Power Electronics / Power Management

The next big shift in SA's energy infrastructure

29 February 2024 Power Electronics / Power Management

South Africans have, sadly, become accustomed to the utter disappointment and dismay of high levels of loadshedding, often after some or other positive promise from political heads. This year’s State of the Nation Address was barely over before the well-curated positive outlook was replaced by stage 6 load shedding. While people are accustomed to this, it does not mean they accept it, and this will fuel the next big phase in the country's energy infrastructure.

High-voltage (HV) LiFePO4 battery energy storage systems, commonly referred to as BESS, which drastically improve the power reliability prospects for businesses, have been around for some time, but expect to see a massive surge in 2024.

HV BESS systems are designed for industrial, commercial, and utility-scale applications. If we consider that the lack of power security and insufficient supply is like a giant lead weight sinking the economy, it is no surprise that we are seeing a surge in inquiries from critical players in agriculture, manufacturing, property development, residential and commercial property management, and even the education sector.

Businesses in crucial sectors in the economy realise that they must take control of their own energy security, and more business leaders realise that renewable energy storage is a far more viable, and reliable, option than old-paradigm internal combustion generators.

There are three main reasons for this. The first two are commercial. Hauling big loads of fuel to power generators comes at a significant cost, especially for outlying areas, and this doesn't come with absolute security of supply for obvious road-travel reasons. Beyond this, the diesel itself is significantly more expensive than it was pre-COVID, while maintaining and servicing large generators also puts a large financial strain on organisations that may already be operating on tight margins.

In addition to this, the world is demanding a shift towards renewable energy. South African businesses have no choice but to accept this, and understand that access to markets such as the EU will become increasingly difficult and restrictive unless businesses, industries, and countries comply with ever-stricter carbon targets. In other words, you simply cannot assume that you'll be able to sell a product in the EU if it is made or farmed on the back of internal combustion engines or coal power stations.

The technology and benefits of HV BESS has evolved to a point where it is applicable and scalable across sectors, making these systems suitable for larger-scale applications in industrial, commercial and utility settings. Beyond this, leading suppliers can build modular systems, allowing businesses to scale up their investment as needed.

HV BESS systems are either being investigated, or being deployed in farming and downstream agricultural contexts, manufacturing, and retail centres to provide power backup capacity for when the inevitable happens. Even if there are unexpected improvements in Eskom's generation and distribution, this trend will continue in much the same way that solar PV has transformed large swathes of the residential sector.

Businesses have different motivations, but they all hinge on energy security, with cost savings front and centre. Many are interested in renewable power investments where BESS systems store the energy generated from solar panels and, in some instances, turbines. Others need uninterrupted backup power to ensure critical systems such as refrigeration and security are unaffected by protracted power cuts. Businesses are also realising that high-voltage systems enable them to reduce their energy costs by mitigating against periodic demand changes.

Eskom recently announced a battery system in the Western Cape. This is because another crucial application is to improve grid stability and to integrate renewable energy sources. These systems, if built properly and with the right batteries, can help manage fluctuations in supply and demand, and reduce transmission losses, while HV BESS systems can also provide additional functions such as regulating frequency, providing voltage support and balancing the grid. There is more than enough capacity and engineering expertise in the local industry to support a shift to a utility of the future.

Modern, modular systems include local and remote monitoring of specific battery telemetry, ranging from individual per-cell visibility, all the way up to data relating to each battery string. Comparing this type of technology to the hope that municipalities and the national utility will finally get their act together makes it obvious that the next big shift in our power landscape this year and beyond will be mass rollout of HV LiFePO4 BESS systems.

For more information visit https://revov.co.za

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