In South Africa, a grid-connected microgrid is a breakthrough for renewable energy


The grid linkage of a big solar PV facility and battery system has been approved by the Ekurhuleni Municipality. This is a turning point in South Africa’s renewable energy projects. One of South Africa’s largest microgrids will be formed by a solar PV combined with a lithium-ion battery system. A C&I customer will employ the 1.8MW solar PV facility, which includes a 2.9MWh battery. It’s grid-connected, so it can help keep the local electrical grid stable.

The system was developed by SOLA Group for PepsiCo Sub-Saharan Africa. It would ensure the food and beverage company’s energy supply while also lowering carbon emissions at its Johannesburg distribution center at Kempton Park.

PepsiCo SSA Engineering Sustainability Lead Umesh Himraj expressed his delight at the opportunity to conduct such a significant project on a South African site. “Our PepsiCo positive path – a strategic end-to-end change with sustainability at the center of how the company will produce growth and value,” Himraj said.

According to SOLA Group CEO Dom Wills, the microgrid system was planned and built to serve the facility with close to 100 percent renewable energy. “We designed a system that leverages the roof space at PepsiCo’s plant to house solar modules that generate sufficient solar energy during the day to completely power the plant and store surplus power in the battery,” he stated.

Grid unreliability is forcing C&I companies to look for alternatives

Microgrids have always been a costly alternative for self-generated power in South Africa, notwithstanding their appeal. However, significant cost reductions in renewable power technology, along with system unpredictability and rising electricity bills, have recently made the choice more viable for major energy customers.

South Africa saw over 1,130 hours of loadshedding in 2021 alone, posing a significant enough risk for companies like PepsiCo to explore alternatives.

“We didn’t expect huge energy customers to be able to entirely disconnect from the grid for yet another two years.  After years of cumulative electricity price hikes, however, this investment is proving to be profitable for large energy consumers, offering cheaper power and loadshedding immunity. Furthermore, many businesses have sustainability goals and are working to make their processes more ecologically friendly, according to Wills.

Despite the plant’s ability to operate entirely off the grid, the renewable power system has gained municipal and NERSA permits to link to the grid. PepsiCo SSA will eventually be able to sell extra energy back to a municipality as a result of this.