Solar Power in South Africa: What You Need to Know
Solar power is a power of the future. Using the sun’s energy, we are converting usable electricity for business and home use through photovoltaic cells in solar panels and transparent photovoltaic glass. It is not only a renewable energy source, but it saves users money and gives them back control of their power supply.
The power of solar is that it is extremely versatile, a solution that is able to be customised for any size of business (retail, commercial or industrial) and home. Unfortunately, the benefits of solar and the steps to take for installation are not common knowledge, particularly in South Africa. That’s why we’ve harnessed this information for you below.
Here is everything you need to know about solar power in South Africa, whether it’s choosing the best panel or battery options, protecting your panels from damage, maximising solar output, navigating the coronavirus lockdown, and everything legal about installing and managing solar power.
Table of contents:
- What are the Best Solar Panel and Battery Options?
- What Damages Your Solar Panels?
- How to Maximise Solar Power Output
- South African Tax Incentives for Solar Power
- A Guide to Safe and Legal Solar Power Installations
- The Benefits of Solar Power
1. What are the Best Solar Panel and Solar Battery Options?
When you begin looking into solar power, it can be overwhelming trying to understand the various options available to you and which panels or batteries will be best suited to your home or business. This shouldn’t be an issue when you have a trusted and proven solar installer working beside you, but often issues like load-shedding that cause some desperation are taken advantage of by untrustworthy vendors. That’s why it’s always good for you, the consumer, to have at least a working knowledge of which options are available to you and which suit you best.
Which Battery Bank Type is Best?
- What are my battery storage options? There are currently four solar battery options on the market: Lead acid,lithium, NICAD (nickel cadmium), and FLOW
- Which battery back-up is the best option? The best choice in terms of quality and storage is a lithium battery, and all the other options are fairly outdated technology that are either too expensive to consider, not efficient enough, or too dangerous to use/remove.
Which Solar Panel Type is Best?
- What is a solar panel made of and how does it work? A photovoltaic cell inside a frame is protected by a thick and transparent sheet of glass. This cell converts photons from the sun and transforms them into electricity – this cell is the component that turns the sun’s UV rays into Direct Current (DC) energy. Once these photons have been collected and converted into practical energy, it gets sent to an inverter which takes the flow of the energy through a transformation from DC energy to AC (alternating current) energy. It is the AC electricity that is utilised in your business or home.
- What are my solar panel options? There are currently three solar panels options on the market: monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin film amorphous. The difference between these is in what material makes them. The first two options are made from crystalline silicon (most brands use these, and they are fairly equal in performance, brand dependent). Polycrystalline is said to be slightly less efficient than monocrystalline, but is usually far cheaper to produce. The final option is a totally different technology. Thin film is much less efficient and therefore uses much more roof space. Its biggest advantage is that it performs better in low light conditions, when there is partial shading of the system or in extreme heat.
- Which type of solar panel is the best kind to use? This largely depends on your purpose and location. Either mono or poly options are usually the best choices given that you are not in a low-light location (in which case, you can consider the thin film option).
2. What Damages Your Solar Panels?
It’s true that solar panels can last anywhere between 25 to 30 years, and sometimes even longer. But, that kind of lifetime assumes a solar panel is being well maintained and taken care of throughout its life. While solar panels are fairly hardy, they do need proper care, management, and insurance, to protect you from irreparable solar panel damage. See what are the most common causes of damage to a solar panel.
3. How to Maximise Solar Power Output
There’s no benefit in having a solar panel that isn’t giving you the output that makes its investment worthy. That’s why many people consider the efficiency and output of a solar panel or system to be the most important factor when assessing a solar panel’s quality. There are various criteria that can influence this, some of which are fill factor, cell grades, light absorption techniques, and panel orientation. Here we discuss the top tips to achieving maximum output in more detail.
4. South African Tax Incentives for Solar Power
Good news! There are a few tax incentives or policies that deal directly with renewable energy (and some that especially mention solar energy). In short, you can claim back 100% of your total cost of your solar installation.
The tax policy that deals with these incentives is set out in s12B(h) of the Income Tax Act, No 58 of 1962. This policy allows taxpayers to deduct the costs of a solar installation from their taxable income. Of course, as always, not everything does count as a deductible expense. The costs that you are able to deduct for are:
- installation planning costs;
- panels delivery costs;
- installation costs; and
- installation safety officer costs.
Furthermore, for taxpayers to qualify for this incentive, they must meet three strict requirements:
- that the plant, machinery, implement, utensil, or article is owned by the relevant taxpayer claiming the deduction (or purchased by it under an installment credit agreement);
- that such plant and machinery is brought into use for the first time by that taxpayer; and
- that such plant and machinery is utilised by the taxpayer in the course of its trade in the generation of electricity from specific renewable energy resources.
If meeting these requirements, the government has stated that “a taxpayer is allowed a deduction of the costs to the taxpayer of the asset producing the electricity […] Where the photovoltaic solar energy system produces less than one megawatt of power, then the taxpayer is allowed a 100% deduction in the first year of use.”
5. A Guide to Safe and Legal Solar Power Installations
Are you not quite certain of what to consider when choosing your solar installer? Currently, there are no South African standards that installers need to abide by, but that doesn’t mean there’s no way to check up on them. From verifying their previous business performance to requesting quality control certificates, staff certifications, and checking their board memberships… with these quality reference points, you’ll be able to tell a good egg from a bad one with any solar installation.
6. The Benefits of Solar Power
Solar power is the path of the future, and no one wants to be left behind in the control of a national grid. Free the control of your power supply, make some money, claim tax incentives, and throw the stress of load shedding aside. Here are the top ten reasons to install solar power in your home.