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This transcript is a translation from the original interview conducted in Afrikaans, which aired on RSG Geldsake, here.
RYK VAN NIEKERK: Every evening for the past couple of weeks we have chatted about load shedding. Load shedding hurts not only companies, but the disruptions are obliging households and businesses to plan ahead, and the most popular solution becomes acquiring an inverter or a solar energy system.
Read: Solar infrastructure imports spike, showing up the Reippp
The demand for such solutions has increased dramatically over the past couple of years, and is expected to escalate for the next couple at least. This increasing demand has resulted in many unqualified or fly-by-night installers, who do not always install the best equipment or solutions, popping up. They can take shortcuts with the installation, resulting in the owner being saddled with problems afterwards.
This evening we will be chatting about how households and businesses should approach the matter. DeVilliers Botha is on the line. He is a management committee member of Sapvia [the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association] , as well as the chief operating officer of Solareff [a specialist SA renewable energy solutions provider]. DeVilliers, welcome to the programme. What is the extent of this problem?
DEVILLIERS BOTHA: Good evening, Ryk. Thank you for chatting with us. This is a growing problem amid the escalating demand. But the problem has been coming for quite a while, and I can refer back to 2015 when we as the industry organisation wanted to start writing the SANS (South African National Standards) [and] realised there were many former, what one might call ‘solar-geyser installers’ on the rooftops.
These then migrated to solar systems, solar power systems, electrical systems. The installers are essentially plumbers doing the electrical work. We have recognised the growing problem of many people coming on board, from so-called ‘drone pilots’ to former lawnmower-service providers, all saying, ‘Great, let’s buy a bakkie and do the job’.
So we have a problem, but we also recognise it as an opportunity for training and application.
RYK VAN NIEKERK: Let’s say a household says it can no longer take this load shedding, and plans to install a solar energy system. The owner might draw from savings, or even borrow money from the bank. That’s a lot of money – these things are expensive – we are talking about R70 000 to R80 000-plus. What should that household then do to make sure it gets the best system for the money available?
DEVILLIERS BOTHA: I would start by asking who will do the job, and what that person’s qualifications are – not only the company’s qualification, but the qualifications of those in that company.
Typically, there should be an electrician who can provide the necessary certificate of completion or certificate of compliance, which we all know as a ‘CoC’.
We know that that CoC is essential in the event of something going wrong or should you wish to sell your house. The important thing is, should a fire break out and insurance becomes involved, the insurer will immediately request the CoC for the system [and ask] could an illegally installed system not be the cause of the fire? So it’s critical to ask for that CoC and to make sure everything is above board.
Also make sure that person is more than an electrician qualified to issue a CoC, but one who has received further training in the industry.
That is how we launched the programme Sapvia refers to as the ‘PV GreenCard Programme’, a five-day training programme where candidates further qualify themselves on the direct-current aspect of these systems.
RYK VAN NIEKERK: Is it a very complicated system to install in a typical home? Is it difficult, do you really have to know what you are doing?
DEVILLIERS BOTHA: Let me say this. The setting up aspect is extremely important. This week alone I happened to see a news report in which a number of retailers were advertising how they are importing systems. But those systems have not been designed to meet specific client needs. This week I happened to hear a conversation taking place at a sportsground where a guy said he just wanted to ‘pull the load’, the expression we use today, for his lights and his fridge. The other guy said, ‘Man, my house is off the grid’.
Those are two totally different scenarios. You need a qualified person for the job. An engineer is sometimes required to do the design. It’s not like saying: ‘I’m just going to the shop to buy another lawn mower, and I’ll bring it home and set it up myself and have it working within two hours.’ You really have to make sure that the product meets your needs, and that it matches what you already have at home and the load you wish to pull.
Then there is the size of the batteries. Many people come to us, being the industry’s organisation, and say, ‘The system has not been providing what I wanted’. When properly technically authorised people from our organisation go and inspect, they discover that the system was never designed for that application, but that the customer wanted to spend less than was needed for an appropriate system.
RYK VAN NIEKERK: Yes. A friend told me a while ago that he had an inverter, and wanted to install solar panels. The installer came out and said that the batteries he had purchased at great expense were the wrong batteries. How can one make sure that the equipment being installed is really good and not just ‘cheap Chinese rubbish’.
DEVILLIERS BOTHA: First, I’d like to correct that statement – not everything coming from China these days is bad. [Chuckling] I know that in the vernacular we used to say that. But I think first let us look at the guarantee. We are all on Google these days, and we now use it as a verb.
When a supplier gives you a quotation, research the components he specified, no matter what the brand. Go on the internet, Google that product, examine the guarantees, and check the good and bad comments from other consumers about that product.
I would typically say, ‘Really try to keep to products that have at least a five-year guarantee with regard to turnover. And then, as to the batteries, look for something with at least a 10-year guarantee’. It would be wrong to mention battery brand names. But go and look at products that are assembled locally. There are several, and they usually give a 10-year guarantee on their batteries.
RYK VAN NIEKERK: I agree that the guarantee is very important. But when looking at these types of systems, it could be a case of: ‘Buy cheap, buy twice’.
DEVILLIERS BOTHA: For sure. We have regularly seen that. It could mean having to replace your entire system. As the industry organisation and, as you mentioned, having had customers on the solar side come in with systems where we can reuse almost nothing we find on the premises, and we have to start from scratch, then you land up paying double for the same solution. That is something we don’t want to see as an industry. If people want to protect themselves against load shedding, they need to do it in a sensible way.
RYK VAN NIEKERK: So the message is to do your homework and don’t [necessarily] accept the first quotation…. These things are expensive, and you can save yourself a lot of future problems.
DeVilliers, thank you for time this evening. That was DeVilliers Botha, a management committee member at Sapvia and chief operating manager at Solareff.
Listen to the full RSG Geldsake show here.