New battery technologies make large-scale adoption of alternative energy possible

With escalating electricity costs and an unstable power supply worsening our fragile post-pandemic economy, businesses are seeking to reduce their dependence on Eskom and capitalise on South Africa’s abundant solar energy. However, while the grid-tied solar systems favoured as a cost-effective solution can provide substantial energy cost savings while the sun shines, they don’t protect businesses from the disruptive pain of loadshedding. The real gamechanger is incorporating new affordable, efficient energy storage systems that enable hybrid solar solutions for business, says Frank Rovelli of power and energy solutions company Probe.

According to Rovelli, energy density and usable capacity over a battery lifecycle are the keys to real alternative energy ROI. “As battery technologies advance and batteries become more efficient, long-lasting, faster charging, affordable and take up less space – the business case for hybrid solar installations improves,” says Rovelli. “We’re seeing massive improvements in energy storage capacity and round-trip efficiency, while the investment and space required for battery banks reduces. This makes effective large-scale adoption of solar technologies possible. Modular set-ups further enable businesses to scale up systems by adding additional battery storage as needed, like lego.”

As an importer and distributor of batteries for over 60 years, Probe has a specialist team that remains on the cusp of leading battery storage technologies. The Probenergy division was formed in 2018 to focus specifically on alternative energy solutions from world-class suppliers, and now offers a Probenergy range as well as other Tier One products. “We’re constantly seeing leaps in the round-trip efficiency of battery technologies, particularly in Graphene based supercapacitors. Graphene Supercapacitors can now deliver four times the power of a lithium battery, in the same form factor. Further advances in supercapacitor technologies such as solid state graphene make effective solar installations for businesses, even major energy consumers, possible.”

Lithium batteries store energy electrochemically, whereas supercapacitor modules store it electrostatically, a safer, more energy dense form of storage. Solid state supercapacitors created with Encapsulated Hybrid Graphene are a further leap, more than doubling cell, module and volumetric energy density and eliminating degradation.

“Many manufacturers of lithium ion batteries claim 6000 max cycles and a ten year lifespan, but with several qualifying requirements. These include controlled depth of discharge; an operating temperature of 25 degrees Celsius; and that discharge and recharge rates are maintained. However, the real factors that impact the lifespan and performance of a battery and include available power in the battery at the various levels; time and depth of discharge and operating temperatures. It is a fact that lithium batteries lose efficiency and capacity over time. This must to be taken into account when the system is designed, to ensure you can meet the actual power demand of the application over time,” says Rovelli.

Rovelli believes graphene-based supercapacitors are the future of solar energy. “They’re the most efficient, fastest charging, longest lasting, scaleable battery investment for commercial solar on the market. Graphene supercapacitors offer greater than 20,000 cycles, 4 cycles a day, for 10 years and beyond, up to a 43000 cycles, with a maximum degradation loss of 10% during their life span and no loss of efficiency, which remains at around 90%. Graphene Supercapacitors can also be charged and discharged at rates 3 to 5 times faster than lithium batteries. There is minimal heat generation and they don’t require cooling.”

“The fact that they can be joined in series with any type of battery makes them compatible with existing systems and futureproof, you’ll be able to add batteries of all types in the future,” Rovelli adds.

Containerised solutions that maximise the potential of supercapacitors are an innovation championed by the Probenergy team, where businesses have a customised fully integrated energy solution constructed and delivered in a container. Again, battery technologies make the difference, says Rovelli. “New generation graphene supercapacitors mean you can accommodate up to 8MWH in a 40ft containerized solution, making these solutions economically viable. The construction of the super cap module allows for localised mass production to meet the demands of the country.”

Advanced energy storage solutions are good news for business globally, but even more so in the South African energy environment, where Eskom’s disruptions weigh up against our abundant sunshine. “The right energy storage solution with your solar PV installation can not only ensure businesses have consistent power, a major issue as loadshedding continues, but will also create major utility savings over time when managed effectively,” says Rovelli. “Commercial customers pay higher rates for peak time usage, called demand charges, which form a significant portion of total electricity costs. Businesses with efficient energy storage are able to draw power from stored solar energy during peak times, avoiding higher peak demand charges.”

While these technologies pay off over time, the initial capital outlay can be daunting and it can be challenging to get solar installations financed. Probe has partnered with banks and funders to offer Rent-to-Own/ Lease solutions, helping clients invest in their power. “The right financial solution turns CAPEX into manageable OPEX over time, making accessing the most appropriate scaleable technologies for different businesses accessible. The Graphene Supercapacitor now makes it possible to price and match the storage solution over the life of the solar system – this making budgeting more accurate and predictable.”

The Carbon Tax Act further makes solar PV an essential tool for business to reduce carbon tax burdens and meet environmental responsibility requirements. Tax incentives allow South African taxpayers to deduct 100% of the costs of a solar installation of less than 1 MW from their taxable income in the year of its commissioning.

Rovelli says that it is critical that businesses turn to reputable providers as a first step. “Solar installers are mushrooming everywhere you look. You need a provider who can solve the challenges of commercial solar by offering not just the best battery technologies and competitively priced Tier one products with a scaleable, modular approach, but also detailed energy assessments, excellent ongoing maintenance and service, and rent-to-own financing options. At Probe, we are battery experts, and we’re committed to taking the best power solutions across Africa.”

Call Probenergy on +27 86 111 3507 for an energy assessment and let us help you invest in your power.