Business Maverick

POWER CRISIS

Solar panel customers will finally be able to sell excess electricity into the SA grid

Solar panel customers will finally be able to sell excess electricity into the SA grid
Solar panels installed on the roof of a retirement village in Cape Town. (Photo: Guillem Sartorio / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

With load shedding a permanent feature of South African life, President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement this week that customers with rooftop solar panels will soon be able to sell excess power back into the grid is as welcome as it is overdue.

President Ramaphosa made the announcement in his weekly newsletter on Monday. 

“Work will soon be completed on a pricing structure that will allow customers to sell surplus electricity from rooftop solar panels into the grid,” Ramaphosa said. 

This is a policy decision that is as welcome as it is overdue, appearing on the long list of relatively simple reforms that should have been implemented long ago. 

While hardly a panacea, the announcement comes against the backdrop of Eskom’s worsening woes, with rolling blackouts now in effect a permanent feature of South African life, wreaking havoc on households and businesses alike, big and small. 

One of the consequences has been robust demand for solar panels. 

Solana Energy, a solar provider, said in December last year that South African households had imported over R2.2-billion worth of solar panels in the first five months of 2022, according to a report in BusinessTech

One can only imagine that such demand is currently surging – anecdotal evidence points to a proliferation of solar panels on rooftops in middle-class suburbs. They are appearing like mushrooms after a heavy rain in this correspondent’s Johannesburg neighborhood. 

But so far, the only incentive on this front has been the rising intensity of load shedding and the consequent disruptions to daily life. It is a slow-motion privatisation of power generation that mirrors other trends of consumers who can absorb the costs of providing essentials for themselves in the face of South Africa’s failing state. Healthcare, education and security come to mind. 

Workers install solar panels at the Karoo Fresh Produce (Pty) Ltd farm in Groenfontein, South Africa, on 24 August 2022. (Photo: Guillem Sartorio / Bloomberg via Getty Images)


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Eskom simply cannot meet existing power demand, and despite the clear urgency of the situation, efforts to get additional capacity for the grid have proceeded at a glacial pace under Minerals and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe. 

So, hopefully the president’s words will soon translate into action – something that has been noticeably absent during his presidency. 

This is low-hanging fruit that can yield badly needed incentives for households and businesses to make the investment to provide energy reliability for themselves, while taking pressure off a strained grid and even providing it with a little extra electricity. 

We are in a crisis situation where every bit helps. 

And, of course, it’s green energy, even if the process of mining the required metals and building and installing solar panels also has an environmental impact. After all, it’s not like they grow on trees and are delivered to your rooftop by storks.  

This correspondent hails from the eastern Canadian province of Nova Scotia, and such a system is in place there.  

“You’ll save money on your energy costs over time by earning bill credits for the energy you deliver back to the grid,” Nova Scotia Power says on its website. 

Trust me, Nova Scotia is not famed for its abundant sunshine and warmth. If it can be done there, it doesn’t take an electrical engineer to figure out that it can be done in South Africa. DM/BM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Too little, too late. Viva, ANC, Viva!

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    The horse which bolted has almost reached the finish line! Time for the ANC to reassess its priority list and move the country to 3rd place at least!!!!!

  • Werner Du Plessis says:

    It is about time and let there be competition between the different technologies – old and new – that will clarify where is the momentum is and so
    develop the best solutions for the self inflicted energy drama driven by emotions and greed.

  • Alley Cat says:

    A recent interview of the Greek PM by Fareed Zakaria at Davos shows what CAN be done! On a good day, not too warm and not too cold, between 90% and 100% of the electricity supply is from green energy. We have MORE solar and wind availability than Greece, so why can’t we? Also, a friend of mine in Brussels paid for his solar system in 5 years because of the money he was paid for providing energy to the grid and Brussels is probably one of the least sunny cities in the world.
    But yet again, I am not holding my breath. More blah, blah, blah from useless Cyril!

