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Planning for solar PV? Here’s what you need to know…

The time to take back control of your electricity costs and security of supply for your home and business has never been more crucial, or more pressing.  South Africa is on the precipice of a radically different energy future.

No doubt you are looking at alternatives, and one of the very best solutions is solar photovoltaic (Solar PV) electricity generation.  Before you make any big decisions, there’s some very important information that you need to know…

The ins and outs of solar PV

While the average cost of grid electricity (residential) is now teetering at R2,70/kWh and facing massive annual hyper-inflationary increases, solar is dropping all the time and now comes in at around 90c/kWh. Besides the costs of grid electricity, there is load shedding which wreaks havoc with your productivity and security – at home and at work.

Solar Photovoltaic (PV) systems make use of the sun to generate electricity during daylight hours. And because solar is a technology and not a fuel, there are no ongoing costs after installation as is the case with gas for example.

Right now, solar PV delivers at least a 15-20% return on investment each year based on electricity savings, far outstripping any other investment vehicle where you could place your money.  Investing in solar to save on your electricity costs and avoid productivity-killing load shedding  is the very best decision you can make right now for your business or home over the next 20-25 years. The caveat of course is that you get your system specification correct from the start for your needs and long-term objectives, with a renewable energy partner who will be around to provide the support and back-up for the lifetime of your system.

Here’s a quick run down of the things you need to know…

What is rooftop PV?

A rooftop photovoltaic (PV) system has its electricity-generating solar panels mounted on the rooftop of a building or structure. Solar panels are exposed to sunlight or solar radiation and generate electricity which is called a photovoltaic effect. This solar power flows via cable to a device called an inverter which converts the direct current (produced from the panels) to alternating current. With the inverters synchronising the solar power and the Eskom grid, that power can be fed directly into your internal electrical network and save electricity. So every KWh generated by the solar system is a kWh less required from Eskom or local municipality.

Planning for solar PV

Planning for a PV system will require you to analyse your electricity use, implement energy efficiency measures, study local council codes and feed-in requirements (if any), decide if you want to operate your system entirely off grid or use a hybrid or grid-connected solution, and then finally select, the technologies to help you meet your objectives. And because your system is going to be working for the next 25 years, you need to be sure about working with a supplier that has the network, financial stability, product quality and warranties in place to maximise your investment.  Reputation, credibility and the expertise of your renewable energy partner are fundamental to you realising the maximum benefit from your PV investment.

Why do I need to implement energy efficiency measures beforehand?

Implementing energy efficiency measures before you buy your solar PV system will reduce your electricity load and allow you to buy a smaller and less expensive system.  For example, converting geysers which are usually your biggest electricity users to solar or heat pumps, installing LED low energy lighting, using gas for cooking, putting movement and day/night sensors on office lighting and so on.  If you’re designing a new building, consider working with the architect and builder to incorporate renewable energy solutions into your design from the outset.  Some measures are already legislated. SANS 10400-XA: Energy Usage in Buildings, and SANS 204: Energy Efficiency in buildings requires a focused solution for areas such as water heating, whereby 50% of all hot water in new buildings needs to be produced by methods other than electrical element heating.

Analyse your electricity usage – No shooting in the dark

Calculating your electricity needs is the first and most critical step towards getting PV ready.  A thorough examination of your electricity needs helps determine the following:

  • The size and cost of the system you will need.
  • Fluctuations in your energy usage during the day and night and over the months to manage peak demands.
  • Energy saving measures you can implement to reduce your electricity use before installing a Solar PV system so that you save on the costs of a bigger system simply by being more efficient.

By conducting a load analysis, One Energy will record the wattage and average daily use of all of the electrical devices that are plugged into your central power source such as refrigerators, lights, televisions, PCs, power tools, machinery and computer equipment. Some loads, like your refrigerator or electric fencing, use electricity all the time, while others, like power tools or large format printers, use electricity intermittently, known as selectable loads.

