Effectively harnessing South Africa’s abundant solar energy in a business environment offers both environmental and cost-saving benefits.  However, when introducing a solar solution, many companies find themselves facing unexpected challenges due to incorrect set-up and battery usage. The winning formula is to clearly understand the company’s precise energy needs upfront to implement a solution that correctly addresses requirements, both in terms of equipment set-up and choice of solar battery. This is according to Ingo Eichner from Probe, South Africa’s leading importer and distributor of batteries and solar solutions.

Eichner says that solar is not necessarily an either-or scenario.  “Obviously it is desirable to be completely off-grid.  But solar can still reap great energy saving benefits working in conjunction with the grid, providing crucial power during daylight hours, storing essential energy and converting it for later use, and only pulling in grid power when necessary.”

“Large industrial applications would typically run off a 3-phase application in order to power heavy-duty or specialist equipment,” says Eichner. “A healthcare facility or large corporate environment where any dips or surges in power could be catastrophic, would require a large bank of solar batteries to support the crucial UPS backup power.  In these environments, Probe’s lead crystal battery would be a suitable choice as the battery provides maintenance-free backup power where frequent deep cycles are required.”

At the other end of the spectrum, petrol filling stations could also successfully incorporate solar into their energy plan.  Eichner says, “During the day, solar energy would run the petrol pumps, with a smaller bank of batteries storing energy.  Then at night the solar battery bank would kick in with energy provision.  This is ultimately a cost-effective way to run a small or medium-sized business, especially in remote locations.” Here, Probe’s gel battery would be used in the solar solution, given that it charges at a slower pace and is ideal for standby power.  The AGM/ Gel type batteries are ideal in a grid-tied system from a cost benefit point of view, where batteries are only used in a power outage. There other types of batteries however these are typically mostly costly from an initial investment point of view, however Eichner believes that the customer should obtain possible alternatives to determine the life time cost of the installation and not just look at the initial cost of the battery investment.

At times companies find that their solar systems are not operating at optimal levels.  The blame is often laid at the door of specific components, such as the solar battery.

But generally, Eichner says, investigation will reveal that the industrial or business requirements have simply been underestimated. He cites the example of an 800 metre-long factory development that is powered with solar energy to run heavy machinery and a sophisticated 24-hour security system.  The battery bank kept draining and upon inspection and testing, it was found that an insufficient amount of solar panels had been installed on site.  Solar energy consumption was sky-rocketing, leaving insufficient energy remaining for recharging the battery bank. 

Eichner says, “The client was simply not harnessing enough solar energy, which meant that the batteries were being pulled into the system to continually power the site. Due to the lack of solar panels, the batteries were continually used without being sufficiently charged. To ensure an optimal system, it was necessary for the client to install a further 10 solar panels, and even a back-up generator to assist with overflow consumption.”

Eichner advises that in an industrial setting where high levels of productivity are required over long time periods, Probe’s 2v tubular battery is the ideal choice in that it offers more cycling and higher charging rates.

Eichner says that education is a key to getting people ‘solar-ready’.  “The technology is here.  At Probe we offer a variety of batteries for solar use that have been specifically designed for a variety of needs. The key is analysing whether you require standby energy, versus a high production requirement, or a tie-grid or completely off-grid solution.”