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    Yesterdays news in N24……

    “The City of Cape Town says it will pay cash to anyone who can sell it electricity from their own generation. ” (103.98 c/kWh)

    “City customers are already typically shielded from one stage of load shedding compared to the rest of the country.” (Steenbras pumped storage)

    Cape Town is ahead of the pack. It appears that the DA is forcing the ANC to do something constructive. It took them (the ANC) some time to get off their butts!

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      “get off their butts!” …. you seem to have forgotten that the ANC has not yet fully embraced , let alone implemented this (proposed in words only) policy ! Gwede will dig in his heels to prevent this (very small step) from happening. Gwede desperately needs the votes of those ‘sheep’ who cannot afford solar panels to keep him in ‘power’, while the rest of us have only eishkom ! After all both he and Cyril need each other to prevent each other from having to be in the ‘dock’ for other criminal type activity ! What is that saying about ‘bedfellows’ … but after all … it is about politics ?

  • Wytze Voerman says:

    More than 10 years behind the rest of the world!

  • David Muller says:

    Why not give 50%of the credit to help see that the poor areas are given solar energy?

  • Patterson Alan John says:

    Firstly, beware the Trojan Horse (Mantashe) in Cyril’s camp.
    I have sold household power into the grid in Brisbane, Australia, for 11 years and have not paid one cent for electricity in that time. I have paid off the installation, been paid $6,500 in cash for power sold and overall, I am $8,000 better off.
    Three years in Umtata was more than enough to show me the future for SA.

  • Johan Buys says:

    Contrary to popular belief feed-in to grid is not a new thing, it has been going since 2012 at least. Schemes differ and we should make it simple everywhere and at a fair price – probably around R1/kWh.

    If you want to spoil your day then imagine at 11AM you were producing more than your business consumes and exporting, but at noon loadshedding happens and you change to running R11/kWh diesel and exporting nothing…. :/ I reckon in my industrial suburb “we” are a net exporter at 11AM, almost everybody in a 1km circle around me is covered in solar. But yet we get shed. Result is by end of year most of us (and our 15,000 co-workers) will have batteries and ignore the grid.

  • John Georgiou says:

    Over 5 years ago when I installed solar I got a letter from COJ congratulating me on going green and telling me they would pay 53c/kwh for any power pumped back into the grid. My excitement lasted until the 1st bill where my bill had doubled. I thought it might be an error but lo and behold the next 2 bills WITH solar were much higher than without. I managed through various channels to get a meeting with one of the senior engineers at City Power who informed me that our new shiny smart meters aren’t designed that well because they can be connected in reverse to show production instead of consumption and to prevent unscrupulous people for taking the city for a ride, the meters are programmed to count power going in either direction as consumption ! I had to pay a few thousand extra to install a device to prevent the solar panels producing more power than I was consuming not as not to push any extra power into the grid.

    The city of Cape Town may well pay customers for excess electricity but I don’t see city of Joburg doing anything meaningful anytime soon despite what they may say.

  • Lorna Monkley says:

    Strange that this announcement comes at a time when Eskom is taking a small town (Frankfort) to court for supplying their own soar power to cover the loadshedding woes.

  • steve woodhall says:

    Ha bloody ha. I was at a municipal meeting the other night where the Mayor of eThekwini, the ‘honourable’ TM Kaunda, refused to answer questions on feed-in tariffs for home solar. When I interrupted to try and force him to state when we will get feed-in tariffs, he got angry. First a slur on ‘rich people who can afford to cheat the system and buy their own solar panels/generators etc’, then a statement that ‘you will be using our electrical infrastructure to use electricity during the night, whilst denying us revenue during the day. You must use reversible meters and we will measure how much self-generated power you used, and charge an extra ‘line tariff’ based on that, for using our infrastructure to steal electricity from us.’
    In the meantime, people just buy panels and feed the power in during the day – and the 70-year old meters we have just run backwards when the power is fed into the grid. Good luck enforcing that one, Kaunda!

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