Western Cape Business News

Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  10 Jan 2011

POWER SUPPLY: Generate Your Own Current


Recent Western Cape Business News

ONE way to overcome the problems of energy security and apprehension about the future cost of electricity is to forget about Eskom and the municipal retailers of power and generate your own current, says Tony Robinson of the Cape Chamber of Commerce.

“The photo-voltaic panels are expensive and cannot compete with the price of grid electricity at present, but they do have a number of important advantages. One is that they allow companies to take control of their own energy requirements and eliminate some of the risks that go with sudden load-shedding by Eskom and the municipalities.”

“Very important for future planning is that one knows exactly how much electricity will cost in 10 or 20 years. They also know that Eskom power will get more expensive every year while their costs will remain fairly constant and may even come down as new and more efficient panels become available.”

“In addition there will be a marketing advantage from selling ‘greener’ wines. And there will be no VAT to pay on your own electricity. In fact, there might even be carbon credits,” Robinson says.

No doubt many other companies which are modest users of electricity will be interested in following the Villiera example. The key issue for them will be timing. The panels and storage batteries are improving and are becoming relatively less expensive while the price of grid electricity goes up and up. South African companies already have an advantage in that the PV panels are twice as productive in our sunlight as they are in Europe.

The Villiera project could point the way to an off-grid future for some companies.
The arithmetic looks something like this: The PV cells are producing electricity at a cost of R1.20c an hour, which is roughly three times Eskom’s cost of generating electricity. But one must add distribution costs and municipal charges and that will put the price of own-generated electricity on a sunny day on a par with the retail price of Eskom power.
So one can understand why Eskom is not keen on solar panels, Robinson says.

From the consumer’s point of view, however, they are beginning to make a lot of sense. The cost of Eskom power will go up every year. The engineer responsible for the Villiera project says he calculates that if the tariff increase is 10% a year Eskom power will cost R24.64 cents a unit in 25 years time but the Villiera project will still be producing electricity at R1.20 cent an hour.

If Villiera went completely off-grid there would be other costs such as battery storage and probably a diesel generator to cope with peak demand in the harvest season.

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