In 2020, PowerOptimal, a leader in innovative sustainable energy and demand management solutions, partnered with the South African subsidiary of the Swedish global appliance giant Electrolux, to bring cost-effective, sustainable solar photovoltaic (PV) water heating solutions to the South African market. SA Business Integrator spoke to Murray Crow, Managing Director at Electrolux South Africa.
How does the Elon Smart Water Solution operate, and what makes it cost-effective?
The Elon Smart Water Solution will monitor and closely manage geyser performance and energy consumption, as well as trigger early alerts to homeowners and insurers in the event of water leaks, element failures and other operational information.
One major advantage is the plug-and-play solar PV capability – no separate solar PV controller is needed, which reduces cost. The solution provides smart, green connected geysers to be monitored and managed from a mobile phone.
It is also the only smart water heater with integrated solar PV capability in the world.
Whilst electrical components on standard geysers typically have a one-year warranty, the Elon Smart thermostat will have a two-year warranty, extendable to five years on registration.
Combined with solar PV modules that typically have 25-year performance warranties, and the fact that there are no moving parts except for a few relays that switch under zero load, it is expected that the solution will provide many years of maintenance-free operation.
Risk is reduced through active monitoring, management and reporting of water heater performance and safety.
Being locally designed, what added value has the Elon Smart Water Solution brought about?
New opportunities will be created in South Africa across the value chain – including manufacturing, retail, installation, maintenance, support and services.
Local design and manufacture mean a much closer relationship with the manufacturer, enabling better control and visibility of the supply chain, as well as supporting local manufacturing jobs.
Which industries could benefit from using such a system, and could it also be a viable option for low-income housing?
With an installed base of over 7 million electric water heaters in South Africa, the residential water heater market (new build and retrofit) will be the main focus for the foreseeable future. Commercial and industrial applications will be explored later.
Business models should be developed to allow low-income housing developments to reap the benefits of clean solar PV energy. Solar PV is already the lowest-cost way to heat water in South Africa on a total cost basis (in other words, considering all costs such as capital cost, installation, running and maintenance cost and system lifetime).
The Elon Smart Water Solution simplifies the solar PV installation, further reducing cost, which means it has potential even in low-income housing environments, which are very cost sensitive.
It is estimated that households use about 17% of electricity nationally, rising to about 35% during morning and evening peaks. If half of all households with electric water heaters had an Elon Smart Water Solution fitted with solar PV modules, and these systems ran on solar PV during peak periods, our modelling indicates that it could reduce the load on the grid by about 7% (which is about two stages of loadshedding).
If one million of the more than seven million electric water heaters in South Africa were retrofitted with an Elon Smart thermostat and solar PV modules, it could reduce the national carbon footprint by Mton CO2/yr.
What do you expect the SA market uptake for the world’s first smart geyser with integrated solar PV capability?
The energy efficiency requirements of the National Building Regulations as prescribed in SANS 10400-XA prescribe the inclusion of alternative water heating means for all new residential housing.
Our smart and solar PV-ready geyser brings a simplified and more cost-effective way to comply to the market. Thus, we expect significant interest from the property development industry.
The growth of smart developments and household interest in both green and smart appliances should further boost market uptake.
The insurance industry can also benefit from the risk reduction and early alert capabilities.
What are some of the initiatives Electrolux is undertaking from an advocacy perspective to help promote sustainable solutions to the broader population?
Electrolux is committed to being a better company in our own operations and in helping to provide education and guidance in better living. Internally, we’re focussed on solutions such as increasing the solar energy capacity at our sites to reduce our reliance on the electricity grid.
We recognise the importance of reducing our carbon emissions and our waste to landfill. Rather than simply talk about these activities, we are doing them right now across our local business and all our global operations.
We also continually look at how we can educate consumers to preserve food for longer and eat in more a sustainable way. We’re doing this by promoting sustainable eating and helping consumers reduce food waste, adopting more plant-based eating and minimizing nutrition loss in cooking.
Through all these activities, we are able to positively drive awareness and impact, as we believe that as a global company, we have a responsibility to shape living for the better.
In terms of production, cost, installation capabilities and maintenance, how ready is Electrolux to meet demand?
The Elon Smart Water Solution has been designed for manufacturability and scalability. The local manufacturer has experience in high volume electronics manufacturing and has been manufacturing the current-generation Elon 100 solar PV water heater at scale.
Electrolux has a well-established national distribution, support and maintenance network that already supports large volumes of standard electric geysers, solar geysers and heat pumps, as well as the Elon 100 solar PV water heater.
In terms of installation capacity, installation of the smart geyser is exactly the same as any standard electric geyser, and the solar PV installation can be done by any solar PV technician.
How has shifting to cleaner energy solutions help unlock opportunities for Electrolux South Africa?
Cleaner energy solutions provide a variety of environmental and economic benefits to Electrolux, most importantly a reduction in air pollution.
In our operations, we’re investing heavily in solar as a positive way to reduce our carbon emissions and to achieve independence from the grid. This independence is enormously beneficial in maintaining continuity of production, which in turn produces economic benefits including reduced costs and reduced downtime. Both these factors have a positive flow-on effect to our ability in planning our labour needs with confidence.
We also see consumer and prospective employee sentiment shifting towards a position of expectation for large organisations to source cleaner energy solutions. By continually improving in this direction, we believe that we not only create a better environment for our own employees and families, but we are establishing an ethical credibility that creates a business that people want to engage with.
What are the next steps for Electrolux in terms of smart energy solutions?
We aim to become a global sustainability leader in our product lines; our company constantly seeks solutions that help shape living for the better.
The smart hot water solution exemplifies Electrolux’s ambition to reduce the carbon footprint of our products and our operations overall. Through our sustainability framework, ‘For the Better 2030’, we are committed to becoming climate neutral across the value chain and we globally work at reaching our climate targets.
Since 2015, our company has reported a 70% reduction in absolute CO2 emissions from operations. As a brand, we aim to develop products and services that enable people to save energy, water, and resources every day while helping to foster a more circular economy.