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South African energy start-up takes aim at solar fees

South African local energy start-up Wetility is confident it can add value to the country’s residential solar installation market and believes it is ideally positioned to help consumers avoid additional solar fees.

Recent media reports detailed new tariff plans by South Africa’s power supplier Eskom, including the proposal to charge consumers a split tariff made up of a volumetric energy usage charge and a fixed daily network charge.

According to the reports, this equates to an increase in the amount payable for those with solar panels.

Vincent Maposa, CEO of Wetility.
Vincent Maposa, CEO of Wetility.

Vincent Maposa, CEO of Wetility, says: "Eskom's bid to create an additional solar fee would just push existing and new solar users to increasingly move their energy requirements off-grid. This is because these solar users could start to rely more on their PV and battery storage systems, and less on Eskom. This will become even more possible over time owing to continuously falling solar costs and ever-improving battery storage. In turn, this could risk nullifying or reducing any extra solar fees that Eskom is seeking, and thereby exacerbate the load-shedding problem."

Wetility’s value proposition is the installation of what it calls a Pay at Pace solution involving the installation of hybrid rooftop solar systems on homes — which includes solar panels as well as its hi-tech PACE device — at no upfront cost to homeowners.

“Homeowners then receive always-on power from these systems via an affordable monthly lease or power purchase agreement. Commercial businesses have been benefitting from monthly payment options such as these for years, but Wetility is among the first to make this an option for the residential market in South Africa,” the company asserts.

Maposa adds: “Crucially, this Pay at Pace model can cost less than the user’s existing monthly bill with Eskom or their municipality, especially at a time when electricity tariffs from these entities are set to rise in 2021. A calculator on Wetility’s website illustrates how this savings model can work.”

“The introduction of this breakthrough offering comes at a time when more South Africans will need to mitigate against the risk of load-shedding, especially with work from home becoming a greater reality during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” says Maposa.

PACE, We-X system

Wetility says it is able to deliver this approach thanks to its personalised 360 experience, at the heart of which is its PACE device - a minimalist and compact cabinet enclosure that comprises a hybrid inverter, lithium-ion batteries and switchgear.

The PACE, in turn, is connected to rooftop PV solar. This compact hybrid system can service up to 70-80% of a typical home’s energy needs.

The brain of this offering is Wetility’s cloud service in the form of an intelligent and data-driven remote monitoring software We-X.

According to the company, this cloud service offers customer support and full analysis of one’s energy usage in real-time as well as monthly savings on one’s energy bills.

“Wetility’s hybrid solution is grid-connected when the power is up and running, but it islands from the grid during power outages. When the sun is shining, you can get all of your energy from the system. The interplay with the grid allows you to still use some power from your municipality or Eskom if the weather, for instance, is overcast for extended periods of time.”

The start-up company aims to carry out 1000 solar installations in Gauteng this year, with 80% of these being in the residential market and the remaining 20% in the business sector.

From 2022 onwards, Wetility seeks to ramp this up to over 60 000 installations over at least a five-year period with over 180MW of installed capacity.

The business says it has received backing from investors in the US and South Africa, including Gauteng’s Growth and Development Agency’s Innovation Hub. 

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