For some consumers, power outages and the disruptions caused by load-shedding could be relegated to the past if new-generation, low-cost hybrid solar photovoltaic (PV) energy systems continue to cement their strengthening position in the marketplace.

This is the view of Jack Ward, managing director of Powermode, a power provisioning company specialising in the design and implementation of back-up power sources for domestic, commercial and industrial applications.

Ward says the South African solar PV market is evolving rapidly. “Up to now, solar energy adopters were predominantly ecologically-conscious consumers who would use solar PV power simply to augment electricity sourced from the national grid in a bid to minimise their carbon footprints. The ability to reduce their electricity bills was a bonus.

“However, the propensity for power outages in South Africa is persuading many consumers – and organisations – to turn to solar power solutions with battery backup as a primary standby option in preference to petrol- or diesel-engined generators.”

Ward says these hybrid solar systems not only continue to minimise consumers’ electricity bills but can be used in tandem with generators to build added energy security into back-up and even off-grid power solutions.

He considers the climate right for solar PV system vendors and installers to underline the cost-saving benefits of solar power against the backdrop of further electricity price hikes in 2014.

“In 2014, an election year, politicians and legislators should be encouraged to support users who opt for solar PV installations with appropriate incentives,” he says. “The always-on advantages of hybrid systems can be of even greater significance in the rural areas where grid power is either non-existent or extremely unreliable.”

Ward says that with continuing power supply uncertainly and vulnerability at peak periods, consumers should be encouraged to use stored solar energy in the mornings and early evenings and so minimise overloading of the grid.

In this light he says 2014 should see the arrival of smart metering systems in SA driven by government legislation brought about by the national energy crisis. Smart metering is an intelligent metering system that will allow authorities to bill at much higher rates during peak periods in a process also known as time-of-day-billing.

“Through specially designed meters, authorities will have the ability to charge more for electricity consumed at peak times and also be able to disconnect household appliances if necessary through the two-way communication capabilities built into the meters,” Ward says.

Smart metering, which will necessitate the replacement and/or conversion of credit and prepaid meters, is expected to significantly increase revenues for local municipalities and utility companies.

“This will add further impetus to the uptake of the hybrid solar PV usage model. It will also open the door to the broad acceptance of renewable power, with solar PV power becoming increasingly viable as grid-parity in terms of cost will be reached far sooner than most other options.”

Ward says smart metering will also herald major developments in active demand-side management (ADSM). This will entail solar power stored during the day automatically and seamlessly taking over from grid energy at the precise time peak rates are adopted thanks to pre-programmed management systems which he believes will emerge in the market as early as mid-year.

“Not only will PV system owners profit in the short term, but overseas studies show that ADSM clearly improves the value of solar PV investments over time, as they can be expected to play an important role in the smart grids of the future.”

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