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State of Solar in South Africa

State of Solar in South Africa

South Africa is the second fastest growing solar market in Africa after Egypt. The main contributor to this growth is the private sector, with both households and commercial buildings utilizing solar power to offset electricity prices. Price drops of PV panels in recent years have fueled the growth as the panels become more accessible to a larger market. 

Why solar power? 

Solar always made sense in South Africa as it gets around 40% more solar radiation than central Europe. Although Eskom produces an overwhelming amount of South Africa’s electricity, the government initially set out many programmes in order to grow the solar industry. The Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme has shown that South Africa can successfully implement a large-scale, world-class renewable energy programme. This has led to a few large scale industrial solar plants predominantly in the Northern Cape, where some have been funded by Eskom. South Africa’s biggest solar plant is the Jasper Solar Power Project which is a 96MW system in the Northern Cape.  

Why residential solar systems? 

In 2016 residential solar system owners found that they could on average recoup the cost of the solar panel within 5 to 6 years. This window was more palatable for the average consumer as load shedding began to affect the average person. Solar companies are also now more experienced with offering clients more optimal systems that generate electricity more efficiently. More demand has also led to competition in the industry, creating more affordable options. As load shedding and tariffs on electricity continue to impact the livelihood of most South Africans, solar will continue to appeal to an ever growing market.  

Will Solar power fix all my power issues? 

Unfortunately it is still quite expensive to get a solar system big enough to go completely off grid. Having a smaller system that can be more fully utilized more of the time and then using the grid as a backup to cover any spikes in electricity usage is currently the most financially savvy option. A smaller system with a battery bank can easily power essential loads, such as lights, routers, TVs and fridges during power outages. However bigger appliances such as stoves and geysers are normally excluded. Without battery banks solar systems are not reliable enough to cover one from load shedding because solar power production will be reduced during those overcast and rainy days.  

What’s next for solar? 

Solar power technology will continue to develop due to an international push for renewable energy. This means that not only will solar systems continue to drop in price, they will also become more user-friendly, allowing for more households to easily be independent of local grids. Solar panels also have the potential to eventually replace objects such as glass and tiles on buildings and vehicles. 

Solar power is in a good place in South Africa with over 2.5GW of solar capacity installed. New solar companies are regularly entering the market allowing households a choice of suppliers as well as regular monitoring and maintenance to ensure that PV systems run smoothly.