During the Solar Power Africa conference, which took place in Cape Town this week, one of the overarching themes was the role solar storage solutions have to play in driving economic development across Africa.

In a sub-forum at the event, Huawei underlined the growing importance of residential solar PV in addressing South Africa’s energy needs, and how homeowners can contribute to reducing the demand on the power grid.

While that’s particularly true during daylight hours, coupling those PV systems with effective energy storage solutions means that they can contribute continuously. By capturing and storing renewable energy like solar power, energy storage systems provide a backup power source for South Africa’s electricity needs. Additionally, they contribute to balancing the power grid, enhancing energy efficiency, and reducing electricity costs.

Despite the significant potential of energy storage systems in South Africa, safety concerns remain a focal point. These systems involve electrical equipment and battery technology, and improper installation or maintenance may lead to risks such as fires, electrical hazards, and even adverse environmental impacts. In a challenging electricity environment like South Africa’s, ensuring the safety of energy storage systems is crucial for providing a reliable power supply.

Speaking at the sub-forum, Zhao Tianqi (Tom), vice-president of Huawei South Africa Digital Power, addressed the energy industry’s shift from natural resources to technological innovation. This shift, he pointed out, will be especially important as renewable energy becomes an increasingly important part of the world’s energy mix. There are, he said, three key drivers to accelerate the growth of the solar industry. These are carbon neutrality, energy sovereignty, and commercial value.

South Africa, he said, is well positioned to take advantage of this push, particularly with so many homes and businesses willing to embrace solar PV technology.

“We could achieve carbon neutrality in South Africa even faster than our estimation,” he said. “So maybe South Africa can be a champion in this field.”

He added, however, that if this is to happen, then the right equipment and technology will be vital. One of the most powerful examples of how seriously Huawei takes advancing the solar PV space is the fact that it has included a PV optimiser in its newly launched Luna 2.0 solution. This allows users of the system to get 15% more usable energy, meaning a better return on investment for customers. The system, also allows users to mix old and new batteries, extending the lifespan of their system and saving them money.

He also noted, however, that it’s important for suppliers and installers to partner with OEMs that have long-term ambitions in the country, and which pay serious attention to customer safety. These systems involve electrical equipment and battery technology, and improper installation or maintenance may lead to risks such as fires, electrical hazards, and even adverse environmental impacts. In a challenging electricity environment like South Africa, ensuring the safety of energy storage systems is crucial for providing a reliable power supply.

“Safety really matters,” he said. “It’s a matter of family, property, money, and life.”

This commitment to safety is reflected in how Huawei has built and developed the Fusionsolar Luna 2.0 solution. Among the most significant available safety features are shutting down the voltage to 0V in the event of an emergency and cell level monitoring, pack level protection, structural protection, and emergency protection, including a built-in intelligent fire suppression kit for each battery.

As Herman Fourie, senior solutions manager of Digital Power South Africa, pointed out, a large reason why Huawei’s able to offer these additional protections to its customers is because of its commitment to high-quality engineering talent wherever it operates.

Beyond engineering he said, “Huawei has baked safety into the aesthetic design of the Fusionsolar Luna 2.0 solution, most notably by excluding features that wear easily, such as buttons and LCD screens. It also offers a full 10-year replacement guarantee on all parts within the system.”

Fourie added that this commitment to engineering and design excellence is visible across the entire Huawei Digital Power product line, including its commercial and industrial (C&I) offerings.

“We offer a wide range of ESS solutions ranging from PowerS to Luna to our Luna 1MW and 2MW blocks,” he said. “These solutions are again based on our modular approach with which we can build up to hundreds of megawatts in our large ESS solutions.”

He added that Huawei’s unique Smart String energy storage solutions, meanwhile, allow for, “independent control of battery packs, more safety, longer life, more usable energy, and simplified operation and maintenance.

As De Wet Englebrecht, an experienced firefighter and CEO of Fire Ops SA, pointed out, this focus on safety is critical as solar PV installations come with fire risks, both from the panels themselves and from the batteries.

“As firefighters, we’ve certainly seen an increase in residential fires in South Africa,” he said. “We are dispatched to between two and four fires on a daily basis. On average, every sixth one of those is solar related.”

The fire suppression on the Luna 2.0 solution, he added, could go a long way in preventing and mitigating these kinds of fires.

“Another statistic that we’ve seen is that usually, these kinds of residential fires happen at 2 or 3 a.m. in the morning when you and your loved ones are fast asleep,” he said. “With the fire suppression system that Huawei has revolutionized the industry with, it actually suppresses the fire within the battery compartment.”

In Engelbrecht’s experience, this is unique within the industry. But fire safety isn’t the only issue that comes with energy storage solutions. As Kadri Nassiep, Executive Director (Energy) at City of Cape Town pointed out, they can also cause grid issues. In particular, he said, “the instant charging of inverter batteries when the power comes back on after a period of load shedding can destabilise the grid in secondary trips in the city’s electricity system.

“We’d like to work together with partners like Huawei and others to come up with batteries and inverters that are better designed and allow for more gradual phasing of charging once power is restored.”

According to Charl Gous, CEO of renewable energy specialist Aces Africa, dealers and installers also have a role to play in ensuring that their customers have the best possible solutions for their homes and for the grid.

“One of the biggest problems that we have at the moment is that the South African market has always been driven by price,” he said. “So, what people will do is mix and match a battery with an inverter to try and bring down the price.”

This, he added, comes with significant risks and creates issues of accountability.

“We believe that you have to have one accountable person or company at the end of the day,” he said. “So, when you are selecting a product that you are using, if you have one organisation like Huawei, there is one entity that you are holding responsible. You know that they are providing a product that is tested as a unit and also you know that you have someone to hold accountable over the long run,” concluded Gous.

The Fusionsolar Residential Luna 2.0 Solution will be available to trade partners and installers from March 2024.