Solar implementations - what you need to know upfront
In the wake of looming energy price hikes many organisations are proactively considering solar solutions as an alternative. The time to go solar has never been better. However, solar solutions projects required to power an organisation can be complex, with a number of "hidden" costs and potential pitfalls that could jeopardise its success. Companies should be aware of the challenges before embarking on their solar project.
In planning a solar solution, one of the most common errors made is the failure to properly calculate the true costs. Solar solutions comprise of more than just solar panels and inverters. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, over sixty percent of the total cost of solar solutions in the US lie in the "soft" costs, with the actual panels and inverters making up less than forty percent. The same parameters are very likely to hold true for South Africa and the rest of the globe.
Organisations should carefully scrutinise their solar provider quotes to ensure that all ancillary costs; labour, site surveys, engineering and design fees are factored in. Also, peripheral components such as mounting structures and/or assemblies and wire management costs should be included. It's not always possible to accurately calculate all costs until implementation is complete, as the scope may change or difficulties may be experienced throughout the course of the project. This is especially true when obtaining budget quotes where no site surveys or assessments have been done.
In addition, it is critical to account for storage, transport and security of all delivered equipment, bearing in mind that components may lie in storage for some time while the project is under way. Solar equipment is a hot target for theft, therefore, twenty-four-hour security is imperative for the duration of the project.
It takes a team
A successful solar solution is the result of skills that extend beyond the installation phase of the project. Depending on the scope, scale and conditions of the solar solution, different people will be needed to contribute their expertise, and advise at various stages of the project.
Solutions architects are needed to design and engineer the solution, based on a site survey which yields information on the requirement and site conditions. The is a lengthy process and many companies fail to comprehend the amount of work that goes into planning and designing a solution before a proper quotation can even be raised. This is one of the reasons why budget quotes are so unreliable.
If the solution is mounted on high poles (for example with security camera power supply applications), car ports or at ground level, civil engineers will be needed to assess soil conditions and provide a solid, stable foundation. A weak or poorly factored foundation can result in the entire structure collapsing at the first sign of strong winds or excessive rainfall. If the solar solution is going atop a roof, structural engineers will be required to assess structural stability and strength of the building, and make structural enhancements if necessary.
The stringent regulations of The Occupational Health and Safety Act must be adhered to, as inspectors may investigate a solar solution at any time during implementation. Failure to comply can result in very costly fines, as well as a halt in production until compliance is met. A formal Health and Safety officer will ensure that the project is registered with the Department of Labour, and that all standards are adhered to.
There are also many other professionals that may be required, from electricians to environmental impact assessors. It takes a team for a solar solution to be implemented in a sustainable and successful manner, and organisations should ensure their solar solution provider includes these associated personnel costs in their quote.
Additional things to consider
There are several additional, yet, important aspects that aren't always considered when planning and implementing a solar solution, resulting in exceeded budgets, poor installation or even risk of fines. These include:
• The impact of environmental factors such as wind, rain and proximity to the coast;
• Logistics requirements - forklift and utility vehicle hire, and storage space required for the duration of the project;
• Insurance - both during and after installation, to mitigate risk;
• Using reputable suppliers - poor quality equipment, or civil work, will inevitably lead to having to do repairs and replacements before necessary;
• Applications - depending on the scale and location of the solution, organisations need to lodge applications with various governing and regulatory bodies such as the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA), the Department of Energy, the local utility provider, the department of Health & Safety, etc.;
• Time - a sizeable project can take several months or longer to complete, factoring in travel, accommodation and subsistence allowances for installation staff for the estimated duration of the project, etc.;
• Solution maintenance - solar solutions are fairly self-sufficient once up and running, however they do need to be regularly maintained and monitored to ensure maximum efficiency and uptime. There are remote monitoring systems which proactively monitor for issues such as soiled solar PV modules, degradation, and wear and tear, sending an automatic alert when performance drops so that businesses respond accordingly and address the area of concern. This extends the longevity of the solution and can reduce the risk of downtime or system failure.
Before embarking on a solar solution, businesses should make sure they use a reputable solar solution specialist provider who fully understands the requirement before they begin. The service provider needs to be invested in software and hardware solar knowledge, and must be able to identify possible areas of risk or concern so that they can be addressed at the initial phase - possibly even from quote stage. Finally, a competent service provider should have a demonstrable track record of successful solar implementations to prove their experience.
Kevin Norris is the Consulting Solutions Architect: Renewable Energy at Jasco Intelligent Technologies.
