Electrical Power & Protection

Renewable energy early adopters – we’ve got some good news

September 2023 Electrical Power & Protection

As the country struggles to find some form of power provision normalcy, it is encouraging to see how many businesses and homes are moving to renewable and alternative energy resources to substitute and stabilise energy demand and usage.

Most of the renewable energy installations, particularly solar, are ticking all the boxes when it comes to realistically delivering on the promised returns whilst transitioning to a greener source of energy. The market is becoming more educated, and the playing field competitive, as more providers emerge to meet the demands of this burgeoning industry.

But what about the early adopters, those businesses and even homes that started implementing renewable energy resources after South Africa first experienced daily loadshedding in January 2008?

The subsequent fallout of 2008 also saw dramatic hikes in the cost of power, which again encouraged businesses to use solar and other renewable resources whilst relying on fossil fuel power generators as alternative sources of energy to ensure continuity of their business operations.

Mark Freeman.

Nishandra Baijnath.

Fast forward to 2023 and these renewable sources such as solar arrays are no longer just a valuable cost saver but also an integral part of keeping businesses running. Coupling this with a diesel generator (genset) of some sort ensures that the business can power through the rolling blackouts that have become the de facto standard. However, this is also where we hit a snag.

Many of these systems are not equipped to seamlessly switchover from the grid to solar supply without some form of interruption, or optimise the use of the genset to reduce the consumption of fuel.

A real-life example is your local shopping centre, which goes pitch dark for a few minutes every time loadshedding starts or the grid returns as a result of the automatic changeover unit swinging the load from the grid to the genset, and then back again when the grid supply returns.

A genset is necessary to provide the critical voltage reference for the solar system, but this PV system does not communicate with the genset to reduce its output when the solar PV system has the capability to manage most of the load. Not only is this frustrating and even a bit unnerving, but the interruption in power supply inflicts havoc on PoS systems, HVACs and other technologies.

New pieces of the puzzle

The reality is, older solar or other renewable systems do not offer smart and intelligent system integration. The limited functionality in these types of systems does not provide the flexibility required to manage multiple energy sources whilst at the same time handling interconnected loads in the most efficient manner.

For a system to be smart, it must be able to communicate with the devices part of the system, whilst possessing the intelligence to manage the energy and power with interconnected loads operating in parallel with the grid, or disconnected from the grid in an islanded manner, all in real time. If not, it can result in damaged equipment and interruption in operations and safety issues, whilst both mitigating energy generation through the solar system and reducing the consumption of fuel of the genset.

For solar energy to start running immediately, it needs a reference point, and this is where battery backup comes into play. Older grid inverters must also be replaced with hybrid inverters to allow for seamless switchover between various energy sources such as solar, batteries and grid.

Put in layman’s terms, a hybrid inverter uses DC power (from the solar panels or backup battery) and converts it to AC power that is usable in your home or any other building that requires electrical energy. Alternatively, it can use AC power from the grid to convert to DC power that is used to charge the batteries that store this energy in the form of DC power.

The second last piece of the puzzle is then battery energy storage. Due to the variability of solar power generation (due to unpredictable weather conditions, for example), it is not always possible to use it as it is generated. Batteries allow a means to store this generated energy for use at a later stage, or facilitate the few seconds switchover from AC from solar to grid and the other way around.

The last and very important piece of the puzzle is power and energy management software. At Schneider Electric our EcoStruxure Microgrid Operation power management system is located on site and provides the critical edge control necessary for the resilience and stability of the microgrid.

It is a real-time system with deterministic algorithms to manage intelligent electronic devices (IEDs) and generators using the local scada/HMI, and managing the state of operation for islanding and reconnection, thereby providing the stability and fuel reduction.

Our EcoStruxure Microgrid Advisor is a cloud-based energy management system (EMS) that manages the optimal use of energy resources. It features artificial intelligence (AI) for load/generation forecasting using machine learning (ML) and holistic optimisation. This EMS uses a hybrid approach with cloud and edge functionality for automatic optimisation of distributed energy resources (DER) operation by controlling when to consume, produce or store energy according to the applicable electricity tariff rate, whilst providing a web-based HMI for facility and energy managers. This further extends the functionality of the microgrid system for participation in demand response mechanisms like in a virtual power plant.

Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure Microgrid Operation maximises renewable energy use by offering the following features:

• Simple, robust and scalable, with pre-configurated solutions for small, medium or large sites.

• Provides resilience with advanced power management functionalities on load management, loadshedding, black start and load restoration.

• Compatible with existing microgrid DER control solution.

• Offers grid-connected energy optimisation by adding EcoStruxure Microgrid Advisor, which allows buildings to dynamically control onsite energy resources and loads to optimise your facility’s performance.

• Configurable for small and medium sites with EcoStruxure Microgrid Build.

• Advanced cybersecurity features.

Once all the pieces of the puzzle are in place − hybrid inverter, battery storage and energy management − businesses will be able to truly reap the benefits of their initial investment in renewable energy whilst enjoying a fuel cost reduction, without reinventing the wheel.


Share this article:
Share via emailShare via LinkedInPrint this page

Further reading:

Bringing brownfield plants back to life
Schneider Electric South Africa IT in Manufacturing
Today’s brownfield plants are typically characterised by outdated equipment and processes, and face challenges ranging from inefficient operations to safety hazards. However, all is not lost, as these plants stand to gain a lot from digitalisation and automation.

Power supply with scalability optimised
Schneider Electric South Africa Electrical Power & Protection
Schneider Electric has introduced the Easy UPS 3-Phase Modular to the South African marketplace. This robust uninterruptible power supply (UPS) is designed to protect critical loads while offering third-party verified Live Swap functionality.

Prioritising arc flash safety
Comtest Electrical Power & Protection
Comtest has developed a range of thermal imaging and wireless testing tools from Fluke, designed to ensure safety is the top priority for engineers working in potentially dangerous arc flash zones.

Driving the future – EVs are the ultimate opportunity for South Africa
Electrical Power & Protection
Sustainable transport is taking centre stage in the Western world, as efforts to address climate change ramp up. Innovations and advancements in electric vehicles are gaining speed, with more options set to become available.

Thrust for hybrid electric flying
Electrical Power & Protection
Several leading academic institutes in Germany are collaborating on the future of hybrid electric flying. The partners are researching an entirely new propulsion system for medium-range aircraft with up to 35 passengers.

Industrial signal conditioning
Omniflex Remote Monitoring Specialists Electrical Power & Protection
Automation for Industry 4.0, process control, data acquisition, and alarm processing all rely on the conversion of physical signals to a standardised, usable format, that engineered systems can reliably use to manage industrial processes.

Process automation in 2024
Schneider Electric South Africa News
Q&A with Hennie Colyn, direct sales executive, Process Automation at Schneider Electric.

Schneider Electric continues to lead the way
Schneider Electric South Africa News
Schneider Electric has confirmed its spot on the Corporate Knights 2024 Global 100 list of Most Sustainable Corporations in the World for the 13th time in a row.

Always keeping an eye on the measured values
ifm - South Africa Electrical Power & Protection
Despite growing digitalisation, there are still many situations where analogue measured values such as the level in a tank or the temperature of a climatised room must be directly readable in the control cabinet or at the control desk. The current loop display is designed for precisely this purpose.

Modular stack light
Turck Banner Southern Africa Electrical Power & Protection
Preassembled or configurable multi-segment LED tower light indicators replace conventional stack lights, which often require time-consuming assembly and complex wiring.