History of solar energy in South Africa

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A brief overview of the history of solar energy in South Africa

Many people wonder when solar energy started being used in the country. Where did it all start? How far has it come? Who is using it? This blog gives an overview of the history of solar energy in South Africa.

The beginning

The biggest growth in the history of solar energy in South Africa has been in the last decade. Over this time, it has shown tremendous growth. Perhaps due to circumstances, the industry has outperformed many others. Additionally, it gone against economic growth trends. A recent report by WWF congratulated South Africa for being the first country in Africa to achieve 1 GW of solar PV energy.

South Africa has a sunny climate. Therefore, it is well placed for solar. It gets an average of 2,500 hours of sunshine per year. Our average solar-radiation level ranges between 4.5 and 6.5kWh/m2 per day. This is approximately 40% more than Central Europe.

A vital part of the history of solar energy in South Africa is the people. The industry is filled with hard-working, ambitious people. They are embracing the opportunity that solar provides. The Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REI4P) has shown that South Africa can successfully implement a large-scale, world-class renewable energy programme. This has been remarkable.

Naturally, most solar comes from large-scale projects. However, it is also being widely used in residential areas. This way people can power their homes from solar.

History of solar energy

The Solar revolution

The current phase we are in, in the history of solar energy in South Africa, is referred to as the solar revolution. This is because the use of solar is being adopted so fast. Additionally, it is being used in various ways.

This growth has mainly been driven by the private sector, both at the household and industry level. South Africa the second fastest-growing solar market on the African continent. We are out-ranked only by Egypt.

Many factors contributed to this. The cost of PV panels has dropped significantly worldwide. Therefore, they are more affordable. The load shedding of 2007/08 and again from 2015 onwards play a role. Additionally, the continuously rising cost of electricity in South Africa has accelerated growth. Furthermore, the cost of installation has dropped.

Watershed moments

There are two key watershed moments in the history of solar energy in South Africa. Firstly, the government signing major solar purchasing agreements with Eskom from 2011 onwards. Secondly, when solar installations started to make financial sense. From approximately 2016, you could recoup your costs in 5 – 6 years. Hence this is a number that investors find comfortable.

These circumstances have all led to an explosion in the history of solar energy in South Africa. Mainly, these are PV panels installed on rooftops.  Solar plants have mushroomed all over the country. Our current installed solar capacity is estimated to be 2,5GW. This is a big number. Think about it.

What we have learnt

Over the years in the history of solar energy in South Africa, the industry has matured. At the same time, we’ve learnt plenty.

The correct design approach has been perfected. We’ve learnt that the ideal orientation of solar systems in this country is facing north at 30 degrees. Alternately, panels on south-facing roofs need to be tilted to point north.

Inverter positioning has also improved in the history of solar energy in South Africa. In Europe, due to cooler climates, inverters can be outside. Here, our direct sunlight causes inverters to derate. Hence, they produce less power. Ideally, they should be placed in cool rooms.

The solar industry

There are currently about ten major players in the solar industry. Additionally, there are literally hundreds of SME’s if you count every electrical company that installs solar.  The solar industry will no doubt continue to grow as people see the value in it.

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