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Written by Robert Stirling

February 1, 2021

So, you have experienced loadshedding too many times now, and you prefer your candlelit dinners to be romantic not mandatory.

To add insult to injury your electricity bill this month seemed way higher than it should be, considering how often you had no power for hours on end. “That’s it,” you vow to yourself. “Time to stick it to Eskom and generate my own power.”

So you start Googling and instead of a neat little diagram of a perfect installation that fits every home and an exact figure at the bottom of the page that shows you exactly what it will cost you, you find yourself staring at pages of information filled with acronyms and energy terms you haven’t seen since your school days.

One such acronym is SSEG, which stands for small-scale embedded generation. What does that mean though? According to a presentation on sseg.org.za, SSEG is made up of an “embedded generator rated at up to 1 MVA which includes the energy conversion device (devices), the static power converter (converters), if applicable, and the control and protection gear within a customer’s network that operates in synchronism with low-voltage networks.”

So basically, something to convert energy (like a photovoltaic solar panel), something to convert the energy to a format you can use in your home (like an inverter), and the other paraphernalia needed to connect it all to the existing electricity grid (Eskom).

Of course, that system, as it is described here, is known as a grid tied system. Change the inverter to be bi-directional, add a charge controller to be the traffic officer for the power coming from the solar panel, and throw in some batteries, and you have an island system that is still coupled to the grid.

Replace the grid with an optional generator for use if your solar-charged batteries ever need to perform loadshedding, and you can officially brag about being off the grid while standing at two-meter intervals around the braai (at least until Covid is beaten into submission).

Introduction to Solar PV SSEG in South African Municipalities

What these options allow for is a scaling up process so that consumers don’t have to fork out the money to go off the grid all in one go. You can choose your photovoltaic path, from reducing your monthly bills, to only using Eskom’s power when you don’t have enough stored (and possibly selling your excess power to Eskom), to going fully independent.

In a report published by Wood Mackenzie entitled “GLOBAL SOLAR PV MARKETS: Top 10 Trends to Watch in 2019” (by Tom Heggarty, Senior Analyst, Power and Renewables, and Benjamin Attia, Analyst, Power and Renewables), it was predicted that SSEG installations globally will be generating 117 Gigawatts of power by 2021.   

At the 2018 energy summit the South African Local Government Association (SALGA) reported that not all municipalities in South Africa were even allowing SSEG installations. Even fewer municipalities had official SSEG application systems.

However, the energy summit declaration said that “embracing the transition [towards decentralised generation] is no longer a choice but a necessity”.

The presentation on sseg.org.za noted that “consumers are no longer waiting for regulatory, legal, and technical issues to be resolved; they are simply deploying systems”.

So, when your power comes back on, dig deeper, past the acronyms, and speak to a professional who can help you decide if perhaps now is the time to join the embedded generation. SSEG means it may be more within your reach than you thought.

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