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Making power smart

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The energy problem in South Africa has made it essential for businesses to find alternative forms of power. But how do we know when to switch between environments? INUS DRECKMEYR, CEO at Netshield South Africa discusses how to gauge when it is ideal to move off the “grid” and when to stay on it.

The energy crisis in South Africa has made the addition of alternative energy sources imperative for businesses and households across the country. So now you have power around the clock – regardless of power outages or load shedding. But how do know when to switch between environments, gauge when peak hours are or make your renewable energy solutions work to help you save costs and cut back on grid usage?

Power management needs to be carefully thought out, or you may end up spending more on your electricity bills than you did before. There is a lot of scepticism around implementing renewable energy sources because of the hefty price tag that comes with the initial lay out, but if used correctly these solutions will ultimately save you money while keeping the lights on.

So what can you do? You need to implement a single power management resource that will intelligently and proactively help you determine which energy sources you should be using when, so that you get the most out of your power and maximum return on your investment.

It is all about management, if you have a device in place to manage your power sources in the best way possible, you don’t have to. But be careful to select a scalable solution, something that can accommodate your personal business need. This is particularly relevant if you are a large enterprise, SMBs or homeowner, who has made an investment into multiple power sources, but are finding it challenging to take control and understand your power environment.

All the features, none of the fuss

When we factored all of this in we looked at what was available on the market, saw there was little to match these needs, we elected to develop a home-grown solution designed especially with South African needs in mind to help cut costs and manage your power. If you have a renewable solution in place you want to use it first, because ultimately it reduces your reliance on the grid.

We wanted something that could dynamically determine when these renewable resources were depleted and then move you back onto the grid (Eskom) power, without disruptions to your home or your business. That means happy customers that will always get the services they need, and no wailing children when the TV goes off in the middle of their favourite show.

In addition, if your power goes off at a peak time and your renewable energy stores aren’t fully “charged” to capacity, your solution must tell your system to start up and revert to a generator, if this is included in your power environment. So basically, your power is managed for you to ensure stability and business/home continuity which will in turn, enable you to get the most out of your renewable energy investment and realise ROI. It will also give you the ability to gauge the total cost of ownership in a qualified manner.

Why do I need power management?

Multiple power feeds or sources are very much the way of the future unless some massive changes are made to energy management in South Africa. When adding alternative energy sources to your power environment, the options can be overwhelming and if you don’t use a power management solution, you can’t see where the power is going or where it’s coming from and may end up throwing money down a black hole.

Ultimately it is about effective and smart power management, using the power that’s best for your needs – and pocket – so you can realise a return on your renewable energy investment. Power management is quite a new concept for South Africans, we know that it’s needed but very seldom know where to start. A large problem when it comes to renewable energy at the moment is that people want a “quick fix”. So they will purchase renewable energy and power management solutions that are of bad quality and that will ultimately cost them more than laying down initial investment on a good quality solution would have.

All you need in one solution

How does it work? By quantifying and identifying peak times and even load shedding schedules, we will set up a series of triggers in the systems that then use a type of failover model to determine which power source is needed at that moment.

Depending on your setup of the system, your power management solution should always seek to use renewable first, only electing to revert to the grid if the load requires it, helping you save on grid costs wherever possible. This is achieved via a series of pre-set priorities, determined by you before installation, priorities range from one to four with four being the most severe-case scenario.

In addition to managing your power, the solution we have developed the Nviromon, is also an environmental monitoring solution that enables the remote management of server rooms, entire business networks, and your home, remotely, from a single management console and from a single device. It can remotely open and close gates, serve as an alarm system when connected to movement sensors and sirens and will inform you of power outages as well as other environmental threats outages through an SMS or email.

Remember that power management must give you an efficient, and convenient way to manage your power and your environment with one device, so that you get maximum ROI and peace of mind. In addition, the future will see South Africans paying more for their grid electricity during peak times, so why wouldn’t you want a solution that enables you to switch to alternate sources and save money? It’s the smart thing to do.

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Online retail gets real

After decades of experience in selling online, retailers still seek out the secret of reaching the digital consumer, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s been 23 years since the first pizza and the first bunch of flowers was sold online. One would think, after all this time, that retailers would know exactly what works, and exactly how the digital consumer thinks.

Yet, in shopping-mad South Africa, only 4% of adults regularly shop online. One could blame high data costs, low levels of tech-savviness, or lack of trust. However, that doesn’t explain why a population where more than a quarter of people have a debit or credit card and almost 40% of people use the Internet is staying away.

The new Online Retail in South Africa 2019 study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the support of Visa and Platinum Seed, reveals that growth is in fact healthy, but is still coming off a low base. This year, the total sale of retail products online is expected to pass the R14-billion mark, making up 1.4% of total retail.

This figure represents 25% growth over 2017, and comes after the same rate of growth was seen in 2017. At this rate, it is clear that online retail is going mainstream, driven by aggressive marketing, and new shopping channels like mobile shopping. 

But it is equally clear that not all retailers are getting it right. According to the study, the unwillingness of business to reinvest revenue in developing their online presence is one of the main barriers to long-term success. Only one in five companies surveyed invested more than 20% of their online turnover back into their online store. Over half invested less than 10% back.

