Out of the coal age and into the stor-age

Seydou Kane, managing director for South Africa at Eaton, considers the shift away from coal towards renewables – and the potential for a future microgrid energy market in South Africa

South Africa’s energy generation capacity is dominated by fossil fuels, with this source accounting for 91.2% of the country’s energy, according to the 2019 Integrated Resource Plan. While the country is likely to continue turning to coal as its main source for generating electricity, plans are well underway to diversify South Africa’s energy mix. With multiple solar projects already operational, along with numerous wind farms producing energy too, it’s clearer than ever before that South Africa is well on its way to sourcing as much as 25% of its energy mix from renewables by 2030.

If the future of South African energy is going to depend increasingly on renewables, effective storage will be vital to better connect these energy sources to the grid. Energy storage will also be key to making our national energy infrastructure more resilient and, importantly, enabling it to increasingly rely on clean energy sources.

Learning to rely on renewables

Renewable energy has long been treated with skepticism. Some policymakers argue against renewable energy sources as unreliable, and this has resulted in a roller-coaster market for renewables as policies sometimes shift rapidly – seemingly without consideration for the impact to benefits such as jobs and energy independence. Yet, the ever-decreasing cost of renewables as technology advances has kept the South African market growing, albeit more slowly than is required to meet stated commitments for carbon reduction.

One major argument against renewables is that they do not produce a consistent baseload power like fossil fuels. The common refrain is that the wind does not always blow, and the sun does not shine at night. Of course, these are true, but it must be remembered that we are in a transition to a cleaner future – it is not an overnight change. It will take time, but the day will come when we run completely on renewable and clean power. 

This is being accelerated by the falling cost of battery storage which helps optimise the use of intermittent renewable energy on the grid – further opening up the possibility of powering South Africa with clean, renewable energy while shifting further away from our reliance on fossil fuels.

When renewable energy sources generate more energy than businesses or homes require, the excess can be stored securely. This energy can then be released during times of peak demand, which means less need for conventional fuel generation. This reduces the carbon footprint of South Africa’s energy supply. Even better, this energy can be located anywhere on the grid or in private consumer homes, so that businesses and houses can help eliminate harmful emissions and save costs.

To meet global emissions reduction targets and drive forward a nationwide low carbon economy, we will need to learn to rely on renewables.

The deployment of pioneering energy storage solutions will be crucial in this process as we attempt to embed sustainability within the national energy grid.

Creating a more resilient grid with a ‘behind the meter economy’

Another increasingly interesting application of storage is in microgrids which can efficiently and economically plan for local energy generation and distribution, while increasing reliability. The implementation of local, distributed power generation and storage can be designed to allow portions of the grid and critical facilities to operate independently of the larger national grid when necessary, helping reduce the potential for unforeseen blackouts. The storage systems that are part of these microgrids – whether large or small – can also provide ancillary services to the grid, again strengthening performance and reducing the use of carbon generation.  

Energy storage gives businesses and consumers the power of choice to optimise their energy costs and provides them with flexibility for the future. We are already seeing advanced aggregators working with businesses to educate and inform them on the extra money to be made while supporting the transition to a smarter, environmentally-friendly energy grid.

The investment opportunity

Investment in storage still needs to increase to ensure renewable energy sources can fully step into the breach created by the decline in coal use.

The ever-falling price of energy storage technology today is creating an increasingly viable and attractive investment opportunity – but many South African businesses are still not aware of this potential.

Energy storage technology can be complicated to understand from a commercial perspective when it comes to exactly how it will save money for a particular site. However, the option to sell surplus energy back to the grid through ancillary services opens up new revenue streams that help offset the cost of electricity and dramatically strengthen the business use case. Adapting the South African regulatory framework to remove barriers to entry in the ancillary services market will facilitate this option and better support the development of a healthy energy grid.

The shift to a cleaner future is already taking place as South Africa moves away from coal and towards renewables. Eskom CEO Andre de Ruyter affirming that renewable energy will have to have a place in the country’s energy portfolio if the utility is ever to provide reliable energy, along with recognising that the company cannot continue to violate environmental laws.  Energy storage will accelerate this trend and help ensure a clean, stable, and cost-effective supply of electricity for the country.

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VIDEO | Storage: The missing link to renewable energy


What’s the key to using alternative energy, like solar and wind? Storage — so we can have power on tap even when the sun’s not out and the wind’s not blowing. In this accessible, inspiring talk, Donald Sadoway takes to the blackboard to show us the future of large-scale batteries that store renewable energy. As he says: “We need to think about the problem differently. We need to think big. We need to think cheap.”

Donald Sadoway is working on a battery miracle – an inexpensive, incredibly efficient, three-layered battery using liquid metal.

This talk was presented at an official TED conference, and was featured by our editors on the home page.

