South Africans have been experiencing regular power outages over the past couple of years as the national utility company has been battling to meet demand during peak hours for several reasons. These include unplanned breakdowns at some of its power stations, delays in completion of the new thermal power stations that have been under construction for a while now, as well a significant chunk of Eskom’s generation fleet being out of service for maintenance. These power rationing interventions in South Africa, known as “load-shedding,” are expected to go on until about 2022.
Eskom’s load-shedding program is structured in “stages” where Eskom sheds a certain quantum of load from the grid to stabilize the grid. So, depending on the severity of the crisis, load-shedding is implemented in stages from Stage 1 to Stage 8, where Stage 1 sheds 1000 MW of load from the grid, and in a Stage 8 scenario, Eskom takes out 8000 MW of load from the grid. Load-shedding is implemented over 2-hour or 4-hour blocks on a rotational basis depending on the severity of the crises.
Stage 8, however means most consumers will experience a blackout for about 12 hours. This uncertainty in the power supply has seen the local storage market blossom. Several local battery assembly companies have stepped in to address this market. The Tesla Powerwall 2 is also now available in South Africa.
According to Eskom’s System Status Briefings, a typical day demand profile sees demand peaking well above 30,000 MW between 4pm and 8pm, but dropping to a low of around 23,000 MW between 12 midnight and 4am. This off-peak period can be utilized by consumers to charge up their batteries and utilize that energy during load-shedding cycles. If a critical mass of home batteries, for example, can be installed, it may even help avert some of the load-shedding during peak demand hours. One of the companies that has been quite active in this market is Cape Town-based Solar MD.
Solar MD imports lithium iron phosphate prismatic cells from Chinese manufacturers like CALB and CATL. These are then assembled into battery packs in South Africa. The startups have since developed their own proprietary Battery Management Systems (BMS) as well as their own Energy Management Systems (EMS).
This approach gives the company the flexibility to build battery packs more suitable to local conditions as well as sizing the packs to suit local customer usage profiles. The benefits of local assembly and continued increase of local components in the battery packs are a big deal in job creation in a country battling a high unemployment rate that is nearing 30%. Downstream industries benefiting as well include sheet metal benders for casings, and manufacturers of electrical cables and associated accessories.
Solar MD has managed to thrive during uncertain times during the COVID-19 pandemic. Solar MD has managed to do so by employing a host of strategic software & machinery upgrades, as well as increasing the floor capacity of its production facilities. “We have managed, not only to cater to their ever-increasing battery production, but to also ensure that all staff has ample space to comply with COVID physical distance protocols,” says Kaloyan Dimov, CEO and Founder of Solar MD.
“We have managed to achieve the following during the hard months of lockdown:”
- Solar MD factory floor space has doubled to 5500 square meters
- Introduction of 2 x laser-welding machines have increased the daily output production up to 800 kWh
- A new in-house developed software has automated the entire production.
- The latest Logger V2 has been updated, and the new BMS EX which is best suited to high voltage solutions
- Secured contracts with cell manufacturers CATL and CALB for 200 MWh
- The company has a current backlog of around 11 MWh on prepaid solutions and new orders are constantly coming in. Solar MD works with distributors such as Herholdts and IBC Solar to sell its battery packs.
A backlog of 11 MWh is pretty impressive for Solar MD. Solar MD’s battery packs start from small 3.7 kWh packs to 1.2 MWh containerized solutions. These are available in most of southern Africa, including Botswana, Malawi, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. A backlog of 11 MWh amounts to just under 3000 of its 3.7 kWh battery packs, which shows demand for these home battery storage products is growing quite nicely in South Africa and the region.
All images courtesy of Solar MD