Have you ever wondered why dark and rainy Germany is a global leader in solar PV installations and why we don’t see more solar PV installations in sunny South Africa ?

Looking at world-wide statistics, South Africa has one of the best solar resources globally. The Department of Minerals and Energy places South Africa’s annual direct normal irradiation (DNI) between 2 500kWh/m2 and 2 900 kWh/m2 with the an average of almost 300 days of sunshine per year. The DNI in the Northern Cape and North West province are amongst the highest in the world according to the World Radiation Data Centre.

So why is Germany the world’s top solar photovoltaic (PV) installer and not South Africa?

The discussions about developing renewable energy in South Africa only started in the late 1990s. In 2003, the department of Mineral and Energy published the Integrated Energy Plan calling for the introduction of policy, legislation and regulation for the promotion of renewable energy. But it took until 2010 to create more specific actions. The revised Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) from 2011 calls for 300MWpeak of additional PV capacity to be added every year from 2012 until 2024. A further 4500MWpeak is planned for the years thereafter until 2030 to reach a total of 8.4GWpeak additional installed capacity.

Germany already had a capacity of 25,000MW (25GW) by 2011. This was mainly created through subsidies from the government, by offering attractive feed-in-tariffs over a very long payback period. Only the subsidies made this viable due to the extremely high prices of the components during the 90’s and beginning of 2000.

So what is actually happening in South Africa?

One thing is clear; South Africa could produce a significant amount of its own energy through solar PV and reduce some of the intermittent load, possibly even reducing some of its base load. But as yet, there is still a great deal that needs to be done by our government and municipalities to take advantage of this opportunity including how to manage electricity feed-in to the grid and how to pay for this.

Solar PV and other renewable energy installations may currently only run connected to the Eskom grid and offset instantaneous consumption. No reverse power flow back to the grid is allowed. This is primarily due electrocution risk if someone were to be working on the line as well as not having a net metering solution to manage billing as yet.

In Cape Town, written permission to connect in parallel with the grid must be obtained and one would be required to comply with the city’s requirements in this regard.

The city is working across numerous fronts to agree on technical standards, meter solutions, back-end business (billing) processes and legislative issues, to be able to accommodate full reverse power flow in the future but as yet, no real time lines are known.

Johannesburg is currently struggling with similar issues as Cape Town.

Ethekwini currently appears to be the only municipality which offers a power purchasing agreement with registered renewable power generators. But only if there are no additional costs to council and if the produced electricity is considered “cleaner” than the one supplied by Eskom. The remuneration is the same as Eskom’s Megaflex tariff, which is the same price the municipality has to pay for the electricity purchase from Eskom. All connection costs for work and equipment for connection to the municipal network have to be covered by the electricity generator. High connection rates under the Megaflex tariff (R2046 per month) do not make small systems financially viable.

Another important point to consider is the energy efficiency potential in South Africa. Businesses still have huge potential for improvement and energy efficiency should always be considered first before investing in renewable energy solutions. The cost per watt saved more than triples when implementing solar PV solutions as opposed to implementing energy efficiency solutions.

Terra Firma Solutions’ engineers have seen an incredible increase in demand for solar PV feasibility assessments and installations recently. Our experience has shown that this is a complicated subject and often the engineering behind solar PV projects are costly. Only a Solar Feasibility Study will give you a clear view to the potential yield of energy that can be generated and the associated costs of implementation.

Our dream is for South Africa to utilise this abundant resource and hence for our engineers share their knowledge and experience through specialised face-to-face training to teach you how to determine whether or not a solar solution would be viable for you, your business or for your clients’ business.

Have a look at our new Solar PV Feasibility Assessment course.