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Important questions to ask your solar installer

South African engineers and technicians work on the Helio 100 Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) pilot facility at Mariendahl experimental farm of the University of Stellenbosh, South Africa, 02 September 2015. Image, EPA, NIC BOTHMA.

South African engineers and technicians work on the Helio 100 Concentrating Solar Power (CSP) pilot facility at Mariendahl experimental farm of the University of Stellenbosh, South Africa, 02 September 2015. Image, EPA, NIC BOTHMA.

Published Jul 17, 2022

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With many South Africans tired of stumbling around in the dark because of the various stages of load shedding that power utility Eskom imposed on the country over the past month, fed-up homeowners are looking at alternative energy sources.

A popular trend that has emerged is getting off Eskom’s grid and converting homes to solar power-run households.

Solar battery and rooftop photo-voltaic (PV) panel installations are what some South Africans are looking to, to ensure an additional source of power.

While solar installers are a dime a dozen, finding the right company with the relevant qualifications and expertise to do the job properly and in compliance with industry standards can be tricky, according to Matthew Cruise of Hohm Energy.

“Be wary of so-called bakkie brigade installers, who claim to be able to do the job, but who will end up costing you more in the long run because they are using components that have not been certified or that don’t have proper warranties,” Cruise told Business Report.

“Do your homework. Google the name of the company you are considering using to see if there have been any complaints. Work with a marketplace platform that verifies the credentials of all of its solar installers so that you know your installation is in good hands," Cruise further said.

Cruise advised that you should ask your solar installer these five questions so that you can make the best decision about your home’s energy needs.

Are you PV-Green Card certified?

One of the best ways of ensuring that your solar installation is safe and reliable is by asking if your installer is accredited by the South African PV Industry Association’s (SAPVIA) PV Green Card (PVGC) programme for solar installers, says Ubaidullah Edries, of Multi Current Electrical, a recommended installer on the Hohm Energy platform.

This accreditation means that the installer complies with the relevant standards and safety guidelines for PV installation.

“The certification provides the assurance that, if something goes wrong, there are safety measures in place,” says Edries.

Installers registered with the Department of Labour and who have successfully completed the Solar PV assessment are eligible for inclusion on the PV Greencard’s installer database.

“This can be accessed online when you are checking your installer’s credentials. You can also rate your installer on the PVC Green Card website once the project is completed,” he says.

Are you using municipal-approved inverters?

Each municipality has its own regulations for the use of inverters for grid-tied systems, explains Edries.

The City of Cape Town, for example, requires small-scale embedded generation (SSEG) certification for any installation connected to the grid. This means it must be certified by an electrical engineer.

Most municipalities have a list of approved inverters that you can access online to verify your installation.

“You will be fined and held liable for the cost of decommissioning an inverter that is not council-approved,” cautions Edries.

If you are using a rooftop solar PV system, it must be registered with your relevant municipality, adds Edries.

“Homeowners will be fined if the municipality notices a significant drop in electricity usage, but there is no record of a grid-tied solar installation at that address.”

Each solar installation needs to be registered with the relevant municipality to ensure the balance of load and electricity quality.

“Make sure you have this approval in writing before work starts.” If there is a fire or an injury to someone working on an unauthorised PV system, the homeowner will be held liable.

What guarantees do you offer for components and workmanship?

Edries says installers should be able to provide warranties for the components of a solar installation as well as the workmanship.

The standard warranty for an inverter is five years, and solar panels should last for 12 to 25 years.

You can expect a 10-year guarantee on lithium ion batteries. He says installers generally guarantee their workmanship for the first year, and most issues should become apparent within a few weeks of the installation.

What is the best solar solution for my home?

Your solar installer should do a full assessment of your home and your energy needs before recommending an installation.

“An installer will also assess any risks before doing work. This includes checking the distribution board and identifying any structural challenges,” says Edries.

The simplest solar system for residential use is a grid-tied solar PV system, which is installed to be tied to the grid or network.

“This means that you save on your electricity bills as you use solar energy during peak hours and rely on the grid during off-peak times at night or when the weather is overcast.”

What is the best finance option for my installation?

Ask your installer for the best pricing of components from leading suppliers.

Also, find out about finance options for your solar system and remember that it is possible to start small with the essentials and to add on later as needed.

“The cost of your solar PV system is dependent on the size of your home, the amount of roof space available and the kind of solar PV system you want,” explains Cruise.

If you have a bond, it may be possible to access finance from there to pay for your solar installation.

However, a rent-to-own option, where customers can rent a solar solution depending on their specific requirements, also makes financial sense.

The electricity costs saved monthly from having a solar and battery installation at your house offsets the overall cost of having the system.

The savings also depend on the cost of electricity based on which municipality provides you with electricity at the moment.

“Generally, it takes four to nine years to pay off the solar system. So while the cost of electricity is going to increase significantly over the next five years, you should be able to pay off your solar system well within that time, giving you a reliable source of power at no additional cost.”

With so many fly-by-night solar installation companies in the mix, knowing the right questions to ask could save you a considerable amount of money, says Cruise.

“Don’t pay for a shoddy solar installation. Work with dependable companies that can provide a compliant and reliable solar solution customised to your specific needs.”

BUSINESS REPORT