“How hard can it be? You just put some panels on the roof, get an electrician to hook up the inverter and then connect to your building’s supply. No?”

You would be amazed at how many times I have heard this statement from a potential client who has asked me to come and discuss a possible solar PV plant for their building. More often than not, Mr Client has been approached by a solar panel and/or inverter distributor, or self-proclaimed solar expert installer with a proposal to “cover the roof with panels so you can halve your electricity bill, if not almost completely remove it” followed by a common misconception of, “don’t worry, your meter will run backwards and you just pay less electricity – if at all”, and last but not least, “once it’s on the roof, you just let the sun do the work and let the rain clean it!”

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Well, I am sorry to disappoint you if you thought it was that easy. Unfortunately, the commercial (or even residential for that matter) solar PV design and installation industry is not highly regulated or controlled. All manner of ‘experts’ have jumped onto the solar PV bandwagon taking advantage of the frustration borne of ESKOM’s ever-increasing tariffs and sometimes intermittent supply – both of which seem to be an ongoing concern without any resolution in the foreseeable future!

Considering that a well-designed and quality equipped solar PV plant should last at least 25 to 30 years generating electricity which will cost millions of Rands (depending on the size) to build, why would you not want to ensure that you are getting the most cost-effective and appropriate solution for your business? The best analogy to draw is that if you have a heart problem; do you visit a cardiologist to get the best advice, or just go ahead and book yourself into hospital for a bypass to save the initial consultation fee? The question doesn’t even deserve an answer!

To ensure that whatever solar PV plant you decide to build at your facility will give you good return on investment with all the possible guarantees or warrantees in place, you need to spend that little bit upfront to find out:

a. how big a plant can you fit on your roof or adjacent land;

b. how big should the plant be so as not to produce power when you don’t need it and is wasted, extending your payback period and reducing the ROI;

c. are you even allowed to build a plant at your facility and connect to the municipal grid;

d. is your roof structure (or the ground) suitable for a solar plant;

e. will the plant generate enough energy to be meaningful;

f. which panels, inverters, mounting structures should you use; what happens if something breakswho is going to maintain and clean the plant?

These and more questions need to be answered before you spend any CAPEX on a project of this size and complexity.

It’s a mistake to expect a detailed “quote or proposal” without the supplier or consultant having had the opportunity to investigate some of the above-mentioned questions in some detail to begin with. Unfortunately, qualified engineers with real solar experience aren’t easy to find and don’t come cheap. Be sure to partner with someone who does not have a vested interest in selling you as many panels as can fit on your roof just because you can, because you just might not need it!

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