There is a revolution in our midst. The revolution is helping companies cut their energy costs, with progressively greater returns on investment in the years to come; it is also helping some companies secure their electricity supply and protect themselves against the rising cost of electricity. This revolution is reducing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted to the atmosphere, thus mitigating climate change and improving a company’s public image by becoming more environmentally responsible. It is the Rooftop Revolution, and is one of the fastest growing industries in both South Africa and the world: solar photovoltaic, or solar PV.

Solar PV is the fastest growing power-generating technology in the world. The PV market is said to be growing globally at an annual rate of 35 to 40%. This is a pace so rapid that it has quadrupled America’s solar capacity in the past four years alone, from 2 326 MW in 2010 to 12 057 MW in February 2014, a remarkable 418% increase. According to the Global Solar Power Market report published in June 2014 by Frost and Sullivan, global revenues from solar operations are predicted to more than double from $59.84 billion in 2013 to $137 billion in 2020. According to the same report, Africa, which has benefited greatly from a radical decrease in the cost of installed solar PV, has seen significantly increased investment in renewable-energy projects, especially Solar PV. In South Africa, over the past two years, Terra Firma Solutions engineers have installed over 1.56 MW of solar PV, further illustrating the increasing national demand. South African investments in renewable energy reached $5.5 billion in 2012, $4.3 billion of which (80%) went to the solar sector. Although most of this was invested in ground mounted solar PV systems the rooftop solar PV market is accelerating fast. Total investment in renewable-energy in South Africa increased to $5.7 billion by 2014 and is expected to continue along this upward trend in the coming years.

South Africa is currently ready to install between 3 000 to 4 000 MW of bid-compliant utility-scale solar PV projects, through the country’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Programme (REIPPP). Although the exact criteria for what makes a utility-scale solar PV plant may vary, it is agreed that a Solar PV facility whose electricity is used to feed the national electricity grid, thus supplying the utility, is considered a utility-scale plant. The solar PV industry, therefore, consists of both utility-scale plants and rooftop solar-energy systems for private individual power users who want increased energy independence from the national grid and control of rising costs of electricity. The growth of this industry, in utility-scale and rooftop-solar plants alike, illustrates South Africa’s growing potential to harness enormous amounts solar energy that can make important contributions to the energy sector, businesses, society and the economy.

Prompting the incredible growth in rooftop solar PV in South Africa, is a combination of various conditions (economic and physical) that have made the transition to rooftop solar PV extremely timely and favourable.

Economically, South Africa has historically had one of the lowest electricity prices in the world. Over the years, however, particularly since 2008, demand for electricity has outstripped supply, forcing prices to increase to all-time highs. With Eskom’s latest multi-year price determination (MYPD3), already-high electricity prices will continue to increase year-on-year by at least 8% for the next five years, followed by even higher annual percentage increases until 2020. These alarming increases mean that companies’ energy costs are expected to more than double in the next five years, and quadruple in the next decade. In addition, Eskom has recently asked large power consumers to either reduce their consumption during peak hours by at least 10% or shut down operations altogether for up to 3 months (as it requested of ferrochrome smelters last year). The limited excess capacity of Eskom is preventing growth in the South African economy, a top emerging market, because reduced production has inverse effects of national GDP.
It is clear that Eskom’s limited capacity not only has negative implications on the price of electricity but also inhibits the growth of businesses and, ultimately, the economy. Large corporates, and players in the mining, steel, automotive and manufacturing industry, are now increasingly turning to solar to protect themselves from these rising tariffs and from other restrictions associated with Eskom’s limited supply. Capital investments in solar can often be paid back within five years, and show lucrative Net Present Values of the 20 -25 year project life of the PV system.

Geographically, South Africa possesses one of the most abundant solar resources in the world, with an average of 2 500 hours of sunshine per year, and with average solar-radiation levels ranging from 4.5 to 6.5 kWh/m2. This means that millions of rooftops in South Africa are exposed to high levels of valuable solar radiation that can be harnessed in a significantly more direct, cost-effective and efficient way compared to the country’s current sources of energy. As Danny Kennedy, the author of Rooftop Revolution puts it, “we already get our energy from the sun; we just do it in the most laughably inefficient way imaginable”—namely, fossil fuels. Linked to the extraction of fossil fuels are also the vast environmental impacts that an over-reliance on inefficient and harmful fossil fuels has caused.

