Solar Power: an end to load shedding in South Africa?
For residents and businesses in South Africa, Eskom has long been a source of frustration. Generating approximately 95% of the country’s electricity, the company holds a state-supported monopoly on the energy supply in South Africa – where rolling blackouts are a daily occurrence as the national grid falters.
Load shedding has been a part of South African life since 2014 when it first became clear Eskom could not keep up with post-apartheid demand – and unfortunately, it seems it is here to stay. Minister of public enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, has previously said the government and Eskom are determined not to go beyond Stage 4 load shedding (where 4,000MW has to be shed in). But now, it is clear that plans have been laid for Stage 5 (5,000MW) and Stage 6 (6,000MW) load shedding schedules, which would mean even longer periods of power outages for residents and businesses.
Officials have warned there is a race against time to ensure a national blackout and grid collapse – like those which have crippled Venezuela – do not happen in South Africa. Gordhan said: “We don’t want to remain in a vicious cycle where load shedding shifts to other crises. We are committed to rebuilding the energy supply and energy confidence”.
What’s the solution?
Almost 70% of South Africa’s energy is currently generated by coal, whilst solar and wind combined only make up 0.1% of the national energy supply. However, many of the country’s ageing coal power stations are up to 50 years old – despite stations normally only producing sufficient electricity for 30 years, according to Eskom board chair Jabu Mabuza.
Gordhan has also admitted that Eskom’s two newest coal plants were“badly designed and badly constructed”, with many sources claiming they are only 40% reliable. As a result, the South African grid simply can’t cope with demand.
Opening up the market for Independent Power Producers would help significantly plug power capacity shortages, as competition would provide greater incentives to maintain and develop new energy systems. Unfortunately, the government is unlikely to take this action anytime soon – so residents and businesses need to prepare for the worst.
One thing South Africa isn’t short on is sunshine, which is why solar power could provide a sustainable solution to counteract the Eskom problem. A solar photovoltaic (PV) system can provide up to 30% of an average home’s energy, for example. As such, many South African home and business owners are looking to solar. Although they can be expensive to install, the cost of solar PV systems has fallen dramatically – making them a hugely beneficial long-term investment.
Choosing the right Solar PV system
The principle of yielding electricity from the sun remains the same but there are many ways a PV installation can be connected to best suit both homeowners and businesses. There are five different types of solar PV systems: grid-tied, grid-backup, enhanced self-consumption, peak-shaving and off-grid.
A pure grid-tied system with no storage or load management is a viable option for South Africa as a nation which experiences steep energy price hikes year on year but does not provide power in the event of a blackout. Instead, there will be continued demand for grid-backup systems – which use a battery to store power and can operate with no grid for prolonged periods of time – if frequent load shedding, or even fear of it, continues.
Enhanced self-consumption where surplus energy is stored and used to heat water could also provide a cost-effective solution. The storage option may take the form of a battery system instead; however, this could add significantly to the cost and would have a long financial payback time at current electricity prices.
Many energy users in South Africa pay a high tariff when using greater amounts of electricity than normal during peak times. A PV system can also be used to limit the amount of higher-cost electricity consumed by storing energy during the hours of sunlight and releasing it during the high-cost periods – this is known as peak-shaving.
Finally, there is an off-grid system which requires significant investment including a large capacity battery and an inverter capable of supplying the maximum load. Operating totally off grid cannot normally be justified if there is a good-quality grid connection available but if South Africa continues down its current route it may become a viable option in the future.
Fitting a solar system is complicated and requires a knowledgeable distributor and expert installers who can advise on the most suitable system to meet the customer’s requirements. SegenSolar’s unique portal is a crucial tool for installers looking to fit a solar PV system onto their customers’ homes or office buildings to provide power in the event of a grid failure or load shedding.
Taking the lid off digital transformation
Amish Sabharwal is Executive Vice President for AVEVA’s Industrial Engineering Business Unit which is responsible for delivering simulation, engineering, design, project execution, operator training and project management software to the Global Industrial Market. With 25 years' experience globally within the Energy, Chemicals and Power industries, he is focused on delivering Digital Transformation outcomes for Owner Operators, EPC and Suppliers by leveraging technology to create value added opportunities to business processes. Amish is a professional engineer who holds a Masters and Bachelors in Chemical Engineering from the University of Calgary. Here he reflects on the impact the pandemic has had on the industry and why it must be at the cutting edge of digital transformation.
Oil and gas companies faced formidable challenges to their efficiency, sustainability and profitability in 2020. As a result of the pandemic, prices collapsed severely and the urgency to tackle these issues intensified. The economic discomfort is being felt throughout the oil and gas value chain.