On the surface, the industry looks healthy, as a surprisingly high 71% of online retailers surveyed say they are profitable. But this brings to mind the early days of Amazon.com, in 1996, when founder Jeff Bezos was asked when it would become profitable.

He declared that it would not be profitable for at least another five years. And if it did, he said, it would be in big trouble. He meant that it was so important for long-term sustainability that Amazon reinvest all its revenues in customer systems, that it could not afford to look for short-term profits.

According to the South African study, the single most critical factor in the success of online retail activities is customer service. A vast majority, 98% of respondents, regarded it as important. This positions customer service as the very heart of online retail. For Amazon, investment back into systems that would streamline customer service became the key to the world’s digital wallets.

In South Africa online still make up a small proportion of overall retail, but for the first time we see the promise of a broader range of businesses in terms of category, size, turnover and employee numbers. This is a sign that our local market is beginning to mature. 

Clothing and apparel is the fastest growing sector, but is also the sector with the highest turnover of businesses. It illustrates the dangers of a low barrier to entry: the survival rate of online stores in this sector is probably directly opposite to the ease of setting up an online apparel store.

A fast-growing category that was fairly low on the agenda in the past, alcohol, tobacco and vaping, has benefited from the increased online supply of vapes, juices and accessories. It also suggests that smoking bans, and the change in the legal status of marijuana during the survey, may have boosted demand. 

In the coming weeks, we can expect online retail to fall under the spotlight as never before. Black Friday, a shopping tradition imported “wholesale” from the United States, is expected to become the biggest online shopping day of the year in South Africa, as it is in the USA.

Initially, it was just a gimmick in South Africa, attempting to cash in on what was a purely American tradition of insane sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, which occurs on the third Thursday of November every year. It is followed by Cyber Monday, making the entire weekend one of major promotions and great bargains.

It has grown every year in South Africa since its first introduction about six years ago, and last year it broke into the mainstream, with numerous high profile retailers embracing it, and many consumers experiencing it for the first time. 

It is now positioned as the prime bargain day of the year for consumers, and many wait in anticipation for it, as they do in the USA. Along with Cyber Monday, it provides an excuse for retailers to go all out in their marketing, and for consumers to storm the display shelves or web pages. South African shoppers, clearly, are easily enticed by bargains.

Word of mouth around Black Friday has also grown massively in the past two years, driven by both media and shoppers who have found ridiculous bargains. As news spreads that the most ridiculous of the bargains are to be had online, even those who were reticent of digital shopping will be tempted to convert.

The Online Retail in SA 2019 report has shown over the years that, as people become more experienced in using the Internet, their propensity to shop online increases. This is part of the World Wide Worx model known as the Digital Participation Curve. The key missing factor in the Curve is that most retailers do not know how to convert that propensity into actual online shopping behaviour. Black Friday will be one of the keys to conversion.

Carry on reading to find out about the online retailers of the year.

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Reliable satellite Internet?

MzansiSat, a satellite-Internet business, aims to beam Internet connections to places in South Africa which don’t have access to cabled and mobile network infrastructure, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Stellenbosch-based MzansiSat promises to provide cheap wholesale Internet to Internet Service Providers for as little as R25 per Gigabyte. Providers who offer more expensive Internet services could benefit greatly from partnering with MzansiSat, says the company. 

“Using MzansiSat, we hope that we can carry over cost-savings benefits to the consumer,” says Victor Stephanopoli, MzansiSat chief operating officer.

The company, which has been spun off from StellSat, has been looking to increase its investor portfolio while it waits for spectrum approval. The additional investment will allow MzansiSat’s satellite to operate in more regions across Africa.

The MzansiSat satellite is being built by Thales Alenia Space, a French company which is also acting as technical partner to MzansiSat. In addition to building the satellite, Thales Alenia Space will also be assisting MzansiSat in coordinating the launch. The company intends to launch the satellite into the 56°E orbital slot in a geostationary orbit, which enables communication almost anywhere in Africa. The launch is expected to happen in 2022. 

The satellite will have 76 transponders, 48 of which will be Ku-band and 28 C-band. Ku-band is all about high-speed performance, while C-band deals with weather-resistance. The design intention is for customers of MzansiSat to choose between very cheap, reliable data and very fast, power-efficient data. 

C-band is an older technology, which makes bandwidth cheaper and almost never affected by rain but requires bigger dishes and slower bandwidth compared to Ku-band connections. On the other hand, Ku-band is faster, experiences less microwave interference, and requires less power to run – but is less reliable with bad weather conditions.

MzansiSat’s potential military applications are significant, due to the nature of the military being mobile and possibly in remote areas without connectivity.  Connectivity everywhere would be potentially be life-saving.

Consumers in remote areas will benefit, even though satellite is higher in latency than fibre and LTE connections. While this level of latency is high (a fifth of a second in theory), satellite connections are still adequate for browsing the Internet and watching online content. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) may see the benefits of satellite Internet before consumers do. The applications of IoT in agriculture are vast, from hydration sensors to soil nutrient testers, and can be realised with an Internet connection which is available in a remote area.

Stephanopoli says that e-learning in remote areas can also benefit from MzansiSat’s presence, as many school resources are becoming readily available online. 

“Through our network, the learning experience can be beamed into classrooms across the country to substitute or complement local resources within the South African schooling system.”

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