A final important factor that has fuelled the solar fire of the rooftop revolution involves the drastically decreased price of the technology in recent years. Solar PV technology is already a mature technology, yet it is still experiencing further technological improvements and cost reductions. It is reported that, between 2007 and 2012, solar-manufacturing costs dropped an estimated 70 to 80%.

The Swanson Effect

The Swanson Effect

In 2013, these price reductions continued: SunPower, the second largest solar PV manufacturer in the US, reported that it reduced its manufacturing costs by 20% during 2013 alone. Similarly, the solar PV industry has also begun to mature in South Africa. This has lowered costs—and will continue to reduce costs—upon increased capacity. In fact, it is expected that solar PV will be the cheapest energy-generating technology in South Africa by 2020, after reaching price parity with coal in 2018.

It is undeniably clear that now is the opportune time for small, medium and large power users in South Africa to truly empower themselves: to benefit from invaluable business-solar solutions, to start saving, to own a solar PV plant and to join the Rooftop Revolution. With financing options available, and no capital-investment needed, there really are no obstacles to getting involved. Victor Hugo put it best when he said that “all the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come”.

Cash Flow for a 130kW Solar PV System

Cash Flow for a 130kW Solar PV System


DGB commissioned Terra Firma Solutions to design and build a rooftop solar PV solution for their facility in Wellington, South Africa. It was installed across four of its roofs and is the largest solar power project in the local wine industry to date. It is comprised of approximately 2500 solar panels and 32 inverters covering 5000m2. The PV plant produces approximately 1,252 112kWh’s of electricity per annum which is about 45 to 50% of the annual consumption of the total facility.

Contact us to find out more.

A massive solar PV plant is being erected on the roof of Wonderboom Junction shopping centre and is the first of its kind to be approved by the Tshwane metro.

Construction of one of the largest commercial rooftop solar plants in the country has received the green light from the Tshwane council and will be completed in less than three months’ time.

The 7 000m² solar photovoltaic (PV) plant, made up of 3 600 solar panels along with 18 inverters, will be built on the roof of Wonderboom Junction in the north of the city. Centre owners were currently also looking at expanding the initiative.

The shopping mall is currently undergoing a R700-million upgrade and revamp undertaken by property developer Abland and will see the size of the centre increase from the current 37 000m² to 58 000m².

Once operational, the solar plant will have a capacity of approximately 1,15MW (1 152kW) and produce some 1 850 000kW of electricity a year, which is enough to power about 400 standard family homes for a year.

The solar plant is being constructed in three phases and once complete, in August, it will be one of the largest in South Africa and generate approximately 10 to 15% of the annual electricity required for the shopping mall.

“The Tshwane metro has taken a major step in upping the ante for city metros in South Africa by approving its first commercial solar PV plant,” said Shaun Welgemoed, head of retail development at Abland, the development manager for Pivotal Property Fund that owns Wonderboom Junction.

Pivotal commissioned Terra Firma Solutions, a specialist turnkey energy and solar company to design and build the solar plant.

“This is a groundbreaking solar PV plant in the Tshwane municipality and we [Terra] are grateful to the municipality for allowing Wonderboom Junction to be their first officially approved rooftop solar PV plant,” said Ed Gluckman, managing director of Terra Firma Solutions.

“The centre is an ideal site for solar PV as it has an expansive rooftop space with no shading around.”

With Eskom under pressure to meet energy demands, and increasing tariffs, Pivotal and other property funds had dramatically increased their investment in renewable energy for their commercial properties over the last few years to mitigate rising electricity costs, Welgemoed said.

“Retail properties in particular offer a fantastic return given that the majority of a shopping mall’s energy demand occurs during the middle of the day when a PV plant produces the greatest amount of electricity, which means all the electricity generated is utilised by the building.”

“Shopping malls also operate on the weekends, which greatly improves the solar plant’s payback period for the owner,” he said.

Wonderboom Junction’s solar plant will cover 7 000m² of the existing 30 000m² roof.

“Aside from the energy savings to be enjoyed, it also addresses Pivotal’s sustainability goals by supporting renewable or ‘green’ energy generation.”

“As a company we strive to develop and own retail sites that are as sustainable as possible. Working with Terra Firma Solutions, we will be able to generate a sizable portion of our daily electricity needs while also increasing the financial yield of our upgrade,” said Welgemoed.

Wonderboom Junction is currently undergoing a major upgrade and expansion and Pivotal is considering expanding the solar installation too.

