Solar MD makes its own battery packs in Cape Town, South Africa, by integrating cells from CATL, the world’s largest battery company, and Solar MD’s own proprietary battery and energy management system. Solar MD now also has an app where both Android and iOS users can get a real-time view of the state of their battery and energy system in their homes and businesses.
Having been established in 2015, a combination of factors, including being ready and prepared at the right place and right time saw the company make a name for itself in South Africa, initially as global battery supply constraints meant that it and a few other local battery firms were well positioned to fill the gap and meet local demand in South Africa’s nascent residential and small commercial solar and battery sector.
Solar MD received another shot in the arm last year. The record levels of load-shedding in 2022 provided another big growth opportunity for the stationary storage industry in South Africa. In 2022, there were 3,773 hours of load-shedding. This was the most intensive year of load-shedding in South Africa’s history. Load-shedding in 2022 was mostly in Stage 4. This was also the first year that Stage 2 has not been the dominant stage of load-shedding implemented by Eskom since load-shedding started. Eskom’s electricity rationing (load-shedding program) is structured in Stages, where Eskom sheds a certain quantum of load from the grid to stabilize the grid. So, depending on the severity of the crisis, load-shedding is implemented in stages from Stage 1 to Stage 8, where Stage 1 sheds 1,000 MW of load from the grid and in a Stage 8 scenario, Eskom takes out 8,000 MW of load from the grid. Load-shedding is implemented over 2-hour or 4-hour blocks on a rotational basis depending on the severity of the crises.
Solar MD had started to expand its operations in South Africa and was again able to capitalize on the huge demand that was induced by all this load-shedding. An example of this is when Solar MD unveiled its 14.3 kWh wall-mounted battery pack for homes and small businesses in October 2021. Solar MD says its 14.3 kWh pack is the most ideal option for larger homes as the load-shedding crisis escalates in South Africa. They add that this pack also gives people in this segment more value for money compared the standard options on the market which are mostly the 5 kWh packs imported from China. Solar MD’s 14.3 kWh LFP packs retails for about R85,000 ($4,600).
This 14.3 kWh pack has been a huge success and the company has already shipped 25,000 units in just over a year and a half since it was launched. Solar MD CEO and co-founder Kaloyan Dimov say their 14.3 kWh pack offers a better proposition for larger energy consumers than the smaller batteries for the Eskom grid, because soon after load-shedding the smaller batteries would have been discharged significantly and therefore would immediately need recharging, pushing up energy demand again. This is especially the case for batteries installed as backup systems only without any PV to help run some loads as well as recharge the batteries during the day. With the 14 kWh packs, they do not necessarily need to be charged immediately, and therefore charging cycles can be better managed during off peak periods. For solar plus battery storage systems, the most popular configuration that its customers are installing are 5 to 7 kWp solar PV coupled with the 14 kWh battery Solar DM pack along with Deye, Sunsynk, Victron, or SMA Inverters.
Kaloyan says that the storage market has also started to flourish in South Africa’s C&I segment. More businesses that had already installed grid-tied solar PV plants that are now sitting idle during load-shedding have started adding battery storage to their sites. During load-shedding, grid-tied solar plants without storage automatically disconnect and switch off. Businesses then have to switch to diesel generators, but with the high cost of diesel and with load-shedding happening daily or almost daily, it has become a very expensive exercise, hence more businesses are now adding battery storage to use more of the solar PV they have already installed and paid for or are paying for as part of a long term PPA instead of it sitting idle during load-shedding and losing production time for their business operations.
Due to this unprecedented demand, Solar MD is again expanding its operations and is moving to a larger capacity. Right now, the company has a confirmed order backlog where customers have to wait at least three months to get their orders fulfilled. Demand is so high that the orders they have received so far in just the first 3 months of this year are already more than the orders they received for the whole of last year! This year, Solar MD has already pre-booked cells for 500 MWh from CATL alone and also made more orders from its other suppliers. Next year the company has already forecasted that it will do at least 2 GWh of business.
In the small commercial sector, Solar MD is seeing a lot of systems in the 100 kW/230 kWh range. Solar MD battery storage systems are being deployed at 150 Virgin Active Gyms. Some of these gyms are getting 150 kW/320 kWh systems to back up the larger sites that have large swimming pools. For the smaller gyms that don’t swimming pools, some are getting 3 x Solar MD 14.3 kWh lithium-ion battery backup systems for lights and backing up general standard gym equipment.
Solar MD battery storage systems have also recently being added at 20 Vida e Caffè sites in the Western Cape. Vida e Caffè is one of the leading coffee chains in South Africa. The company has chosen to implement the Solar MD 14.3 kWh lithium-ion battery system, which includes an 8 kW hybrid inverter, to ensure that each branch has a reliable source of power during power outages. Depending on the demand on these sites, the Vida Cafes will have one or more of these Solar MD 14.3 kWh lithium-ion battery systems to cut down on backup diesel generator usage.
In the C&I sector, the company works with Atess and Sungrow hybrid inverters and also soon Deye, which has a 50 kW hybrid inverter. They are also now exporting a lot to other countries on the continent especially for minigrid projects. Solar MD also now exports its products to Turkey, and is now opening a production facility in Europe to reduce shipping time for customers. The plant is opening in May in Bulgaria, on the border with Romania.
Solar MD is also doing containerized solutions for larger sites like mines and small municipalities. A 20-foot containerized solution is configured to house a 630 kW/ 1.75 MWh storage solution and a 40-ft one configured to house 2 MW/3.4 MWh. It is also starting to be more active in the larger utility-scale systems with a capacity in the region of 50 MWh for very large energy consumers such as mines.
Images courtesy of Solar MD
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