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SA Innovation Summit 2020: Taking Africa to the World

For the very first time in its 13-year history, the SA Innovation Summit (SAIS) – the largest start-up event in Africa – will be taking place virtually on 30 September and 1 October 2020, connecting the start-up ecosystem across countries and continents.

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Energy arbitrage: A green way of making money

THOUGHT LEADERSHIP |Norman Jackson, Vice-Chairman, South African Energy Storage Association

Every businessman’s dream is to be able to buy low and sell high, without any risk, and on a contract that goes on for dozens of years. – Well that opportunity exists today in energy arbitrage, where you can …

.. buy electricity for R0.59c (Off-peak) and sell it for R3.57 (Peak), just two hours later, every workday.

Well, now that I have your attention. Let me tell you that only works in the high-demand “Winter” three months, the remaining nine months, it is a cost of R0.51 and a selling rate of R1.16 – which makes any calculation complicated, so let’s just proportionally blend the tariffs and get a tariff of R1.7660 (Peak), R0.8717 (Standard) and R0.5283 (0ff-peak).

Fig 1: Extract from Eskom MEGAFlex Gen: Non-Local Authority tariff table

To try and equalise the supply and demand curve for energy in South Africa state utility, Eskom, has a Time of Use (TOU) tariff structure for large users of electricity.

Fig 2: Eskom’s defined time-of-use periods

This opportunity has been around for a long time. The issue has been the cost of storing energy for two hours, which was prohibitively expensive. Well, thanks to electric vehicles and green initiatives, science and engineering have brought down the cost and it is not only theoretically, but also commercially, viable.

In simple terms, we are talking about a large uninterruptible power supply (UPS) that comes in one or more shipping containers. In technical terms, it is a battery storage system (BSS) with a discharge rate of two hours (C=2), a rated capacity calculated after the normal depth of discharge, a degradation of less than 20% over 10 years, based upon 6 000 cycles on the full discharge of rated capacity. The round-trip efficiency of the batteries should be 95% and power electrics 97%, having an overall loss of less than 7%.

Typically, a UPS is expensive, but when you compare it to what happens when you have a sudden interruption in power, the cost is negligible.

– But I digress, having a UPS is a by-product, not the intent of the BSS.

Energy storage is an expansive field, all the way from a human body to a pumped storage hydro scheme. The options are endless, and the technologies are constantly improving. For this example, I am going to choose one of the most common battery storage systems, that is readily available – Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP). A BSS of the above specification is less than US$400 /kWh (R6 400/kWh). This example is more appropriate for consumers of more than 500kW.

“Sweating the asset” – having an expensive asset at our gate and only using it five times a week for the morning peaks is not optimum. We could also use it for the evening peak by charging it during the day (Standard). We can also use it twice on a Saturday charging at Off-peak and discharging at the Standard rate. In summary, 12 times a week, 50 weeks (considering public holidays), 10 years, which is 6 000 cycles.

Ok, we are now ready to do some calculations:

If we take a figure of 3% of CAPEX for maintenance and battery supplement to keep to our 100% rated capacity, we are looking at ROI of about 13% in year one, but with a modest Eskom increase of 8% a year, the ROI is above 25% in year ten.

Increasing the ROI

From the above, I hope that you agree energy arbitrage pays for itself and is an investment, I am not going to talk technical and put a value to having a huge UPS on your doorstep or try to estimate the savings in network demand charges, which for many customers, are significant.

If we add solar PV to our system, we have our very own power station, and we can charge our BSS System during the day as well. For those not familiar with PV, it is a generator that produces electricity from solar irradiance, but usually requires a reference grid (on-grid). With a BSS, the system would be able to work off-grid as well, which is sometimes referred to as island mode.

In Johannesburg, a solar PV system has a CAPEX cost of less than R9 000/kW, and producers yearly an average of about 2 000Wh a year. Which is about 5.5hrs/day of 100% output. (The actual output is more of a bell curve with lots of slices taken out of it due, to clouds and technical issues. – Another discussion.)

The calculation for the saving/income a solar PV system would give looks generally like this:

That is a healthy 17% in Year One (based on an O&M cost of 2%) and with an 8% escalation in energy prices annually, we are looking at over 35% in Year 10 of its 25-year life output warranty.

Going “green” is no longer an emotional or “right thing to do” decision, it is now the right business decision.

Source: Eskom, Tariffs & Charges Booklet 2020/2021 (www.eskom.co.za/tariffs)

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BASF New Business and G-Philos sign MoU for cooperation in power-to-gas (P2G) business

BASF New Business GmbH (BNB), a wholly-owned subsidiary of the German chemical company BASF SE, and the leading Korean P2G system company G-Philos have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to cooperate in P2G projects globally. Up to 2022, BNB will supply NAS® batteries that can provide a total of 19.2MWh of energy to G-Philos for P2G projects. BNB will support G-Philos in further P2G projects and in the development of business with Power Conversion Systems (PCS) for NAS® batteries in South Korea as well as in the global market. Through the collaboration, the two companies expect synergy effects in the field of P2G systems for green hydrogen production.

