2015: A year of solar power, battery technology advances.

2015: A year of solar power, battery technology advances.

By Jack Ward, CEO of Soltra Energy

The past year witnessed a sharp uptick in interest in South Africa for rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) power for a wide range of domestic, commercial and industrial applications. This was bolstered by an increasing determination on the part of consumers to reduce their reliance on Eskom.

Solar power – nature’s free alternative – is now seen as a cost-effective, ‘green’ solution, particularly when compared to noisy diesel- or petrol-powered generators.

Perhaps one of SA’s more memorable advances in the power provisioning field in 2015 was the development by Soltra Energy of a new installation paradigm for solar PV panels.

Soltra Energy is a leader in the field of solar PV power provisioning systems and infrastructures. Its innovative solution is set to provide businesses with more effective energy returns from rooftop solar PV solutions while boosting the often limited availability of Eskom power.

Conventional wisdom maintains solar PV panels should be orientated towards north in the southern hemisphere to allow for the most efficient power generation. The result, from a power production standpoint, is a ‘bell curve’ reflecting power increases throughout the day peaking at midday and gradually falling again to zero at sunset.

However, in a pioneering grid-linked hybrid solar PV application in Johannesburg, an east-west orientation was proposed by Soltra Energy, tested and found to be more advantageous in a business environment.

The motivation for the experiment was an Eskom electrical power supply unable to meet the business’ full demand. A complementary challenge was to reduce the aggregate electricity cost for the facility.

Soltra Energy initially evaluated power production from traditionally north-facing panels. Subsequently, various directions were tried culminating in a convention-breaking, east-west configuration which, in this application, provided significant cost advantages over a north facing system.


One of the keys to the success of the installation – and similar installations going forward – lies with its management. Sophisticated ‘smart’ power management solutions designed by Soltra Energy can now be installed and tailored to users’ needs.

These systems will, for example, complement grid power with solar power when necessary (at peak times), divert excess solar power to possible battery storage for later or after-hours use as appropriate, and engage an optional generator to integrate seamlessly into the power supply grid should battery storage become depleted.

Another breakthrough in this field in 2015 was the launch of a locally-designed ‘power wall’ lithium-ion battery pack solution and making it available to the local market ahead of a similar unit produced by US manufacturer Tesla.

Like its American counterpart, the SA-manufactured Soltra Energy Wall is designed to store excess energy, whether it is derived from the Eskom grid, from solar panels or a combination of both as found in increasingly common hybrid systems.

The attractive, space-saving unit represents a leap forward in battery storage and is expected to boost the acceptance of rooftop solar PV-plus-battery solutions in 2016 and beyond, giving SA consumers greater control over their energy usage.

Efficient battery storage could quickly become one of the biggest game-changers in the South African energy landscape, which will continue to be characterised by a mismatch between demand and supply. It’s a technology whose time has finally arrived.