Carbon dioxide removal revenues worth £2bn a year by 2030
Carbon dioxide removal revenues could reach £2bn a year by 2030 in the UK with costs per megatonne totalling up to £400 million, according to the National Infrastructure Commission.
Engineered greenhouse gas removals will become "a major new infrastructure sector" in the coming decades - although costs are uncertain given removal technologies are in their infancy - and revenues could match that of the UK’s water sector by 2050. The Commission’s analysis suggests engineered removals technologies need to have capacity to remove five to ten megatonnes of carbon dioxide no later than 2030, and between 40 and 100 megatonnes by 2050.
The Commission states technologies fit into two categories: extracting carbon dioxide directly out of the air; and bioenergy with carbon capture technology – processing biomass to recapture carbon dioxide absorbed as the fuel grew. In both cases, the captured CO2 is then stored permanently out of the atmosphere, typically under the seabed.
The report sets out how the engineered removal and storage of carbon dioxide offers the most realistic way to mitigate the final slice of emissions expected to remain by the 2040s from sources that don’t currently have a decarbonisation solution, like aviation and agriculture.
It stresses that the potential of these technologies is “not an excuse to delay necessary action elsewhere” and cannot replace efforts to reduce emissions from sectors like road transport or power, where removals would be a more expensive alternative.
The critical role these technologies will play in meeting climate targets means government must rapidly kick start the sector so that it becomes viable by the 2030s, according to the report, which was commissioned by government in November 2020.
Early movement by the UK to develop the expertise and capacity in greenhouse gas removal technologies could create a comparative advantage, with the prospect of other countries needing to procure the knowledge and skills the UK develops.
The Commission recommends that government should support the development of this new sector in the short term with policies that drive delivery of these technologies and create demand through obligations on polluting industries, which will over time enable a competitive market to develop. Robust independent regulation must also be put in place from the start to help build public and investor confidence.
While the burden of these costs could be shared by different parts of industries required to pay for removals or in part shared with government, the report acknowledges that, over the longer term, the aim should be to have polluting sectors pay for removals they need to reach carbon targets.
Polluting industries are likely to pass a proportion of the costs onto consumers. While those with bigger household expenditures will pay more than those on lower incomes, the report underlines that government will need to identify ways of protecting vulnerable consumers and to decide where in relevant industry supply chains the costs should fall.
Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sir John Armitt, said taking steps to clean our air is something we’re going to have to get used to, just as we already manage our wastewater and household refuse.
"While engineered removals will not be everyone’s favourite device in the toolkit, they are there for the hardest jobs. And in the overall project of mitigating our impact on the planet for the sake of generations to come, we need every tool we can find," he said.
“But to get close to having the sector operating where and when we need it to, the government needs to get ahead of the game now. The adaptive approach to market building we recommend will create the best environment for emerging technologies to develop quickly and show their worth, avoiding the need for government to pick winners. We know from the dramatic fall in the cost of renewables that this approach works and we must apply the lessons learned to this novel, but necessary, technology.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency estimate a global capacity for engineered removals of 2,000 to 16,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide each year by 2050 will be needed in order to meet global reduction targets.
Yesterday Summit Carbon Solutions received "a strategic investment" from John Deere to advance a major CCUS project (click here). The project will accelerate decarbonisation efforts across the agriculture industry by enabling the production of low carbon ethanol, resulting in the production of more sustainable food, feed, and fuel. Summit Carbon Solutions has partnered with 31 biorefineries across the Midwest United States to capture and permanently sequester their CO2 emissions.
Cory Reed, President, Agriculture & Turf Division of John Deere, said: "Carbon neutral ethanol would have a positive impact on the environment and bolster the long-term sustainability of the agriculture industry. The work Summit Carbon Solutions is doing will be critical in delivering on these goals."
McKinsey highlights a number of CCUS methods which can drive CO2 to net zero:
- Today’s leader: Enhanced oil recovery Among CO2 uses by industry, enhanced oil recovery leads the field. It accounts for around 90 percent of all CO2 usage today
- Cementing in CO2 for the ages New processes could lock up CO2 permanently in concrete, “storing” CO2 in buildings, sidewalks, or anywhere else concrete is used
- Carbon neutral fuel for jets Technically, CO2 could be used to create virtually any type of fuel. Through a chemical reaction, CO2 captured from industry can be combined with hydrogen to create synthetic gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel
- Capturing CO2 from ambient air - anywhere Direct air capture (DAC) could push CO2 emissions into negative territory in a big way
- The biomass-energy cycle: CO2 neutral or even negative Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage relies on nature to remove CO2 from the atmosphere for use elsewhere