This local solar battery firm has an affordable fix for homes, startups hit by load shedding

Business Insider SA
I-G3N management team; Tumi Mphahele, Jaques Buys, Sydney Phakathi. (Image: Supplied/i-G3N)
  • i-G3N, a local battery maker, builds energy storage solutions to help small businesses keep their doors open during load shedding.
  • The battery units start from R10,000 and go up to R200,000 for more commercial applications.
  • The company hopes to tap into other markets on the continent, with Nigeria one of its targets
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A local manufacturer of solar-powered batteries, i-G3N, says it has lithium-ion batteries that households and small businesses can rely on during power outages in the face of South Africa's persisting energy crisis, affordably.

i-G3N, founded by Tumi Mphahlele, Sydney Phakathi, and Jaques Buys, was established in 2018 to respond to the load shedding crisis that South Africa has struggled with, now for more than a decade.

It mainly produces energy storage units that serve as backup power during load shedding or as an alternative power supply for homes and businesses looking to move off the grid.

For i-G3N, keeping small businesses in particular powered up is imperative.

"The people that are suffering the most are small businesses that have to shut down for those three or four hours… and they need to pay employees, but there is no production, and some types of businesses operate purely on power," Mphahlele said.

Mphahlele said South Africa's struggles with keeping the lights on have become bigger than slight discomforts in residential space.

"It actually slows down the ability of our economy to grow. So the gap that we are actually closing or the impact that we are actually making is much more profound because we are trying to get businesses to operate," she said.

Its products have a starting price of R10,000, and they range to more than R200,00 for those meant for commercial and industrial industries.

"We've tried to differentiate our products. People's budgets are different. We have the nano, that's quite the portable unit, [and other] storage solutions for residential and going all the way through to basically commercial-sized projects. So it's about scalability and offering that throughout the range," said Buys.

The company has a network of more than 1,000 installers and is eyeing the 213-million-people Nigerian market among others on the continent such as Namibia and Zambia, Phakathi said. Nigeria's own unstable power supply has also weighed on small businesses and the economy at large.

"We've been lucky we've had lots of interactions with distributors in other countries, but there is a pressing need in Nigeria; I do see us being more active in that market. Traditionally, it has been a diesel and generator market, even in South Africa, but people are also starting to realise that the cost of diesel is very expensive," Phakathi said.

Buys said the company is also eyeing Botswana and is pegging its hopes on the return of tourism in that country which will potentially drive up demand for alternate energy solutions.

"There are a lot of lodges that are looking at not connecting to the grid and being self-sufficient, but with the tourism market taking a nosedive with Covid, all of those projects are still on the cards, but they just postpone them or descale them slightly. We hope tourism will return to these countries that have a very valuable revenue stream that is not there at the moment," said Buys. 

(Compiled by Ntando Thukwana.)

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