By Mike Styer, General Manager at Breakpoint
The confirmation from Eskom’s COO that regular load shedding will continue for at least another 18 months has dashed any faint hopes of power stability in the short term. While 25 independent power projects have been selected to help alleviate pressure on the national grid, they are not expected to start making an impact before 2024. And it should be noted that even if IPPs start contributing to the national grid, power demand will continue to climb.
For the IT manager or infrastructure manager still on the fence about investing in stable power, this is an indication that now is the time to make some drastic decisions.
Business continuity depends on uninterrupted power, which means organisations must now take the plunge and consider the best way to assure this. Either they must invest in generating their own power, or they must shift the power burden to a partner – such as a cloud service provider. Whichever route they choose, there will be a significant cost involved, and the pros and cons must be carefully considered.
Alternatives to Eskom power
The ad hoc, interim solutions many organisations have relied on to power their facilities during load shedding – such as generators – will not be viable as a semi-permanent power source to keep businesses up and running. Diesel, the fuel of choice for most generators, is costly, and diesel shortages have been known to occur. To ensure sufficient fuel stores to keep a large site or campus running, organisations will have to invest in fuel storage facilities, and the necessary skills to maintain and manage these.
Clean, alternative energy is the world’s hope in the future, but the world is still in the early stages of optimising the potential of new clean energy sources. Massive strides are being made in solar PV, battery, wind, biofuel and hydro power generation, and it is expected that alternative energies will become significantly better and cheaper over the next five to 10 years. IRENA, the International Renewable Energy Agency, states that $110 trillion will need to be invested over the next 30 years to realise the global energy transformation.
What this means for organisations is that massive investments in solar PVs and battery banks may be premature: costs will come down and technology will have improved before the initial capex has delivered an ROI. The organisation could find itself equipped with obsolete equipment that becomes less efficient each year, forcing a further investment in just a few years.
Battery technology may be improving in leaps and bounds, but batteries are still very costly and have lengthy recharge times, meaning the average small or medium business cannot afford the battery capacity needed to run the business for days or weeks during rainy periods.
However, some major organisations and campuses have already invested millions in solar capacity which they cannot feed back into the grid, presenting an opportunity for nearby businesses to explore the possibility of tapping into existing excess capacity, without the capex.
Another option in some areas is piped natural gas, which is now re-emerging as a reliable and efficient alternative to Eskom power for local businesses. A leading telco and a number of other organisations, depend on piped natural gas as their primary power source, using Eskom power and generators as their back-up solutions. Gas is not a cheap solution, however, and is only an option where service providers have a gas pipeline in place.
Biomass power generation, which shows great potential, is still in its infancy in the country, and as such is not a solution for most IT and infrastructure managers at this stage.
There is no silver bullet to meet all the power security needs of IT and infrastructure managers: to assure power stability, they will have to look to hybrid power solutions. We also foresee the emergence of power-as-a-service providers, which may offer hybrid mobile power plants to major campuses in the short term.
One option to bypass the capex and ongoing running costs of an alternative power environment is to move infrastructure and workloads to the cloud, where service providers have made the investment in stable power supplies. However, there are drawbacks to this: primarily, that while the cloud slashes capex, cloud costs can be far higher than anticipated in the long term. In addition, provisioning and managing an optimal cloud environment requires specialised skills that come at a premium and are hard to find.
With no end in sight to the power challenges, organisations need to carefully craft their strategies for power security, considering their risk appetite, real power needs, capex and opex preferences, and the ROI on alternative power generation versus going cloud.