“This would increase the future size of the solar plant to well over 2,5MW, which would make it one of the largest commercial rooftop solar PV plants in the Southern Hemisphere, let alone Southern Africa,” said Welgemoed.

The centre is open for business during the upgrades and will host a Solar Expo, at which the solar plant will be introduced to the public, from 16 to 19 June.


“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!”


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!


Reduced operational costs

Although this depends on the cost of your existing electricity, if you are supplied by a municipality and not Eskom, the chances are very good that the cost of the electricity supplied by a solar PV plant, if not almost the same or cheaper than municipal costs, will be so in the immediate future. Factoring in that electricity tariffs are destined to continue rising for the foreseeable future and that most solar PV systems are, by design, expected to produce electricity for at least 25 years (and longer), the savings over time can be tremendous.

Generate additional income

Depending on your roof, you might have enough space to build a PV plant of a meaningful size. Naturally, certain criteria have to be met to make any plant viable, elements such as the orientation, pitch, shading objects and structural integrity. Assuming these criteria are met, you as a landlord could build a PV plant on your roof and supply tenants with electricity alongside the municipal supply. Imagine taking even a portion of the revenue from the municipality for electricity you produce, for 25 years.

Over time It can add up to a substantial income. All of this on a roof which before had no purpose other than keeping the rain out! It is not unusual for some of the plants we built to pay themselves off in under 8 years.

If you have no tenants and are paying the electricity bill yourself, some municipalities offer a mechanism through which you can either resell unused energy produced by your plant to the municipality or receive a credit against your bill. These are either feed-in-tariff schemes or net metering programmes. There is more to discuss in relation to this topic , though, but the detail description required warrants a future article.

Improved energy security

This is a hot topic in South Africa in particular given our history of power failures, irregular supply and load shedding. As policy makers discuss all the options under consideration (nuclear power plants, independent coal-fired power stations, offshore vessels supplying electricity, more utility-sized renewable energy projects such as wind farms, CSP and solar PV plants etc.) business has to continue. Many have installed diesel generators to mitigate this risk however diesel can prove expensive, fuel can run out and generators do breakdown.

The alternative is storage (batteries) but to date, this is too expensive for most commercial considerations. Space required to house the batteries is also a problem. This will not be the case forever. As prices for solar panels dropped over time as demand increased, so too will the cost of storage. With the likes of Tesla and some of the biggest automakers and international consumer goods companies (Mercedes Benz, BMW Samsung, Sharp, Siemens, Philips, Bosch) developing storage solutions ,not to mention the existing conventional battery manufacturers; the laws of supply and demand will inevitably drive costs down.

Some businesses install hybrid systems whereby a portion of their solar PV plant charges batteries to be utilised for critical systems in the event of a power failure (much like Uninterrupted Power Supply systems) and also connect to a backup generator. This is all done to offer continuous power whilst also reducing energy costs over time.

One of the greatest benefits of solar PV is that it is scalable. Installing storage to an existing solar PV system at a later stage (when cost effective), is also a relatively straightforward process.

Attract customers, tenants, and employees

Whether you are a landlord or tenant, being able to boast a solar PV system on your roof which supplements your energy requirements shows a commitment to a sustainable way of doing business.

With the benefit of reduced operational costs, you as a landlord might also be able to offer a lower utility cost to your tenants thereby improving tenant retention.

Depending on the nature of your business or premises, being able to highlight and quantify the energy savings and reduced carbon footprint could be a deciding factor for clients or customers who in their own right want or need to demonstrate a preference for environmentally sustainable suppliers.

The above may all sound like spin, but in truth, renewable energy is a key factor to improving our environmental performance and claiming credit for it only motivates others to follow suit, which in turn is good for everybody!

Quicker and easier installation

Last but certainly not least; installing a rooftop solar PV plant is usually a lot less complicated, less expensive and takes less time when compared to building a ground mount or parking structure equivalent solar PV plant. Whilst this is most often the case, there will always be exceptions.

Aside from the time saved by building on the roof, it also means that you aren’t prohibiting further expansion onto open land that could be developed in future.

Want to find out more? Use our Solar PV Calculator to work out if a plant would be feasible for your business. Or just call us direct on 021 300 1620 – 011 568 0768 to find out more.

As alluded to in previous articles, implementing solar PV for your business is not a cut and dry process of simply mounting panels on your roof and connecting to your building’s electricity supply. For a broader insight on solar PV you can read; 5 reasons to install rooftop solar PV for your business and Does a solar plant make sense for your business?