Green hydrogen production from renewable energies, such as solar, wind, and hydro, without CO2 emissions, has been drawing ever-more global attention in recent years.

In South Korea, the Green New Deal comprises plans to invest KRW 73.4 trillion ($61 billion) in projects, including renewable energy and hydrogen, as a part of South Korea’s policy to transform into a low-carbon society. P2G technologies will be one of the key elements of this plan.

South Korea is expanding its renewable energy supply and clean hydrogen production in a similar manner to the E.U., which recently announced its own Hydrogen Strategy. With the recently signed MoU, BNB and G-Philos are now joining forces to support the expansion of green hydrogen production from renewable energy.

BNB distributes NAS® batteries produced by NGK Insulators Ltd. NAS® batteries are high-energy, long-duration sodium-sulfur batteries designed for stationary energy storage. With their capability to discharge for four to eight hours, NAS® batteries are ideally suited for applications such as renewable power stabilisation and integration into the grid. In order to use the electrical energy stored in the battery, a power conversion system (PCS) is needed.

G-Philos has developed a suitable PCS for a 200kW NAS® battery system. The battery and the PCS have already been commissioned in a P2G project implemented by G-Philos in collaboration with Korea Midland Power (KOMIPO) at Sangmyung Wind Farm (21MW), Jeju Island, South Korea. In this case, the NAS® battery serves as an energy buffer between wind turbines and electrolysers to ensure stable hydrogen production from surplus wind power despite the fluctuating nature of wind. G-Philos can now supply PCS products for the NAS® battery systems ranging from 200kW up to 800kW.

“In order to stably produce green hydrogen while accommodating the variability of renewable energy, the NAS® battery is expected to play an important role in securing system operation safety and reliable long-term operation as an energy buffer. G-Philos will keep focusing on commercializing green hydrogen production through various P2G projects.”

Gawoo Park, CEO of G-Philos

BNB’s Director of E-Power Management, Frank Prechtl, said: “Green hydrogen production is an upcoming market and a promising application for NAS® batteries. With G-Philos, we now have a strong and competent partner to develop this opportunity into a sizeable business.”

About BASF New Business 

BASF New Business GmbH (BNB) is a wholly owned subsidiary of BASF SE. The purpose of BNB is to support the growth targets of BASF by identifying and generating new businesses which are beyond the core business of BASF group but within target portfolio of BASF. BNB is primarily active in arising markets with higher-than-average growth rates. In addition to its head office in Ludwigshafen, Germany, BNB has offices in Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Taiwan and the United States. Founded in 2001, BNB utilizes startup-like structures and methods as well as an extensive internal and external collaboration network. It works closely with future customers to build-up and expand new businesses.

BNB includes the unit Foresight & Scouting as well as Chemovator GmbH, a wholly owned BNB subsidiary based in Mannheim, Germany, which serves as BASF’s internal incubator, offering a protected space for all employees to accelerate speed-to-market for innovative business ideas. In addition, BNB currently has three Business Build-Up units: 3D printing (in the form of wholly owned BNB subsidiary BASF 3D Printing Solutions GmbH), E-Power Management and Functional Feed Additives.

The activities of BNB are complemented by BASF Venture Capital GmbH (BVC), a wholly owned subsidiary of BNB. BVC invests worldwide in young companies and funds with disruptive technologies and business models based on chemistry.

Further information at: www.basf-new-business.com.

About BASF

At BASF, we create chemistry for a sustainable future. We combine economic success with environmental protection and social responsibility. More than 117,000 employees in the BASF Group work on contributing to the success of our customers in nearly all sectors and almost every country in the world. Our portfolio is organized into six segments: Chemicals, Materials, Industrial Solutions, Surface Technologies, Nutrition & Care and Agricultural Solutions. BASF generated sales of €59 billion in 2019. BASF shares are traded on the stock exchange in Frankfurt (BAS) and as American Depositary Receipts (BASFY) in the U.S.

Further information at www.basf.com.

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Roboteur takes the tedium out of repetitive tasks

As computers become smarter they are going to take over many of the mundane tasks now performed by people.

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SAVA launches new theme for 2020/2021: Building for the future

The Southern African Vinyls Association (SAVA) has adopted “Building for the Future” as its theme for the year. According to SAVA Chairman, George Dimond, this theme will be driving the industry body’s activities and projects for the 2020/2021 financial year. 

Dimond explained that Polyvinyl chloride (also known as vinyl or as PVC) is the third-most produced plastic in the world. He added that 70% of PVC is produced in Europe and then goes to materials that are commonly used in building applications such as windows, pipes, flooring, roofing membranes and other building products. 

