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The next big shift in SA’s energy infrastructure is a mass deployment of high-voltage battery systems

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. The lack of power security and insufficient supply is like a giant lead weight sinking the economy, and it is no surprise that we are seeing a surge in inquiries from critical players in agriculture, manufacturing, residential and commercial property management and development as well as the education sector.

Businesses in crucial sectors of the economy realise that they must take control of their energy security and more and more business leaders are realising 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. What was a lofty ideal a few years ago, the shift towards net neutrality is front and centre worldwide. South African businesses have no choice but to accept this, and accept 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 days of that paradox are numbered.

Finally, with the weight of overwhelming evidence about the critical state of the climate and our planet, surely no one can justify investing in further harm to the planet? If this moral obligation is not urgent yet, consider that much of our workforce and consumer population is made up of Millennials and Gen Z. While different, both age groups value purpose and actively pressure their employers and brands they support to embrace various environmental, social and governance (ESG) causes. They’re also known to reject businesses and brands that don’t. Activist shareholders are increasingly demanding accountability and this pressure will continue to grow.

It is abundantly clear that the perfect storm of pitiful electricity supply combined with economic and social factors create an environment for HV BESS systems to become almost synonymous with electricity security in the South African industry.

The technology and benefits of HV BESS have 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 investments as needed.

HV BESS systems are either being investigated or deployed in farming and downstream agricultural contexts, manufacturing, retail centres, and more, to provide power backup capacity for when the inevitable happens and Eskom plunges the country into darkness. 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 power backup power to ensure critical systems such as refrigeration and security are unaffected by protracted power cuts. Businesses have realised that high-voltage systems enable them to reduce their energy costs by mitigating 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 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. 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 and prayer that municipalities and the national utility will finally get their act together, it is obvious that the next big shift in our power landscape this year and beyond will be the mass rollout of HV LiFePO4 BESS systems.

  • Dickerson is the MD and co-founder of REVOV, a leading LiFePO4 battery supplier in sub-Saharan Africa, for both large-scale industrial and residential applications.