This article will give you some insight as to what you need to know about your planned solar PV installation, your service provider and the requirements to ensure a successful project outcome. Like with any construction project there are rules to be followed but it can be difficult to ascertain which are necessary or needed, and which aren’t.

One of the first questions asked is what official or industry related bodies should your PV installer belong to, if any? Currently, there is no specific requirement as it pertains to solar PV plants, however, due to the electrical work required the minimum recommended for a PV installation company is to be registered with the Department of Labour (DoL) as an electrical contractor. By virtue of this registration, it means that at least one of the responsible persons in the organisation has a Wireman’s license to ensure compliance with SANS 10142 regulations when doing an electrical installation.

Given that a great deal of the commercial solar PV plant installations in South Africa are rooftop mounted, there are additional requirements that need to be followed:

This would include the client signing a mandatory appointment contract 37(2). This is in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Furthermore, the contractor and client would have to sign and submit to the DoL, annexure 2 of the Construction regulations (2014). This is the notification of working at heights.

Along with the regulations mentioned above, each site needs to have a compliant safety file available at all times. The installer (company) should also be in good standing with the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA).

The contractor will have to notify the local supply authority (the municipality’s electricity department) of grid compliance and/or other possible by-law requirements.

Due diligence also needs to be given to the structural assessment of the roof before starting construction and structural sign-off from a Structural Engineer should be mandatory.

In the case of ground mount solar PV installations, consideration must be given to either basic environmental assessments or full environmental impact assessments (EIA). A ground mounted solar PV plant greater than 1000kWp (1MWp) typically requires an EIA. This can be a costly and time-consuming exercise so be sure to understand the ramifications this will have on your project before committing to the project.

A common refrain, but apt: Failing to plan is planning to fail. With any sort of construction, this is particularly true. Aside from the health and safety and various regulations mentioned above, consideration must be given to security of the site, access to the works, protecting the actual works from damage, water for staff, storage of material, waste disposal, protecting the public from harm or loss, power for construction, shade for rest areas. Special care also needs to be taken to secure access to the client’s roof when access for construction is created.

Now that you are beginning to see what is required you may wonder what sort of insurance an installer should have. It goes without saying that knowing what professional indemnity cover your installer has is critically important. Given that they might spend a few months on your roof, you want to be sure you are covered in the event of any damage or injury that takes place on your property.

Other risks to understand include fire risk which is seldom considered (albeit a very infrequent event) but a risk none the less. Your installer should do the standard electrical safety procedures including earthing the plant correctly, lightning protection (where needed) as well as an FLIR surveys to check for any hotspots (ensuring connectors are not overheating).

Last but not least, how long should the installer take to build the system? If the solar panels and inverters are being imported, consider at least 6 to 8 weeks for the equipment to arrive and be safely stored on site ready for installation. Detailed design for the plant can take a couple of weeks. Building time varies depending on the roof itself, access to site and size of the team building it and their experience. A standard build should be done with 200kWp to 300kWp per month.

If your prospective installer company undertaking the work can address all of the above-mentioned regulations and best practices, that is where you begin by evaluating them. The next steps should be to ask for references and possibly visit one or two of their sites to check the quality of the work.

As always, we are keen to discuss your facility to see if it would benefit from a solar PV plant. Don’t hesitate to contact us directly, or use our PV Calculator to give us some idea of the feasibility of a PV plant at your site.

Using what is natural, healthy and for free should be first aim when we intend to green our life styles. Wind sun and rain water are such resources. These three sustainable assets can be harvested with sometimes small yet clever tricks, at other times with more elaborate and costly measures. But once implemented they all have one thing in common: zero pollution and of course long lasting savings.

Residential lighting is considered an energy hungry area: 6% of world-wide energy consumption is allocated to light private homes. Currently lighting is largely achieved through incandescent and halogen light bulbs which unfortunately convert more than 80% of the energy used into heat rather than light. More conscious households have now introduced and installed CFLs (compact fluorescent light) or newer even more efficient LEDs (light emitting diode).

For many of us changing light bulbs is the most apparent option to reduce energy demand in terms of lighting, but it is not the only one. Another is to reduce the need for artificial light in the first place, particularly those needs that occur during the day. How many of us have rooms that never have enough daylight and need artificial lighting throughout the day? How often do we switch on an extra light source above our working area even at midday? In my experience there is always a way to reduce or even eliminate this energy demand during daytime hours before all else. Doing so can generate real savings that often last forever with practically zero pollution to our environment. When we begin to green our lighting needs during the day, we have to work with the most powerful source of light we know: our sun. In this article I would like to suggest different ways to eliminate daytime use of man-made luminaries by letting in the sunshine.

