Power shortages, rolling black-outs, policy uncertainty and electricity price hikes are pushing business owners to look for alternative solutions to Eskom.

Sunshine is a resource southern Africa has in abundance, making solar an obvious solution, and many solar installers have sprung up in response to demand.

However, business owners need to consider both capital investment and the cost of ongoing maintenance and cleaning when selecting a long-term solution, says Lance Green of energy company SolarSaver.

SolarSaver offers a unique model that addresses both capital and maintenance costs by installing solar photovoltaic solutions on a rent-to-own basis as well as monitoring and maintaining the systems.

With many business owners reluctant to allocate millions of rands of capital expenditure to purchase a solar installation and maintain it in this tough economic environment, the concept has proven popular and SolarSaver now manages the largest fleet of self-financed rooftop installations in southern Africa.

Substantial investment backing from the Pembani-Remgro Infrastructure Fund (PRIF), a $435-million private equity fund established by Phuthuma Nhleko and Johann Rupert that focuses on infrastructure and energy-related investments in Africa, has enabled the company to grow its portfolio in South Africa.

“While solar solutions are becoming increasingly affordable, few companies are able to offer solutions that don’t require major upfront capital investment and ongoing maintenance costs,” says Green. “SolarSaver customised systems are designed and installed free-of-charge, and clients only pay for the cheaper, greener power that is produced.

“It’s in our interest to ensure that these systems are operating at peak performance and the fact that we take care of all monitoring, cleaning and maintenance are proving to be a huge advantage for clients.”

Green says the associated costs for the maintenance and professional cleaning required cannot be underestimated. “While photovoltaic hardware systems are long-lasting, the panels must be kept clean to ensure that the system operates at full capacity,” says Green. “The accumulation of fine dirt particles on the surface of the solar photovoltaic panel greatly impacts how much light energy can reach the solar cells.”

Results from SolarSaver installations concur with international studies that show solar panel output is boosted by up to 80% after professional cleaning with de-ionised water. Clients OK Minimarket Meyerton, Lifestyle Square Rustenburg, Sandvik and Aranda Textiles showed output improvements of between 20% and 30%. Ice Cash & Carry in Ballito saw output increase by 38.13% after cleaning, while Emalahleni Private Hospital saw a 55,75% increase. Some businesses, in fact, showed over 80% improvement, with Burger King Lynwood Mall coming in at 86,75% and Mtuba Mall boosted by 83.06%.

The frequency of cleaning depends on climatic zones and is largely based on the weather and dust activity level, according to Green. “We’re finding that Gauteng-based businesses require more frequent cleaning than coastal businesses due to the dusty conditions and pollution.”

Regular monitoring and cleaning also ensure that any maintenance issues, such as small cracks, can be quickly identified and addressed.

“Our systems are installed at no cost and SolarSaver electricity tariffs are significantly cheaper than the equivalent cost of grid power, so our clients get to start saving on their electricity bills from day one,” says Green. “When you consider that all subsequent cleaning is included, this really is the CAPEX-free, hassle-free way to take advantage of solar power.”