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Musk’s Powerwall has SA competitor

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Now there is a homegrown alternative to the Tesla Powerwall, but at a price.

The Tesla Powerwall unveiled in the USA by Elon Musk last year as a solution to home energy storage now has South African competition.

Energy Partners Home Solutions, a division of PSG subsidiary Energy Partners, has announced the launch of what it calls South Africa’s “first-of-its-kind residential energy solution” – the Icon Home Energy Hub. The solution allows residential users to improve efficiency in their overall energy usage, generate their own energy and also to store extra solar electricity for everyday use or for backup/electricity security.

However, it comes at a high cost. The full system starts at R167 000, excluding VAT. Systems can also be financed over 5 years. The Tesla Powerwall version with solar panels included starts at R169 000 excluding VAT.

That means it will come down to the exact specifications as well as services available.

According to Alan Matthews, Managing Director of Energy Partners Home Solutions, this product is the country’s first integrated battery and inverter solution specifically for the South African home market and has the potential to minimise the user’s dependence on the national energy grid.

“We believe it is going to revolutionise how South Africans manage and store their energy at home.”

He says that the company embarked on developing the product to assist South African home owners with a solution for controlling their energy spend, especially when subjected to unreliable supply during load shedding by Eskom.

“Like our corporate clients, they too were at the mercy of tariff increases. But, unlike corporate clients, they did not have teams of engineers and strong financial skills to draw on.

“This is why we spent the last 18 months creating this unique solution for homeowners,” he says. “Our solution enables home owners to take control of their energy, by supplying a set of reliable products that form a full home energy solution which combines lighting, water heating and renewable energy.”

The Energy Partner’s solution enables a family sized home to save up to 70% of its electricity bill and earn from a 16% return on their investment.

“That is twice the saving a standard solar solution would provide,” says Matthews.

The Icon Home Energy Hub consists of two components: the Energy Hub Inverter and the Lithium Ion Phosphate Battery.

“The inverter is a critical component in any solar energy solution. Its main function is to take the electricity generated (DC) from the solar panels and convert it into an energy form that can be utilised in the home (AC). The inverter also integrates with the battery to allow all excess generated energy to be stored in the batteries for later usage.”

The full household solution includes: the Icon hybrid inverter; 3.1 kWp poly crystalline panels; Icon 3.6 kWh LiFePO4 battery; 300 litre tank with a total average storage capacity 16 kWh; a 4.7 kW heat pump; mounting structure to mount the panels on the roof and the balance of the system.

The most recognisable global competitor to the Icon is the Tesla Powerwall battery, paired with a Solar edge inverter, he says.

“When this product was launched in South Africa recently it received a lot of attention, but the Tesla solution is focussed around the battery – which is 6.4 kWh. Our solution includes a smaller battery, but also includes a heat pump and an extra-large hot water tank. This means that it delivers almost double the saving and costs less.”

He says that besides the energy bill reduction benefit, the solution also reduces the homeowner’s carbon footprint and environmental impact and makes the user independent of the grid.

“The user can power essential loads for several hours, even if the grid is off, a feature that is simply not possible with grid-tied inverters.”

The solution is extremely flexible; for example, it can be installed without batteries and then 3.6 kWh or 6 kWh of battery capacity can be added as needed. It also includes a remote monitoring platform allowing the user to monitor the status of their system directly on their mobile app.

“The system can be ordered directly from us and we have our own installation capacity. Our consultants are also happy to come and visit those interested at their homes. We are currently only installing in the Western Cape, but plan to launch in Gauteng before the end of 2016. We are currently accepting orders and our first products will ship in June 2016,” says Matthews.

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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