Stage Zero poised to radically disrupt unreliable residential power supply market

JOHANNESBURG – Vivica Group, which was established by bringing powerhouse local brands such as Vox, Frogfoot, Everlytic and Braintree into the same group as innovative high-growth start-ups such as Guardian Eye, Armata, Qwerti and HYPA, has launched Stage Zero, a power utility provider which is poised to radically overhaul how South African households are forced to deal with Eskom and local municipality unreliability.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said in the second week of October that the country had turned the corner regarding loadshedding with the restart of another generating unit at Kusile. However, estimates suggest that the country’s energy availability factor (EAF) could decline as much as 25% by 2028. For reference, Nigeria’s EAF declined to 32.8% resulting in the grid collapsing four times. A collapsed grid requires a cold start which can take days or weeks. The fact remains that South Africa is not out of woods and the power crisis will linger for time to come.

Source: Eskom historical data: Apr-2019 to Sep-2023

Stage Zero is not just another provider of solar or battery backup systems attempting to position a new product, says Stage Zero CEO, Abraham van der Merwe. Where it differs drastically from everything currently available to South Africans is that the business sells a value proposition – in the form of utility cost savings or loadshedding protection – without the burden of long-term risk currently associated with the industry.

“We did things differently,” explains Van Der Merwe. “We looked at the industry and noticed several problems. First, no one was making a clear value proposition to the customer. In other words, what are you going to achieve? Will you save money, or will you simply be paying extra on top of your utility bill? Will you be guaranteed to survive load shedding?

“Then, we noticed that while there are many solutions out there, they are all way too complex. You can’t expect households to understand and provide their consumption profiles, never mind the PV technology such as inverter, battery and solar panel types. How can a household be expected to oversee the sizing and specification planning of the solution with no guarantee of actual utility cost savings? Beyond this, we also realised that once the customer pays for an installation and buys products, there’s no one who looks after the solution once it is up and running. Current solutions are also not built with aesthetics in mind, and to be blunt, are an eyesore that one wants to hide away. We set out to build something beautiful that adds to the aesthetic value of the house.

Figure 1 Typical Stage Zero installation

“Going a bit deeper, we noticed that everyone is either selling solutions or renting them with caveats. In other words, the customer is locked in for a very long period, or they must buy the solution if they no longer want to rent. This places all the risk on the shoulders of the consumer. But this is out of touch with reality – what if someone needs to move houses, downsize or gets divorced and moves out? Life is unpredictable and people need flexibility to be let off the hook.”

“Roughly one third of households don’t have access to their rooftops as they live in multi dwelling units. The same applies to many businesses, e.g. retailers in shopping malls or commercial customers in business parks. These same customers require protection from load shedding even though solar is not an option. We developed a range of backup only solutions which are identical to their solar rooftop equivalents and have already deployed these at a number of residential and commercial customers including well known retailers such as Edgars, LEGiT, KEEDO and Clothing Junction. For those on the move we also created a range of portable power solutions.”

“And finally, very importantly, there’s very little being spoken about in the way of compliance. How many customers know that the installer must provide a certificate of compliance? Did the installer register the solution with the municipality? Did they do the grid tie-in properly and according to specification? Very few people realise that households can be liable for large fines if these compliance steps are not covered, never mind that a faulty installation can endanger their own or other households.”

Van Der Merwe explains that after analysing what was currently available to South African households, the team developed Stage Zero as a revolutionary residential utility provider that addresses every one of the problems it found in the industry currently, culminating in a clear value proposition.

Stage Zero will enter into short-term contracts with homeowners who wish to save on their utility bills or reduce their exposure to load shedding. Stage Zero will meet these obligations through harnessing solar power or through its battery backup solutions – which are attractive and are owned and maintained by Stage Zero throughout the contract.

“Stage Zero shows the customer on order exactly how much they will spend compared to their existing utility bill when placing an order and then provides ongoing reporting through the Stage Zero customer zone, showing what the customer would have spent without Stage Zero, what their utility bills will be now, and the resulting saving and performance. If a customer is fed up with load shedding, like all of us are, and wants to build in guaranteed protection from load shedding, they can choose that option instead. With our interactive dashboard, they can track performance against this service promise without the burden of a long-term contract tie-in where the consumer takes all the risk, and we believe this is exactly what the market has been missing,” says Van Der Merwe.

The crux of the Stage Zero proposition, he says, is that it is a short-term utility contract with no obligation around the equipment once the service is no longer needed.

“The customer dashboard really sets Stage Zero apart,” explains Van Der Merwe. “A customer can see actual performance against Stage Zero service guarantees, how the system is functioning, the monetary and carbon emissions savings, pay their bill, and more. Beyond that, the customer has easy access to all the contracts Stage Zero has entered into on its behalf to take care of the compliance obligations we have highlighted as crucial.”

Figure 2 Stage Zero customer zone

Van Der Merwe says that promises are easy to make, and are a dime a dozen, but Stage Zero has built its business on a performance guarantee. “Stage Zero allows you – in the customer dashboard – to track our performance against the guarantee we have provided – that is whether you are saving against your current utility bill or whether Stage Zero is living up to its promise to provide protection against load shedding you require,” he says.

Ultimately, he says, Stage Zero signifies a shift from households owning a problem to a company that solves a problem for households, taking care of every step of the journey, from compliance to superior aesthetics to installation, and maintenance, and more.

Van der Merwe says it was crucial to simplify matters for consumers in an unnecessarily complicated market. “Stage Zero’s genesis comes from the need to provide a simple, accessible and easy-to-understand solution that resonates with consumers. It represents the next phase of renewable energy in the consumer sector. Beyond this, an important focus point for Stage Zero will be a website that walks the consumer through each step of the power discussion, educating them, putting the power in their hands, so to speak.”

FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailCopy Link