The best solar & loadshedding solutions for small businesses in South Africa

Explore how to find the best solar, off-grid and load shedding solutions for your small business.


How to choose the best alternative electricity solution for your small business

Loadshedding has challenged the life of many small businesses over the years, especially recently. The power outages have been so damaging to their profitability that many small business owners are considering alternative solar-battery electricity solutions. To make things worse, the fuel cost for generators and electricity has risen unsustainably for many businesses.

Where do small business owners in South Africa go from there? We spoke to Mark, from EU Solar, who specialises in solar and loadshedding power solutions, to bring you useful insights to help you make the best decision for your business.

Read what Mark had to say about powering small businesses.

Why should small businesses go off the grid with solar power?

"Small businesses are the country's backbone, employing hundreds of thousands of people. Many businesses have had to close their doors because they haven’t been able to meet supplier demands and deadlines because of power cuts. The loss of income, perishable stock, and clientele due to dissatisfied customers because of missed deadlines is incalculable.

"Over the long term, solar is the cheapest option to keep the lights on. The initial payout is considerable, but with the right system, you will have free electricity for 10 years or more. That equates to thousands of rands extra in your pocket every month and peace of mind that you can run your business without worrying about unplanned stoppages."

What tips do you have for small businesses in South Africa to get good solar power deals?

  • "Solar installations are a big investment. Make sure you do a bit of research before bringing in someone to do an installation. There are a lot of people doing solar installations, make sure it is a reputable company.

  • "Ask for references from previous installations, not just pictures, but people you can talk to.  Google the quality of products they are going to install. There are a lot of installers that will leave you high and dry once you have made that last payment."

  • "Beware of deals that sound too good. People get conned every day by smooth talkers. They give you an amazing deal, but you're on your own the first time there is a problem.

  • "Solar systems are very complicated. There is not 1 business or business owner that is the same. You might want a geyser conversion. There are 20 different options. One person will have an electric stove, another gas. Do you want just to have power for your lights? Do you have 10 air conditioners? There are a million questions and a million options to answer each question. Listen to what the installer is offering you.

  • "Do some research to find out if it’s what you’re looking for, then check prices on the internet. You can find anything on the internet these days, just take the time to look because it could save you a lot of money and unnecessary frustration."

Do you think stage 6 or higher loadshedding with high generator costs, means solar power is more viable?

Most definitely. A solar installation is a once-off large payment, then for the next 10 years, you have free power.

"With a generator, you have your daily cost of filling it up with fuel. The generator must be serviced regularly, and when the generator is not running, you are using electricity again.

"That is 3 costs that you are continuously paying throughout the year. With the correct solar system, once installed, your costs are zero. No electricity bill, no fuel costs and no maintenance costs."

Why are warranties important for solar power equipment?

"Warranties are crucial when having solar installed. If you spend R30000 on a battery that stops working after a month because of a manufacturer defect, you need to know that you can send the battery in and repair it under a warranty.

"Without a warranty, you will have to either pay for the repairs or replace the battery at your own cost. That applies to all solar system components."

How to choose the best solar power or load shedding inverter installer?

  • "The best way to choose an installer is through word of mouth.

  • "Ask friends or family that have had installations done. If you don’t know anyone, do some internet searches.

  • "Check Facebook, and look for a website.

  • Get references to find out about their workmanship, after-service and reliability.

  • "Some installers get paid and disappear without providing a COC (Certificate of Compliance), and when there’s a problem with your installation, their number doesn’t exist. That means a lot of problems and most likely a big repair bill for you."

What type of batteries are best for solar power installations?

  • "This is dependent on what you want. If you just want a couple of lights and wifi to work during loadshedding, a couple of 100ah batteries will do the job. If you want lights, fridge, wifi and computer to run during loadshedding, use 200ah batteries.

  • "If you want to take the whole office off-grid, I would only suggest lithium ion or LifePO4 batteries. Two reasons for this. Lithium-ion batteries are much more expensive but have a higher depth of charge. A gel battery can only be discharged to 50% of the battery capacity, whereas a lithium-ion battery can discharge over 80%.

  • "The other reason is the warranty. Some gel batteries don’t even come with a warranty. If it stops working after the 1st day, you must buy a new one with your money.

  • "Most 100ah batteries come with a 2-month warranty. Then, after that, you are on your own.

  • "A 200ah battery normally has a 6-month warranty, after that, you are on your own.

  • "Lithium-ion batteries have an average warranty of 8-10 years. If anything goes wrong with the battery in that period (read the warranty to see what is covered), the battery will be repaired or replaced by the manufacturer."

What type and size of solar panels are best?

  • "This depends on budget, space and inverter size.

  • "Some people don’t like paying a lot for a solar installation, so they will request cheaper panels.

  • "The cheapest are the polycrystalline panels (blue). Their efficiency is about 3-7% lower than monocrystalline panels (black), which means you require more panels to get the same power production. This also means you need more space.