Upstream companies seek to maximise production from onshore and offshore wells safely and economically. In the midstream, the primary concern of hydrocarbon pipeline operators is to ensure safe, reliable and compliant operations - all while managing energy costs and minimising time and installed costs. Across the downstream, refining and petrochemical producers strive to achieve superior performance through better management of their energy usage and costs.
Considering these priorities, the lack of digital maturity across oil and gas is perhaps surprising. According to multinational professional services firm PwC, “One of the clearest and most viable responses to these systemic challenges is to accelerate digitisation strategies to help improve resilience and remain attractive to investors.” But, “of more than 200 oil and gas companies surveyed, only 7% identified themselves as digital champions while more than 70% of respondents considered themselves to be in the early stages of digital maturity”.
Optimisation and innovation
In today’s economic environment, capital budgets and overheads are constantly being cut. Oil and gas producers are faced with rising manufacturing costs, global competition and soaring energy costs. To meet these challenges, companies must optimise manufacturing operations and make performance improvements to positively impact their bottom lines.
Digital transformation offers new toolsets that enable oil and gas producers to increase their competitiveness. These digital toolsets help improve yields of valuable products while reducing energy consumption and increasing throughput. Using digital technology, manufacturers can create a complete digital twin of their processes and assets to respond quickly and easily to unexpected events, reduce shutdown time, work and train operators remotely and evaluate what-if scenarios in batch processing and manufacturing.
Through digital transformation, operators can combine real-time process data with current economic conditions, giving operators the ability to make informed decisions at an expedited rate. Information sharing increases while stakeholders also improve their ability to visualise results and key performance indicator data across processes and overall plant production.
Technology offers the potential to impact process yield, energy use and throughput optimisation. Here are some considerations:
Own and maintain your own engineering data
Engineering data tells you what equipment is installed on each plant, what size it is, how it is connected and where it is located through 3D visualisation. It is generated in capital projects, from newbuild plants to brownfield revamps, and forms the backbone of the digital twin.
Accurate data, kept in one place, ensures the reliability of a digital twin’s output and the efficiency of operations throughout the asset’s lifecycle. Global oil and gas producers are moving fast to invest in their own cloud-based data platforms for current and future capital projects, operations and maintenance as part of their digital transformation projects.
Evaluate process design in the cloud to reduce costs
By leveraging the almost infinite processing power and storage available through cloud-based architecture, companies can accelerate process design while reducing capital investment costs for process modelling and training.
Oil and gas producers can spin up cloud-based servers and computing resources as needed. This also accelerates the flow of information throughout process design. A cloud-based architecture for process design increases information accessibility, enhances availability and significantly reduces total cost of ownership.
Encourage online collaboration
Process innovations becomes seamless through collaboration. Separating the content from the product allows the content, such as simulation models, to be managed easily with file history logs in a central repository. Efficiency is significantly increased using cloud-based architecture as refineries can adapt to changing needs.
Computing power can also be scaled up or down with varying numbers of virtual machines to facilitate simulation templates for engineering test or training scenarios. Secure user access control allows administrators to add, delete or edit users and privileges as needed. IT overheads are simplified to a pure on-demand cloud-based architecture where machines are accessed via a secure URL, and new versions of process designs are available as soon as released.
Accelerate operational excellence through a digital engineering platform
Consider supporting the entire engineering lifecycle from representation of the actual piping and instrumentation diagram, mapping each equipment object to a detailed engineering database and 3D model; to building/testing the dynamic stimulation early in the process design; optimising the process and control design, comparing capital versus operating costs; and the continuous improvement of operations as the engineering model becomes a plant’s digital twin.
Unify your supply chain model planning and operations
A complete 360-degree view of the digital value chain means all aspects of the enterprise are visualised, analysed and optimised. Inputs to the enterprise, such as feedstock and raw materials, are analysed in real-time against planning, operations, scheduling and distribution. Full plant models are managed simultaneously within a supply and distribution network.
Combining data and analysis
There are three key technological trends that will continue to accelerate adoption and help businesses reinvent themselves. First, cloud computing allows companies to manage large volumes of data generated in operations and improves data quality, data availability and single-source transparency across complex value chains.
Second, connectivity and the Internet of Things, in which machines carry sensors that support remote performance monitoring and efficient equipment integration, will support energy use optimisation and costs across company operations. Third, AI and ML tools help analyse data and identify operational patterns and shortcomings that can be used to improve efficiency, for example, in predictive maintenance.
Digital transformation offers a fresh lens to improve workforce training, sustainability, productivity, safety and regulatory compliance - while adapting to unforeseen events. Through digital transformation, oil and gas producers can more confidently explore opportunities, reduce operational risk and shrink the gap between plans and results.