WINDHOEK, MAR 6 – The energy crisis that has hit South Africa will inevitably spill over to Namibia, as NamPower imports much of its electricity from Eskom, South Africa’s beleaguered national power provider. In 2017, Namibia sourced 45% of the country’s electricity from Eskom and Namibia potentially faces significant electricity rationing if Eskom decides to ease its power supply problems by curtailing exports of electricity to its regional neighbours.
According to Tim Frankish, Managing Director of solar energy company SolarSaver, Namibian businesses need to urgently look at alternative sources of electricity to lessen their collective dependence on South Africa and other neighbouring countries. “The long-term risk to business continuity and sustainability is very concerning. Business owners cannot afford to sit on their hands, especially when alternative options like solar are becoming more accessible and cost-effective,” said Frankish.
A plethora of solar businesses have sprung up in response to increasing electricity prices, but few offer solutions that don’t require major upfront capital investment. “Many business owners are reluctant to allocate substantial capital expenditure to purchase a solar installation, when that capital could be used to grow their core businesses,” according to Frankish. In response, SolarSaver takes a different approach: offering its clients solar photovoltaic solutions on a rent-to-own basis, eliminating the need for any capital investment on the part of clients.
“The effective cost of rented solar power is significantly cheaper than the equivalent cost of grid power, so our clients get to start saving on their electricity bills from day one,” he added.
“Our solar rental charges then only increase in line with CPI inflation, so clients’ savings grow each year as grid electricity costs increase significantly beyond that.” SolarSaver also remains responsible for all ongoing monitoring, maintenance and insurance. “We like to think of our offering as a ‘capex-free, hassle-free’ way to take advantage of solar power.”
The concept has proven extremely popular and SolarSaver now manages the largest fleet of self-financed rooftop installations in Namibia. The group has substantial investment backing from Stimulus Investments Limited (SIL), a Namibian private equity fund managed by Pointbreak, and the Pembani-Remgro Infrastructure Fund (PRIF), a US$435m international private equity fund that focuses on infrastructure and energy-related investments in Africa.
“The investments by SIL and PRIF respectively have given us the ability to substantially grow our portfolio on a sustainable basis. It’s very exciting.”
SolarSaver is, however, quick to point out that their core offering doesn’t yet solve the problem of potential load-shedding and power outages. Frankish explains,
“We’re not looking to sell expensive quick-fixes to our clients – we’re offering to invest our own capital to provide them with long-term solutions. Grid-tied solar doesn’t offer an immediate fix for the scourge of load-shedding as these solar photovoltaic systems cannot operate when there is no grid availability, but we believe that by partnering with businesses and investing with a long-term view, we can start to provide real alternatives.”
While initial solutions focus on daytime power generation through grid-tied solar, SolarSaver is already starting to update existing systems to include batteries as that technology becomes more cost-effective. Solar technology is rapidly evolving and decreasing in cost. Solar panel prices have decreased by 80% since 2008 and the lithium ion batteries used in solar applications have already halved in cost over the last two years. “Our long-term goal is to provide our clients with 24-hour power solutions through fully-financed, customised solar-battery systems,”he said.
“In the interim, our clients get to benefit from cheaper daytime electricity costs, without the expense or hassle of purchasing and managing the systems themselves.” – NDN Staffer
File Photo: Essakane hybrid power plant 15 MWp solar PV power plant in Essakane, Burkina Faso. The solar PV plant will be built next to a 55 MW Wärtsilä power plant currently running on heavy fuel oil, Africa’s largest engine-solar PV hybrid power plant.