar or not, South African energy service providers offer solar solutions that meet all the needs of the commercial, industrial and residential consumers, which includes taking care of the operational requirements associated with solar technology. As for the financing, that is just around the corner too.

So when we ask ourselves whether we should wait another year and look at how the solar market is going to evolve, then we need to consider the savings we could be making and the valuable data we can be gathering now to start optimizing our lifestyle and energy usage. A lot can be achieved in a year.

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It’s Financial Not Tech Innovation We Need For Clean Energy

It’s Financial Not Tech Innovation We Need For Clean Energy

South Africa has the one of the highest solar indexes in the world, only behind the likes of the Mojave desert in the USA and Namibia. Clearly this means we have the perfect conditions to embrace clean solar energy, so what is delaying our uptake? This was the discussion at the Leaderex 2016 conference in Johannesburg this week.

Financial innovation was at the front and centre of the debate. How do we create mass adoption? Given that South Africa has such high potential for solar as an energy resource, the technology is in place, and the increase in adoption in Europe and US has caused a decrease in the cost of solar panels; there are other factors delaying the uptake.

“Regulators providing concrete direction around net metering and feed-in tariffs will assist the growth of the roof top solar market in South Africa.” Says Charl Alheit, CIO, SolarAfrica. “But in the meantime financiers need to start thinking differently and more creatively to accelerate the inevitable growth of the market.”

Jose Luis Bobe, GreenMax Sustainability, agrees, “It is about designing models where everyone wins. Successful utilities in Germany or Spain have designed models where installing PV is not damaging the revenue of the municipality. So it is possible.”

Examples of innovation from across the continent were cited. Tanzania has off-grids and mini-grids, as does Cameroon, which is testament to the fact that when done correctly, these initiatives are working. Furthermore, in Tanzania, packages are sold that include TV, radio, and fridges along with energy, indicating that we must start to think more laterally about creative financial solutions to support the uptake of solar.

However, Alheit believes that the main reason South Africa has lagged in its uptake in the global PV sector is because of the cost of the grid. “In the last few years we’ve seen big escalations in the cost of grid power, which coupled with the decline in cost of solar systems has made roof top solar much more viable. So now is the time. At the end of the day, customers need to see some kind of saving otherwise they will not move across to renewable or solar energy. The reality is that in South Africa, renewable energy can now be cheaper than the grid for consumers.”

Moefi Moroeng, Electricity Wholesale trading, NERSA, joined the discussion in regards to legislation as this will play a defining role in the development of the sector and the innovation. “The smaller scale energy projects are those known as the ‘embedded generation’, but licensing regulations still need to be determined,” said Moefi Moroeng, NERSA.

“Municipalities have realised they are losing money with the way the energy market is moving, so we need to move forward with new business models and, we are embracing this technology and will support the industry going forwards.”

Ryan Beech, Head of Parkhurst Smart Grid, says that Parkhurst would like to go as far as creating their own infrastructure, which is an indication of just how far the legislation might need to go.

While debate continues around types of financial innovation in this sector, there was agreement that solar is going to play a very big role in the energy sector in South Africa in the next few years, “We are on the precipice of big growth due to the increasing grid price. There will be many financial solutions available to consumers over the next three to five years, which will solve the high upfront cost dilemma ensuring exciting growth in the sector.” Says Alheit.

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How We Make Cheaper Energy From the Sun

How We Make Cheaper Energy From the Sun

  1. Our panels are mounted on common areas such as the roof to absorb energy from the sun.
  2. Inverters convert this energy into the same electricity your plug delivers.
  3. A meter reports to us on usage and other information to make sure everything is running 100%.
  4. The electrical panel distributes electricity to meet the complex’s needs.
  5. Your utility provider continues to supply electricity that can’t come from the sun.