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Tackling the challenges presented by time-of-use electricity billing

By Jack Ward, CEO of Soltra Energy


With the fragility of Eskom’s nation-wide power grid, due to poor, underfunded maintenance programmes, it has become imperative for consumers to increase energy efficiencies and boost investments in renewable resources, such as solar PV.

That said, today energy efficiency is a multi-faceted goal. It is not simply about using less grid-supplied electricity; it is about using less electricity when it matters most – during peak times. This will increase in importance and significance with the introduction of ‘time-of-use’ (ToU) billing, currently being rolled out in many municipalities around South Africa.

Ostensibly, the purpose of ToU billing is to level the cost of retail power so it better matches Eskom’s wholesale energy costs, as paid by the municipalities. Undoubtedly, ToU will also be expected to boost the municipalities’ coffers as electricity is a ‘cash-cow’ for many of them.

The introduction of so-called ‘smart meters’ which will automatically hike electricity prices at peak times (in the morning and afternoon) is well underway – albeit behind schedule.

Smart metering should motivate a change in customer behaviour. Because the technology will allow consumers to monitor their usage, it will provide an incentive for them to opt for different consumption patterns in a bid to flatten the usage graph.

However, ToU billing will present challenges: “ToU billing could completely sabotage your utility bill… or save significant amounts of money,” says one industry commentator.

So…. what is the best way to minimise the ‘sabotage’ aspect and maximise cost savings? In other words, is there an option to use power during high-demand times while getting charged low-demand prices?

This is where a home battery pack comes in. It allows users to store energy when the cost is lowest, and use it whenever it is needed, particularly at night when rates are at their highest.

Importantly, a home battery pack will also offer some energy security in the face of South Africa’s vulnerable power grid characterised by regular blackouts. For those who depend on electricity to power life-essential medical machinery, or for households that use electricity to heat their homes during the winter months, this sort of energy security can be significant.

The next step would be to add a solar PV system. The batteries can also store the energy generated by the sun during the day, having it ready for use at night.

While solar panels give consumers the opportunity to maximise their benefits by generating free energy, the home battery pack is the key to storing the energy from the grid, the sun and maybe other sources and using it optimally with the best return on investment (ROI) in mind.

This is the central tenant of the concept of ‘self-consumption’ which ToU billing is sure to promote. Self-consumption describes the principle of using the energy from renewable resources as it produced, or storing it in batteries for later use.

Self-consumption of energy is characterised by the regular charging and discharging of storage batteries. This regular daily cycling of the batteries ensures that every Watt of power produced by your panels is set off against your utility bill at the end on the month so maximising your use of the sun.