In my work as an eco consultant I look at the lighting performance of every room. I examine the needs of the home owner in this particular room and establish how natural daylight can be harvested to suit these needs. In this article I would like to share the most common options with you:

  • Add more windows
  • Change to windowed doors or walls
  • Add a skylights
  • Add a solar tubes
  • Make use of flexible curtains or frosted glass
  • Cut back on overgrowth
  • Move your layout of furniture to where the light is
  • Paint the walls in light colours
  • Add a mirror to a wall reflecting sunlight

So, after some of these changes, your home should be able to catch the sun! After that the lone issue is that daylight – as the name suggests – is available during daytime only. When there is no more daylight, different measures will apply. Hopefully we’ll have another chance to talk about those energy saving methods sometime in the future.


Terra Firma Academy interviewed Josch Thilo about his job as a solar expert and Senior Engineer at Terra Firma Solutions.

Tell us about your daily job.

I spend a lot of time assessing opportunities of potential Solar-PV systems and explaining to clients what is and what isn’t possible with the current technology. Once a promising project has been identified, a detailed design must be done. When this is complete, I support the project managers in implementing the projects.

Where did you get your qualifications?

I completed an undergraduate Mechatronics Engineering Degree at the University of Cape Town. After this I completed a multidisciplinary Master’s program in “Energy Science and Technology” at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich Switzerland. During my Master’s program I focused on Power Electronic Systems which are widely used in renewable energy technologies such as Solar-PV.

Why did you want to move into the solar energy field?

I have always been fascinated by Solar Energy particularly Solar PV and believe it has a key role to play in our future energy supply. Like with all new technologies, there are many interesting technical challenges which keeps things interesting from an engineering perspective.

Is there a big demand for skilled solar PV specialists in South Africa?

The industry is still fairly small and young in this country. However, with the new incentive programmes for renewable energy systems and governments very successful Independent Power Producer (IPP) program the industry is growing very quickly. This is now starting to translate into a big demand for skilled solar PV specialists.

Do you think one needs an engineering degree to work in the solar PV industry?

Most jobs in the Solar-PV industry do not require an engineering degree. On the one hand there are technical jobs that do not require engineering degrees (e.g. installers) and on the other hand there is also a whole host of peripheral services that the Solar PV industry requires such as lawyers, accountants and administrative staff. Engineers only make up a relatively small percentage of people working in the Solar-PV sector.

What percentages of savings can an average office block expect if solar PV would be installed on their roof?

There are too many factors that affect the percentage savings of a typical office block. The payback period for roof-top PV systems in South Africa is typically around 5 years. However, if financed and structured correctly Solar PV systems can be cash flow positive in their first year of operation.

Is there a possibility to sell energy surplus produced through solar PV?

Currently, this is only possible for very large scale Solar-PV projects registered under governments Independent Power Producer’s (IPP) Program. Most roof-top installations would not qualify for this program. However, some municipalities in South Africa are working hard to allow users to sell electricity generated with Solar-PV back to the grid. However, currently; only a bill reduction is possible in most municipalities. An interesting opportunity exists for property owners to sell energy produced by Solar-PV to their tenants. There is no doubt in my mind that selling of solar-PV generated electricity to the grid will become common practice in South Africa in the next few years.

Can you tell us anything about future demand of solar PV in South Africa?

Solar-PV prices have been decreasing very rapidly in recent years. At the same time, electricity prices in South Africa have been rising shapely and are expected to double again in the next five years. This means Solar-PV is becoming an extremely attractive alternative for forward thinking businesses and individuals. Already today, businesses and private households are realising the economic potential of using their roof to generate their own affordable and environmentally friendly energy. I strongly believe that there is massive potential for growth in the Solar-PV Industry in South Africa. With its abundant sunshine, South Africa can have a sustainable Solar-PV industry even without subsidies which have enabled the Solar Industry to establish itself in e.g. Europe.

What would you like to say to people wanting to study the Solar PV Feasibility Assessment course?

It certainly is an exciting time to become involved in the Solar-PV industry in South Africa. I think this course will give people a unique insight into the industry and allow them to understand where the opportunities and challenges lie for Solar-PV in South Africa.

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.