Zimbabwean companies of all sizes are bleeding potential revenue because of the power cuts that have steadily become a fact of life in the country over the last several months. Generators have long been the favourite alternative to mains power but the rising cost and general unavailability of fuel have made the seeking of better alternatives necessary. Besides being very noisy and producing noxious fumes when in operation, generators break down often and require regular maintenance. In addition, most generators currently sold in the country were never meant to do more than provide just a few hours of backup power.

As we edge towards a full year of regular power cuts, individuals and organizations alike are taking steps to come up with long-term, and sometimes permanent, solutions to their dependence on the grid. While bigger firms have been able to hire experts to help them adopt and design solar power systems which meet the most critical of their power requirements without wreaking havoc on their balance sheets, most smaller business owners have been left at the mercy of the sometimes very unscrupulous solar equipment dealers who are usually intent on pushing as much as possible of their merchandise onto unsuspecting customers without any real regard of their needs and requirements. Today I  will discuss how small businesses can adopt solar energy to address their power needs using a few as examples.

Of solar energy and heating equipment

I feel it is necessary to get this out of the way as early as necessary because I have encountered several people who are interested in solar power casually listing a stove or cooker as one of the devices which they want their new system to power.  While this is technically possible, it is such a gross misuse of resources that no sane electrician would allow you to commission a design accommodating heating equipment.

You see, solar power systems that are able to power lighter loads like refrigerators, lighting and televisions are already costly. Considering that most heating loads consume anything ranging from ten to a hundred times the power of these it is usually necessary to use a more appropriate energy source like LP gas instead.

How lodges are using it

Owning and running a lodge is the less capital intensive route of getting into the hospitality industry. Unfortunately, as the local utility providers continue to fall short of their mandates, owners of lodges have been forced to invest more money into their businesses in order to transform them into oases which are as independent as possible from their surroundings.

Since generators rumbling 24/7 at your establishment do nothing to improve the ambience, most lodge owners are opting for the more silent solar power systems.

Privately produced power is sometimes not enough to assuage the self-sufficiency that these businesses crave. Several also have boreholes from which water is drawn from using solar-powered pumps. The good thing about water pumping using a solar power system is the lack of need for a battery bank, instead water is pumped into a tank when the sun is available for storage.

Of course, batteries are still needed for the household. Air conditioning is one of the classes of equipment that work well with solar. Because air-conditioning is most needed during hot days (and consumes the most power then), it is fortunate that it is then that solar panels are usually producing the most power. When power usage for certain application peaks with the available sunlight this reduces the need for battery capacity which also helps reduce the cost of the power system.

Solar power is also used to run lower power devices like televisions, lighting and internet routers on these establishments.

How butcheries can keep their meat fresh

For butchers, power availability is not just important but crucial for business survival. Butcheries need their meat to be stored at low temperatures to avoid it going bad. It is therefore easily evident how power cuts can wreak havoc on their businesses. Solar power can be used not just to supplement ZESA but to replace it completely. Refrigerators like air conditioning systems consume the most power when it is hottest, which again usually coincides with the times during which solar power systems produce the most energy.

The energy which is not used for the crucial main task of refrigeration can then be used to power scales, cash registers and lighting in the building.

How small grocers can use it

Like the aforementioned butchers, grocers also have some refrigeration requirements such as those for dairy, meat and beverage products. While a lot of these will not perish because of lack of refrigeration, customers expect them to be refrigerated at most times. Your power system can be set up to handle this while also providing energy for other devices in the shop such as the checkout counter computers, barcode scanners, surveillance cameras, lighting and also a small sound system perhaps.

Other small businesses like internet cafes, photocopiers/printers, barbers and bars can also find great advantages in using solar. What is important is that you find a consultant or knowledgeable person to help you come up with specifications for your desired system. This is important because the attendants at the renewable energy product shop of your choice can only help you so far – many will be trying to sell you the most expensive products they think you can afford without any real regard for your requirements.