Overcoming manufacturing downtime with the use of rooftop solar

In response to South Africa’s national power utility Eskom’s challenge to meet the nation’s energy demand, alternative energy sources are being thoroughly explored and it appears that an answer to South Africa’s short, medium and long-term energy supplies lies in renewables. South Africa is recognised for having abundant natural energy sources, including a sunny climate with the capacity to produce an ample supply of solar energy. The ongoing load shedding presents unrivalled opportunities for rooftop solar entities. It is crucial that manufacturers are educated on the extensive benefits that solar holds in store for their businesses and the annual Manufacturing Indaba serves as the perfect platform for solar solution companies to enlighten them and ultimately expand their customer base.

First and foremost, large manufacturing facilities represent the ideal space for solar system installations as their sizeable, flat roofs enable a substantial surface area for installing not only more solar panels, but lengthier strings that catch more sunlight, thereby generating even more electricity. Furthermore, manufacturing plants are typically located in industrial parks and other outlying areas, isolated from overshadowing skyscrapers in city centres that conceal solar panels from the sunlight. Therefore, manufacturing factories can reap greater benefits from solar PV installation for extended periods of uninterrupted sunlight translating into greater energy generation, and thereby increasing the return on investment. Moreover, manufacturers can take advantage of installing solar panels on the vast expanse of rooftops of their parking lots and carports, which undoubtedly service a multitude of vehicles belonging to its workers. This presents versatile utilisation of space that would have otherwise been wasted.

Rooftop solar systems generate electricity during the daylight, coinciding with the peak hours of most factory operations. Hence, while the sun is out, manufacturing facilities have the option to either limit their dependence on the national grid or abandon it completely. This reliable power backup ensures manufacturing productivity during peak hours, thereby translating into greater profits.

Further, going solar reduces, and may eventually eliminate, a manufacturer’s reliance on diesel backup for generators to ensure uninterrupted power. In addition, solar requires minimal maintenance, having no moving parts and is silent thus doesn’t contribute to an already loud factory environment. Additionally, rooftop solar PV systems can be tailored specifically to meet a factory’s unique space, energy and budget requirements.

Energy Security Rooftop Solar PV plants have capacity to support designated loads or all connected loads if load shedding occurs during the day. What’s more, solar PV plants can provide battery storage solutions, thereby supporting factories at night.

It consequently remains evident that the manufacturing sector can profit considerably from solar power solutions. Industrial factories utilise a significant amount of electricity during the production process and this energy constitutes a major expense for the utility, as well as contributing to a significant amount of pollution to power the plant. Increased energy consumption coupled with the expected increase in retail electricity prices in the commercial sector purports that manufacturers will inevitably be confronted with higher expenses, ultimately eating into a significant portion of their bottom-line. Large-scale commercial solar panel installations provide tremendous cost-cutting benefits for manufacturers and there is no better time than now for industrialists to capitalise on solar technologies.

Load shedding, the intentional and temporary reduction of electricity supply to manage power demand and prevent grid overload, can have a significantly negative impact on manufacturers. These effects can vary depending on the frequency, duration and severity of the power cuts, as well as the type of manufacturing processes involved.

Here are some of the key impacts:

Production Disruption: Load shedding disrupts manufacturing processes by causing unplanned downtime. This leads to reduced production output, delayed orders and an overall decrease in productivity. Manufacturers may struggle to meet customer demands and face challenges in maintaining production schedules.

Supply Chain Disruption: Manufacturing often relies on a complex network of suppliers, partners and customers. Load shedding can disrupt this supply chain, leading to delayed deliveries of raw materials, components and finished products. This, in turn, affects the entire ecosystem and can lead to financial losses.

Quality Control Issues: Fluctuations in power supply during load shedding can affect the quality and consistency of products. Sensitive manufacturing processes, such as those involving precision machinery, electronics and chemical reactions, are particularly vulnerable to interruptions, resulting in defects and rejections.

Increased Costs: Manufacturers may need to invest in backup power solutions, such as generators or uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems, to mitigate the impact of load shedding. These solutions come with initial costs, maintenance expenses and fuel expenses, all of which can strain the company’s budget.

Lower Profitability: Reduced production output, increased downtime, and added costs contribute to lower profitability for manufacturers. The inability to operate at full capacity and fulfil orders can lead to missed revenue opportunities and eroded profit margins.

Loss of Competitiveness: Consistency and reliability are key factors in maintaining competitiveness. Manufacturers that frequently experience load shedding may struggle to meet delivery commitments and quality expectations, potentially leading to loss of market share and damaged customer relationships.

Innovation and Growth: Manufacturers looking to adopt advanced technologies, such as automation and Industry 4.0 solutions, often require a stable energy supply. Load shedding can hinder the implementation of such technologies, impeding innovation and growth.

Contractual Obligations: Manufacturers operating under contracts with strict delivery timelines can face legal and financial repercussions if load shedding leads to breaches of these agreements.

Economic Impact: Load shedding’s impact on manufacturing extends to the broader economy. Manufacturing contributes significantly to employment and economic growth. When manufacturers face challenges due to load shedding, it can lead to job losses, reduced economic output, and hinder overall development.