  • "The roof space will also influence the size panels you use.

  • "If you have limited space, you will require higher wattage panels to produce the required power.

  • "The inverter is also limited to how much voltage it can handle from the solar panels."

What common challenges do businesses have in going off the grid with solar?

  • "The business must ensure they get what they need to run their business.

  • "Make sure the installer understands clearly what you require, or you could spend a small fortune on a system and not get what you expect.

  • "Let the installer know if you just want to save on your electricity bill, do you only want a system for load shedding, or do you want to run off-grid.

  • "There is a big difference between the 3 options, and there is also a big difference in the cost of these systems.

  • "The wrong decision could be catastrophic for your business."

Should you own a solar power or rather rent?

"That would depend on your circumstances. If you rent a workshop or factory for a couple of years, I would rent a solar system.

"One of the aims of solar is so that it can pay for itself.

"If you buy a solar system for 4 million rand to run your factory, you want it to pay for itself with the money you are saving on electricity.

"If your bill is R50,000 a month, the system would have paid for itself in 80 months (6 and a half years) after that, there’s R50,000 in your pocket.

"If you spend 4 million rand on a system and leave after 3 years, you are running at a big loss, then renting would be your best option."

What is the most affordable way for a small business to stay online and work during loadshedding?

"See what you need to run your business during loadshedding, not what you want running during loadshedding.

"You might need a computer and a pay point to run the business, but you don’t need a kettle and a geyser. To run a geyser, kettle, pay point and computer, you might need a R100000 system.

"To run a computer and a pay point, you would need a R30000 system. You only want priority items to run during loadshedding."

What type of inverters is the best for solar power installation?

"That depends are what your requirements are. Use a grid-tied solution if you just want to cut your electricity bill during the day. This consists of an inverter and solar panels, no batteries, and the system will switch off when the grid goes down, but you only wanted to cut your electricity bill. This is the cheapest option.

"You also have a hybrid system consisting of solar panels, batteries and an inverter. The solar panels will charge the batteries, and during the night, if your batteries run flat, the utility power will charge the batteries.

"Lastly is the off-grid system. These are panels, batteries and inverter as well, however, there is enough power produced by the solar panels and enough power stored in the batteries that you won’t ever need electricity from a utility company again. This is the most expensive option because you’ve no utility company to fall back on, so you need enough batteries and panels to supply all your energy needs."

Mark gave us plenty of information to think about. Do you still have questions? You are welcome to ask Mark directly ([email protected]) or keep reading to know more.

Learn more about solar power and other loadshedding solutions

Do you still have questions? Read on to learn more to help you find the best solution for your small business in South Africa.

Storing solar power

Solar power only works when the sun shines and is minimal or absent during cloudy weather and at night. So, a small business with only solar power will benefit from it during a sunny day but will have a 24/7 supply of electricity by storing it in batteries. This expensive solution is becoming cheaper via lithium-ion battery technology. 

The financial challenge

In the past, the cost of going solar with batteries exceeded by far the electricity tariff. But the scenario is changing, with the solar-battery system becoming considerably cheaper. This particularly applies to industries that need much power for their operations and use diesel to supplement grid power.

The key question

What can your business afford? Does your company rely on diesel or petrol generators? The solar-battery system will most likely be a viable option if you use them 15-20 % of the operational time. Another reason for saying goodbye to the grid is when your company has great power (kVA) demands, for which you pay a high industrial tariff. 

What about our future energy requirements?

The loadshedding frequency and cheaper solar-battery systems will continue to drive businesses more and more toward using solar power systems.

Solar PV with battery (on-grid or off-grid)

What is Solar PV? Solar photovoltaic (PV) means a solar panel converts solar energy from the sun into electricity, which is then usually connected to inverter/s and stored in batteries. With this system, batteries provide backup power if needed on a cloudy day or enough for your business to disconnect from the national electricity grid completely.

In contrast, solar PV with no batteries supplies sufficient power for your small business during the day only, and cloudy or rainy weather could be more of a challenge.

Battery backup

This involves a battery and a reliable battery inverter to keep your small business going during loadshedding.

Battery and hybrid inverter

This option is like the battery and battery inverter setup, except that you can install solar PV panels later when you can afford them.

Whatever you decide, don't let loadshedding and high energy costs get you down. Your small business has a bright future in South Africa.

Yoco helps small businesses grow with Yoco Capital

Perhaps you have found a power solution for your small business – but you need some capital upfront. Don’t worry - Yoco Capital is a cash advance for qualifying Yoco merchants. To see if you qualify, go to your Yoco Portal. It takes 5 minutes to apply, and after approval, you’ll have the money in your account within 1 business day. T's and C's apply. 

Sources: Is it possible for your business to go off-grid, Boom in small-scale solar installations in South Africa & Achieving electricity cost reductions through energy storage

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