- TFG is first retail group in SA to pilot the use of batteries from Elon Musk's Tesla.
- The move is part of ongoing efforts to cope with load shedding.
- The Powerwall system has a hefty initial cost, but offers long-term benefits
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Foschini and Jet owner TFG is the first retail group in SA to pilot the use of batteries from SA-born billionaire Elon Musk's Tesla as it looks to combat the effect of load shedding on its store base.
TFG told News24 it is the "first retail rollout and largest single customer of the Tesla Powerwall units," although it isn't the first firm to buy them.
The group ordered 227 Tesla Powerwalls on 26 July and an additional 80 on 25 August, bringing its total to 307 units. With 43 stores to date having been fitted, TFG is now accelerating the rollout of the system.
The Powerwall system does have a hefty startup cost, as each unit can cost more than R150 000, but with load shedding reaching unprecedented levels over the past two weeks, businesses across SA are investing heavily in backup generation to ensure they can continue to trade when the lights go out.
READ | SA shoppers abandon trolleys as load shedding kills pay points
TFG said that business continuity measures had been introduced across many of its stores, particularly those in key locations, including access to electricity supply from back-up generators, as well as the Tesla Powerwall systems trialed earlier in the year.
The investment into the Tesla Powerwall systems or backup lithium battery storage systems had "come about from the progressively negative effects of escalating levels of load shedding".
The retailer describes the Tesla Powerwall as a "highly capable product", with various integrated features.
While the Tesla Powerwall and other similar systems come with a significant price tag, TFG says the system meets its need, while having the added benefit of zero operational expenditure.
Long term powers
"Yes, any of the backup power options available typically come with a substantial upfront cost. Ultimately though, these systems will allow for many of our stores to trade through periods of load shedding, while maintaining the lighting systems, point-of-sales devices and other technology. In many cases after experiencing load shedding, it can take some time for our systems to fully recover and having uninterrupted power to our stores assists with that too."
The initial 227 Powerwall units would help 130 stores that "have the highest impact on turnover and profit" to manage the load shedding risk, with the additional 80 earmarked to support a further 68 stores to mitigate blackouts.
"In total these systems will be in 198 TFG stores nationwide. In many major centres, and to the extent possible, the group has already secured alternate sources of electricity from landlords, for example from backup generators, and so it becomes a case-by-case evaluation based on the location of our stores."
TFG said it had found the systems to be effective, and that their capabilities included providing "seamless backup power by detecting grid outages and automatically powering the essential loads".
Importantly, if electricity rates varied throughout a day, the Powerwall would also charge when electricity costs are low and discharge when electricity costs are high, generating automatic savings.
READ | Last week's load shedding cost Truworths more than 10% of its sales
Each Powerwall unit also provided "monitoring, metering and management for the system" and its small size and the fact that it was wall-mounted, made it "more compact as it uses less space in stores".
It was also planning to roll out backup battery and inverter systems to more stores, but added this would not necessarily be sourced from Tesla.
It would assess the need for this "based on the requirements of our different store formats, and the availability of input materials and installation capacity from service providers".
TFG says the rollout of back up battery and inverter systems relies on several factors, among them the expected state of future load shedding and whether the mall in which a store was based had backup generation. Other factors included whether there was sufficient lighting in common areas as well as the effect on turnover of a particular store.