As we enter the new year, one safe prediction is that power outages will continue to be one of the major challenges that South African businesses need to navigate.

By Chris Kruger, MD of Nashua Kopano

But businesses are not only contending with near-daily load shedding, but they are also facing continuous increases in the tariffs they pay for an unreliable power supply. They are also under pressure to reduce carbon emissions.

Businesses that are best able to protect themselves against the disruptions and high operational costs of load shedding and the impact of higher-than-inflation electricity price increases will thus be able to get a significant competitive advantage. In this context, it’s vital for every organisation to become smarter about power consumption as well as to investigate alternative energy solutions.

Here are six steps your business can take to improve energy resilience and efficiency in the year ahead:

Partner with a trusted energy solutions provider

Energy efficiency and access to power should be treated as a strategic concern rather than as a tactical matter. A good starting point is to seek a partner that can help you achieve higher levels of sustainability and energy efficiency in your business. Find a partner that can look at your energy needs from a holistic perspective and work with you to shape a long-term plan.

With the cost of hardware plummeting due to the high demand and overstocking, the only real variable becomes a trusted energy solutions provider. As energy is a long-term investment, you need to make sure you partner with a company that has been around for a long time and will continue to be here when you will require future maintenance and changes.

Audit your energy usage

Before implementing alternative or backup energy solutions, start with an audit of your current energy consumption. This will help you to understand your electricity usage patterns as well as any potential wastage of energy in your environment.

Smart electricity data/usage loggers using Internet of Things (IoT) technology and intelligent automation software can help produce the accurate data you need to optimise energy consumption.

Improve efficiencies

Before you implement alternative or backup power solutions, it makes sense to improve your energy efficiency. IoT driven innovations such as smart thermostats, smart lighting and smart plugs can help you to avoid wastage of power by, for example, keeping lighting on when no one is in the office or leaving energy-intensive appliances and equipment on when not in use.

Other quick wins can come from replacing less energy-efficient devices and equipment–such as older printers and computers–with newer gear. This approach enables you to reduce consumption and start transitioning to alternative energy, with a focus on choosing a solution correctly sized for your more energy efficient business.

Create your roadmap

With a more optimised environment and a clearer view of your energy consumption, you can start to create an energy efficiency and security strategy that meets your long-term needs. To create your roadmap, think about what is most important for your business right now and what you would like to achieve in the longer run.

In the near-term, evaluate which devices, appliances, machines, lights, and so on, you want to keep running through load shedding and for how long. This will help you to size the alternative power and backup solutions you need to meet your most immediate operational requirements.

But also take a long-term view on how you can reduce energy costs and carbon emissions through your energy strategy.

Choose and implement solutions

With a roadmap in place, you can start to roll out your energy solutions. It’s not necessary to take a big-bang approach. You can start with modular solutions that address your most immediate needs and gradually build up your energy independence. Each energy solution has its own benefits and strengths, so you need to make sure that the solution you choose supports your needs.

For example, if you have employees working from home and you want them to be online during a power outage, you might want to consider portable backup power system such as a lithium based portable power station If you have energy-intensive loads, such as industrial equipment, you may need to invest in backup diesel generators.

Solar, however, is emerging as the solution of choice for general office use. It’s cleaner and quieter than generators, reliable, and increasingly affordable. Solar comes in three major variations:

* A grid-tied system is connected to the municipal grid and uses any electricity generated from the solar panels when the sun is shining but makes up the difference needed by drawing it from the grid. Such a unit saves you money on your power bill but will not function during load shedding.

* An off-grid system is where there is no access to public electricity supply. The solar system generates power and stores any excess in batteries for use at high usage times, nighttime and cloudy days. Often these are coupled with diesel generators to prevent a complete outage. As great as this sounds, it’s just too expensive for most businesses.

* A hybrid system uses solar power during the day, with excess power charging your batteries for later use at night or during power outages. The hybrid solar system takes your solar PV, mains, batteries, and optional generator – combines and stabilises it all into one system to supply your electricity loads.

The beauty of solar is that you can start small and evolve your system according to your business needs. You can implement the solution in phases, starting first with the batteries and inverter or the panels and inverter, then adding more panels and batteries over time. With a range of financing options and tax incentives for solar investment, moving to solar makes more and more business sense.

Monitor and optimise

It’s important to continuously monitor how well your energy plan is working for you. Intelligent monitoring software can give you more detailed real-time reports, so that you can monitor your power usage and spending to track ROI from your investments. Be sure to include the business continuity and sustainability benefits in your ROI calculations.