BD Energy meets energy challenge head on
Peace of mind gained, transmits to employees too
COMPLAINING, as most of you by now know, doesn’t help, and complaining about Eskom really doesn’t help. In the current electricity supply situation, the urge to complain belies a deadly scenario where businesses can falter and fail. Failure to act and source alternative power supply is resulting in many companies spiraling into a no-return situation.
One of the companies in our industry that has faced up to this challenge is BD Energy of Johannesburg and Pietermaritzburg. The company’s origins lay in the decision by Conver-Tek, an injection moulding and toolmaking business at Carnival City in Brakpan, to go off-grid in 2019. Running a large number of injection moulding machines and steel cutting equipment, Conver-Tek MD, Bevan Davis believed the company would not be able to continue to support its customers if load-shedding continued to enforce frequent machine shutdowns.
Conver-Tek did the ‘Full Monty,’ including the installation of over 800 solar panels (535 watts each), inverters, batteries, and generators which have enabled it to run off-grid since. The costs were high (the total installation cost close to R12.5 million) but the benefits were even greater.
The further unexpected outcome of the process was that Davis and two of the electrical contractors – Dean Henning and Andre van Biljon – formed Bilhen & Davis Energy later in 2019. BD Energy has since completed a number of major power installation projects and is a going concern, with Davis’s experience in plastic moulding being an important advantage for the fledgling operation. Injection moulding and toolmaking machines require special equipment to avoid electronic damage, due to surges caused when the power supply from Eskom comes back online.
The high energy requirements of plastics processing equipment demand specific knowledge. Conver-Tek has been in operation since 1975 and has been involved in solar since 2011, so the team has considerable experience in the area. After this very costly installation, Davis confirms that this was the saving grace for his plastic injection and toolmaking business.
“I believe that any operation that runs 24/7 has no option but to get off the grid, in order to survive. Just forget about Eskom. Now that de Ruyter was squeezed to move, Eskom is going back to its old, questionable habits, without any stable electricity relief on the horizon,” he says.
Best custom renewable solutions
Bilhen & Davis Energy is focused on delivering the best custom renewable energy solutions, says Davis.
Deciding to go off-grid is a straightforward process, but there are a number of key aspects that need to be addressed, the first being that you need to have a good analytical programme so as to be able to view the state and performance of the system as a whole.
“All components of the system need to be fully synchronized and be able to ‘talk to each other,’ so that the installation is balanced and current is flowing consistently through it, and this is why an enhanced control system is necessary,” says Bevan. Remote control ability, so the system manager can control the installation even while off site, is also possible, and necessary.
The use of efficient surge protection equipment is vital. BD energy has in the interim developed its own range of surge protectors, which it offers at a price advantage. Ironically, some of the older machines performed better at withstanding the continuous current surges caused by return of current after load-shedding intervals than some of the new equipment. However, most new machines (certainly in South Africa) now come with improved surge protection connectors.
Goal is to balance energy supply in the plant
BD’s goal is to balance the energy supply in the plant, with the installed system doing a ‘handshake’ with the mains supply when Eskom power switches back on. Many of the problems encountered occurred at this stage, obviously since none of the machines were designed to be switched off and back on so frequently.
“Load shedding has resulted in many successful plastics companies facing possible liquidation,” says Davis. “Then the financials become unimpressive and that causes further stress.” The cost of lost production, scrapping expensive polymers, resetting machines, and damage to PLCs can never be recouped.
The decision to go off-grid is also thus holistic, as on-going electrical issues can negatively affect a company’s mood. And not only that, but it has also caused manufacturers to delay or entirely put off other investment decisions, which can start a process that undermines a business.
For manufacturers in rented premises, the support of your landlord can thus become vital. Some of these problems occur unexpectedly: in one case a colour compound manufacturer moved a big masterbatch machine from premises it rented to another site which it owned, only to realize that there was no loadshedding at the rented factory (it’s a large site), which has resulted in a cumulatively negative cost effect. In this case it had a major effect, as moving the machine was also expensive.
So, it’s important to proceed carefully when going off-grid and being well-informed. An unexpected spin-off of going off-grid is the peace of mind induced in owners and management, which can be transmitted to all staff and help create a better working atmosphere. The huge benefits of reduced costs after paying off the solar can either be used to reduce production costs, or achieve a very good ROI
The company offers the following back-up solutions
Battery inverter solutions with PV, which provides a way to charge the battery for evening backup. Advantages include daytime cost savings from the grid, less batteries are required if daytime loads are higher than evening loads, PV has a very quick payback period.
Battery inverter solution, which is cheap to operate (+-R1.3 per Kw, vs +R9.00 per Kw for peak rates from municipalities). Advantages include low maintenance, only a small area is required, long service life, and scalability.
Diesel and gas generators are quick to install, and only take up a small area. They also offer a cheap capital layout initially but remain expensive to operate in the long term and hence should be part of a mixed energy solution for an organization in the long term.