“In South Africa, the situation is very much the same, with 50% of all the locally PVC produced going into the pipe industry, followed by cables, custom profiles, conduits and accessories,” Dimond explains.

The use of vinyl products in building and construction received a major boost in October 2011 after a Technical Steering Committee of the Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) withdrew the Mat-7 PVC Minimisation credit from the Green Star SA rating system. Acknowledging the progress SAVA and its members made in addressing the historical environmental concerns and improving the environmental performance of vinyl products used in the construction and decorating industries, this decision effectively gave architects, building contractors and specifiers the thumbs up to use vinyl products in their projects.

SAVA addresses PVC issues

During the past nine years, Dimond says that SAVA has continued to assist its members, relevant authorities and experts to understand, characterize and address issues associated with the life cycle of vinyl products through its Product Stewardship Commitment (PSC).

“As an industry, we continue to work towards ever-improving our environmental credentials through the responsible and sustainable use of additives, the implementation of various sustainable recycling programmes and the promotion of a healthy vinyl industry. Awarding our Vinyl-dot Product Label recently to 21 of our members was an important step towards confirming PVC products as being safe, sustainable and responsible,” Dimond says.

SAVA will be exploring the theme of “Building for the Future” further when it hosts its 1-day industry conference next year on the 9th of June 2021 at Emperors’ Palace, and when it participates in the GBCSA’s annual Green Building Convention in October this year. They have also created a series of new “Building for the Future” posters and social media message aimed at educating the end-market about the versatility of vinyl and how it is relied upon to help protect, heal and improve the quality of modern life.

PVC is “indispensable” for building the future

Dimond said that PVC has become “indispensable for our modern life because of its versatility, unique technical properties, recyclability and affordability.”

“We anticipate that infrastructure development in southern Africa and the rest of the African continent will continue to push the demand for PVC to well above the world average. SAVA wants to ensure that we are building and positioning our local industry in such a way that we will be able to meet the needs of these markets in the years to come and make the most of every opportunity that is afforded to us,” Dimond concludes.

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Apple’s roadmap to becoming carbon neutral

Apple has recently announced a roadmap which detailed its plan to reduce emissions by 75 percent by the year 2030. The plan will also outline ways to develop carbon removal solutions for the remaining 25 percent of its footprint. 

In the first decade of the roadmap, Apple plans to lower emissions with a series of actions. This will include the use of low carbon and recycled materials in its products, find new ways to recycle products and design energy-efficient products. 

Low carbon product design

In 2019, Apple was able to reduce its carbon footprint by 4.3 million metric tons through recycled content innovations in its products. Apple will continue its usage of recycled and low carbon materials in its products and will design future products to be as energy-efficient as possible. 

In the last year, all of Apple’s Mac, iPad, iPhone, and Apple Watch products were built with recycled components. This included 100 percent recycled rare earth elements in the iPhone Taptic Engine.

Expanding on Energy Efficiency

In 2019, Apple invested in energy-efficient upgrades to more than 6.4 million square feet of new and existing buildings. This lowered their electricity needs and saved the company $27 million. 

Last year 92 facilities took part in Apple’s Supplier Energy Efficiency Program. They managed to avoid producing more than 770 000 metric tons of supply chain carbon emissions. 

Apple has also entered into a new partnership with US-China Green Fund and will invest

$100 million in accelerated energy efficiency projects for their suppliers. 

Focus on renewable energy

Apple will continue to focus on creating new projects and transferring its supply chain to clean energy. More than 70 of Apple’s suppliers have committed to using 100 per cent renewable energy for Apple products. This will be the equivalent of almost 8 gigawatts in commitments to power the manufacturing of its products. When this is completed, more than 14.3 million metric tons of CO2Ee will be avoided annually. 

More than 80 per cent of renewable energy that Apple sources for its facilities are from Apple-created projects that benefit communities and other businesses. 

Improvements to process and materials

Apple is currently supporting the development of the very first direct carbon-free aluminium smelting process by investing and collaborating with two of its aluminium suppliers. 

Apple also announced that the first batch of low carbon aluminium has been used in the production of the 16-inch MacBook Pro.

In 2019 Apple was able to drastically reduce emissions from fluorinated gases which are used in the manufacturing of some consumer electronics components. 

Investing in conservation

Apple has recently announced its carbon solutions fund that will invest in the restoration and conservation of forests and natural ecosystems. The company has partnered with Conservation International and will invest in new projects and continue the work of restoring the natural landscape. This includes the degraded savannas of Kenya and the mangrove ecosystem of Colombia. 

With the help of The Conservation Fund, the World Wildlife Fund, and Conservation International, Apple has been able to protect and improve the management of more than one million acres of forests and natural climate of Kenya, China, the US and Colombia. 

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