“We have this handy fusion reactor in the sky called the sun; you don’t have to do anything, it just works. It shows up every day” (Elon Musk)

Eskom’s no-end-in-sight loadshedding, rising electricity costs, South Africa’s abundance of sunshine, and the global move to sustainable energy solutions have all contributed to the current boom in home solar photovoltaic (PV) roof installations.

They don’t come cheap, but quite apart from the direct practical and financial benefits of going as much off-grid as possible, you will be boosting your property’s resale value (supposedly by between 4% and 8% depending on the system you install and your current house value). And at least one municipality is already planning to pay you for any excess power you feed back into its grid – expect that to become a growing trend.

Moreover, in addition to the existing tax incentives for businesses installing solar, the Budget Speech has promised both an expansion of the tax incentives and the introduction of a new tax incentive for individuals in the form of a 25% tax rebate (maximum R15,000 per individual) of the cost of “new and unused” solar panels (not inverters or batteries) – available for 1 year only (1 March 2023 to 29 February 2024) “to encourage investment as soon as possible”.

Step 1: How to choose an installer for a safe and legal installation

Before you accept a quote for your solar project (typically some solar panels, an inverter and a battery or two), there are several regulatory requirements to bear in mind, and the best way to ensure that you comply with everything (quite apart from the safety aspect) is to choose an installer with a good track record and the right qualifications. Bear in mind that you will need your installer to issue a valid compliance certificate for the system for several reasons –

  • To complete the process of getting the system authorised (see below),
  • To add the system to your homeowner’s insurance,
  • To ensure that the system’s warranties aren’t voided, and
  • To allow you to claim the new tax rebate as above.

Questions to ask a prospective installer: Here’s a list of questions to ask (adapted from the excellent list in “City of Cape Town’s Checklist for safely going solar” on cape{town}etc) –

  • What prior experience do you have in solar PV installations?
  • What three recent clients of yours can I phone for references?
  • Did you design, supply and install the systems, or did you only carry out one or two of these steps?
  • Are you an accredited service provider under PV Green CardSAPVIA or P4 Platform?
  • Can you supply proof of electrical Certificates of Compliance and/or professional engineer sign-offs on previous installations?
  • Can you prove that your previous installations were correctly authorised by the local authority (or Eskom if direct customers)?
  • Do you employ or subcontract qualified staff to design and install systems? (Note: The City of Cape Town suggests you ask for “proof of up-to-date registration (a wireman’s licence and DoLE registration)”).
  • Is the inverter you are quoting for on the local authority’s approved inverter list? (Note: Find the City of Cape Town’s list here; if you are told that your local authority has no such list, get written confirmation).
  • If you propose a “grid-tied system” (see definition below) do you have available an Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) registered professional to sign it off?
  • Are the solar PV panels in compliance with SANS/IEC standards? (Note: The City of Cape Town article recommends you get a certificate of compliance for SANS/IEC 61215:2015 / SANS/IEC 61646:2016).
  • Are you registered with SAPVIA and the ECB? (Note: Per The City of Cape Town “it’s not compulsory but shows commitment to industry best practice.”)
  • What warranties apply to your installation and the components? (Keep proof, with all manuals).
  • Is your quote comprehensive and does it include installation of circuit breakers (specialized to the DC current from the panels), obtaining SSEG registration (see below) and a Certificate of Compliance?
Step 2: How to comply with all regulatory requirements
  • Next, comply with the SSEG (Small Scale Embedded Generation) process – have your chosen installer do everything on your behalf. You will need to register the system for authorisation with either Eskom or your local municipality (whichever supplies your electricity).
  • Note that authorisation is needed whether or not your system will be feeding electricity back into the grid. If your system will connect to the grid (via your distribution board or directly) it will be a “grid-tied” one – either “feed-in” or “non-feed-in” depending on whether or not it will export excess power to the grid. If it’s “non-feed-in” you will need to have “Reverse Power Flow Blocking” installed to prevent any excess electricity feeding back into the grid. If it’s a “feed-in” you have more hoops to jump through as an Electricity Supplier. To complicate matters further, you also get “hybrid” systems which can be either on-grid or off-grid. For more detail read the City of Cape Town article referenced above (“The three types of systems” section).

    Incidentally none of this is just bureaucratic red tape – suppliers need to know when it is safe for their technicians to work on the grid, there are issues related to grid management, and there are home safety issues around risk of fires and other hazards.

    Check with your supplier (local authority or Eskom) whether you need any authority for a standalone (“off-grid”) system. At date of writing, at least one municipality – City of Cape Town – does require registration “to ensure they are not mistaken for grid-tied systems”.

  • The process itself, let alone the terminology and technical requirements (such as wiring diagrams and an engineering sign-off), is complicated. Have your installers do everything for you, and in doubt contact your municipality’s electricity department (or Eskom direct if applicable) for more information.
  • Failing to register and obtain written authorisation prior to installation could be an expensive business, with some municipalities threatening to use aerial photos, inspections and billing analysis to locate unauthorised systems, which will then attract penalties, contravention notices, and supply disconnection. Failure to register might even cause your insurers to reject a claim and that could be disastrous – think for example of a system failure causing a house fire.
  • If you live in a “community scheme” like a sectional title complex or a homeowner’s association complex, check your Rules and Regulations and get necessary consents upfront.
  • Make sure that all aspects of the installation comply with local regulations to reduce the risk of any future insurance claims being rejected for non-compliance. For example, check the technical requirements for roof structures (ensure that they can cope with the weight and wind load of panels), also you may or may not need building plans, plus some municipalities have lists of approved inverter makes and models.
    Talking of which, don’t forget to send the compliance certificate to your insurers with an instruction to add your new system to your homeowner’s policy.
Safety and recourse for poor work

The City of Cape Town checklist referenced above is well worth a full read regardless of where you live – read in particular the sections on safety and “Recourse for poor work”.

A final thought – should you ditch Eskom altogether?

A final thought – you could of course go off-grid entirely. It’s tempting isn’t it to wave Eskom and all its issues a cheerful good-bye, you’ll be avoiding a lot of the paperwork mentioned above, plus you won’t be paying Eskom’s “fixed service connection fees” any longer. But then you really will be on your own, with no connection whatsoever to your municipal or Eskom supply. Think about the effect on your resale value as well as the short-term pros and cons of making that sort of decision!

Disclaimer: The information provided herein should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your professional adviser for specific and detailed advice.

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