Hassle-free solar solutions – Director of SolarSaver Stuart Batchelor unpacks the solution to a problem

South Africans may have become accustomed to the persistent load shedding but it is understandably causing much frustration among citizens, businesses and industry. As a result, attention has shifted towards alternative power sources. BizNews spoke to the director of SolarSaver, a group that was founded on the concept of providing clients with unique solar solutions without requiring them to put up any capital or financial guarantees. Stuart Batchelor touched on selling solar under a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA), saying it would relieve businesses from operational responsibilities. One of the greatest benefits of the solar solution is that it is capex-free, so there are massive savings to be made, as opposed to using municipal city power. For ore information click here. – Sharidyn Rogers

The SolarSaver business approach: 

We started in 2016 as a solar engineering company, doing EPCs and selling solar assets. What we found in the market was that a lot of people were a bit sceptical or cautious to invest in the solar fields because it was very expensive and they weren’t too sure how long we or other parties would be around. So, there was a bit of concern about the longevity of these businesses. We pivoted and raised a solar fund so we could offer solar as a rent-to-own and a PPA contract. Businesses would be reassured that we would sell power and take all the responsibility; we would do the cleaning, maintenance, the operation of the asset and they would get on with their own business. So, that was the original approach, to move into a PPA model.

Putting out solar under a Power Purchase Agreement: 

We raised the fund and started offering solar under the PPAs and grew from there. We still sell solar and we do get the odd client who wants that, but predominantly our business is putting out solar but under PPA models.

How SolarSaver experienced business growth: 

When we initially started, we called a lot of people, trying to get the business going and it just ramped up. We were swamped. We’ve grown and now have offices all across South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. We’ve got 370-odd sites. It’s just been massive growth, especially with all the recent load shedding. Every time there’s been load shedding, our phones just ring off the hook. When there are price increases in April or July, depending on the municipality, same thing. The phones ring and we have massive demand. So, it’s a good business.

SolarSaver geographic focus: 

Our main focus has been Namibia. It was where we started predominantly and we are back in South Africa, obviously. Over the last couple of months, we opened up in Botswana. Those are the only countries that we are focusing on at the moment. We get approached from all over Africa; we’ve had enquiries from Ghana, Nigeria, Zanzibar but we want to grow sustainably and still offer the service that we can. We are staying focused on southern Africa for the moment and want to make sure we deliver on that promise.

The process of buying solar: 

It’s a pretty straightforward process and we want to make it as easy and hassle-free for the clients as possible. When we get approached, we’ll obtain an electricity bill from the customer and look at the location. We do a model of the whole site and, based on the bills, calculate how much solar is needed and make a recommendation. Then we do a design based on the location and the building and present a proposal on how much solar is required and the tariff we charge. Once we receive the go-ahead, we do all the council applications and structural assessments, and then we do the installation. There is no cost to the client at all during this whole process. The customer purchases electricity on a monthly basis; however much the solar produces, that’s what you pay. If it breaks or goes down, or if it’s a rainy month, there’s no cost involved, obviously. If at any stage the client wishes to purchase the system, they pay the original purchase price at the start of the contract less depreciation.

Hurdles encountered with engaging ICASA: 

This is one of our biggest challenges. We find that municipal applications are very time-consuming and delay a lot of projects. We have a huge pile of signed contracts that are just waiting for council approval. It does depend on municipalities or if there is a direct Eskom feed. Some municipalities have got no process at all, and then we have to guide them on what other municipalities are doing. Still, other municipalities seem a bit reluctant to have any solar at all and just delay the process as much as they can. Eskom feeds are not consistent across the country and some Eskom branches are more difficult than others, but that is our biggest challenge at the moment.

The saving cost of using SolarSaver power: 

It depends on the solar yield at your building and how big the system is. The solar tariff we can offer is dependent on that. Typically, it will be under around R4 per kilowatt-hour of solar power. If you compare that with the municipal city power, it’s at around R1.60 or R1.70. At peak times, Ekurhuleni is sitting at R6 or R7 a kilowatt hour. There are massive savings to be made without any capex. There are huge opportunities.

Whether people can get in touch with SolarSaver: 

We have several in-house teams that we’ve trained to do our installations and we have a lot of capacity at the moment. There are 40 sites that must be completed before the end of the year and we have scaled up to do numerous small sites simultaneously. That has been our focus rather than tackling the huge solar farms and doing megawatts at one specific site.

COP26 to boost visibility of SolarSaver

It has been an amazing, amazing result. We’re very excited about it and hope it can be managed effectively without any corruption and unnecessary delays along the way. I believe it’s going to drive a lot of growth in the sector. At the moment, we’re just trying to do what we can with our solar, but it’s definitely up in the market and exciting times in this sector.

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