The Internet of Things, or IoT technology, functions as a bridge between the physical and digital world. Across the globe increased adoption of 5G networks is driving the need for faster, decentralised, and real-time feedback, particularly for organisations promoting the digitalisation agenda. While the improvements IoT technology brings to the running of industry and the home are substantial, there is one important impact in the South African context. That is energy optimisation.
Although energy management is a hot topic across the globe, the critical nature of the energy crisis in South Africa makes this application especially prevalent. Home and business owners alike are seeking out smarter ways to use and save energy. Already the presence of persistent blackouts has forced South Africans to find alternative energy sources. The solar energy market has, for instance, grown significantly and is expected to increase by 23.31 terawatt-hour units from 2021 to 2026 with the growth momentum accelerating at a CAGR of 29.74%.
Alongside solar, diesel-powered generators have also risen in popularity, offering lower start-up costs but higher ongoing expenses. South Africa now has the largest per capita backup generators in Africa, with revenue forecast to reach over US$159 000 by 2030. While both solutions are necessary for business to continue as usual, organisations are in desperate need of energy management tools.
This is where the value of IoT solutions becomes clear. For many, managing energy consumption involves balancing several sources of energy to optimise spend and maintain consistent uptime. In most cases, this is solar, grid and generator power. This means turning off non-essential assets such as air conditioners when they are not needed and balancing battery power with on-grid energy consumption and diesel to ensure an efficient mix. Rather than manually turning off non-essential assets, IoT technology can do this automatically, or enable users to do this remotely.
In addition to balancing the use of different power sources, IoT technology can help in monitoring essential items. This includes tracking battery and diesel levels, switching between different sources and alerting to instances when one or the other is running low, ensuring business continuity. Having the ability to manage these levels off-site is essential, especially for businesses with facilities in remote areas as every minute of over- or underutilisation has a cost or revenue association.
The same smart insights can have cost-cutting benefits for office spaces. With the pandemic altering how office space is utilised, IoT solutions help companies ensure that office space is used efficiently, reducing unnecessary energy consumption and costs. Additionally, real-time monitoring of assets in conjunction with planned load shedding enables smarter remote monitoring of business operations through key alerts and outcomes.
Above and beyond ensuring business continuity, there are environmental, social, and governance (ESG) benefits to IoT technology. Unfortunately, the increased use of diesel-run generators has a negative environmental impact, often having implications for businesses’ ESG agendas and goals. In many cases, solar and grid power alone is simply not sufficient to run high-demand facilities. By helping to optimise how different power sources are used, IoT solutions can help businesses minimise their diesel use. Similarly, it opens the possibility of new approaches, such as virtual power wheeling, which are promoting the growth of sustainable energy solutions in South Africa. In this way, rather than being a hindrance to the adoption of IoT and progression into the digital future, load shedding and its challenges have the potential to act as a driving force for digitalisation in the country.
South Africa is still lagging behind the rest of the globe in terms of IoT adoption. However, as smart home technologies continue to grow in prominence, this will likely spur further adoption in the business sphere as decision-makers start to better understand the need for a shift to the digital world. In addition to this, pilot projects such as the virtual power wheeling project between Vodacom and Eskom have the potential to increase IoT adoption through necessity.
Making these technologies available and accessible to all businesses remains a hurdle. Vodacom is dedicated to changing this, broadening access to businesses of all technology maturity levels and helping to move South Africa closer to Industry 4.0. A major focus of this movement is developing efficient solutions that turn the numerous challenges into cost-saving opportunities. In this way, we hope to become a trusted IoT partner, which businesses of all sizes and maturity levels can turn to, moving the whole country towards a digital, energy-efficient future.
* Lazo Karapanagiotidis is chief product and marketing officer of IoT.nxt, a subsidiary of Vodacom Business.