Some providers will ask you only for an electricity bill and attempt to provide a Solar PV solution based on this, but the approach is fundamentally flawed and inaccurate since your bill cannot reveal day and night usage, selective loads or peak demands which need to be factored into your PV solution. A thorough load analysis is a must – anyone who tells you differently simply isn’t prepared to the important groundwork you need to be sure you get the right solution. In many instances, we often unearth long-standing electrical problems and faults at client premises that need rectifying simply by doing the energy audit.

That’s why with One Energy, we’ll visit your premises, set-up loggers on your electricity distribution board for at least a week to ten days and provide you with a comprehensive view of where your electricity usage is going, and what steps we can take to help you reduce it.  We will also be able to provide a very reliable indication of what your savings will be depending on what size system and the solutions we specify for you, so there is no shooting in the dark. Ever.

Types of PV Connections

A solar PV system typically comes in three configurations:

System 1: Grid-Tie

No batteries, grid-connected system. This system supplements your grid energy usage. In the event of a blackout or power outage, your solar system is forced to shut down and does not supply back-up. Where Eskom outages are not the issue, but cost savings are, this is a highly practical solution to dramatically reduce your electricity bill by producing as much of your daytime energy requirements as possible while the sun shines.  If we take the average sun-producing time in Summer between 07h00 and 17h00, your system will produce five times the capacity of your solar panels, free from the sun each day.  A grid-tie system is highly cost-effective and has a much shorter payback period as you avoid the additional cost of the battery-back-up.

System 2: Hybrid

Provides batteries as well as a grid connection, commonly referred to as a hybrid system.  With the correct installation, it will act as a UPS (uninterrupted power supply) in the event of a power outage. The hybrid solar PV system will charge up the batteries first and then the excess production will supplement your household/ business energy needs. Many of our clients start with system 1 with a plan to build up to a system 2 and then add battery back-up at a later stage as their budget allows to build up to a system 2 configuration.  The great benefit of the correct hybrid solar PV system is that it’s expandable as your needs grow or change.  Clients typically opt for this when power outages are an ongoing issue.

It’s very important to note that you can only add batteries at a later stage if you have invested in the right hybrid inverter from the outset – ie a hybrid inverter that can operate as grid-tie, as well as a hybrid with batteries and solar panels.  Not all inverters offer this dual functionality so it’s essential to work with a renewable energy partner who is experienced in this field and understands and works with your long-term objectives. 

System 3: Island

This system has batteries with no grid connection whatsoever, useful for areas where no grid exists, such as farms or remote areas. The energy produced will charge up the batteries which should allow for 3 days’ worth of energy needs and these batteries will feed the power requirements of the property.  This is typically a more expensive solution because of the total reliance on battery storage.

What is the cost to install a Solar PV system?

Many people believe renewable energy is too expensive without actually doing their homework. When we take them through the costs versus the savings and the fact that their savings can even finance their move to renewable energy, most are stunned at how absolutely affordable it is. In fact, on a monthly repayment option, in many cases the monthly finance payments are covered by what they would be paying on electricity costs anyway. Once paid off, you’ll be smiling even more!

If we look at a typical PV system, your initial capital layout would be in the beginning when you purchase the equipment and on average takes between 5-7 years to offset the costs, but then for the expected 25 years of the lifespan of your panels, you will get free electricity. In reality, even at the end of 25 years, your panels will still be 80% efficient.  The initial upfront cost is the only cost involved with solar. After that, because there are no moving parts, the maintenance on the system is very low.  Once fully paid, you have an incredible investment and asset for your property that keeps saving you thousands of Rands each year, for many years to come. To get an idea of the costs, read our blog post here

Another advantage of PV is that it can be ramped up as your requirements demand and, more importantly, your budget allows – the caveat, of course, is that you invest in the correct inverter and equipment from the outset with a professional installer who understands your long-term objectives, and factors this into your planning.  Most people will need to take a phased approach to reduce their reliance on the grid to as near as complete as possible, so mapping this process for the beginning is critical so as not to incur unnecessary costs at a later stage.

Financing sorted

Many of us are also put off from making the switch to alternative energy sources because we simply don’t have the upfront cash to finance the move. That’s why One Energy offers you competitive finance options where your repayments are usually less or close to what you would have been paying for electricity.  And with every Eskom increase that comes each year, you’ll be saving more and more and protecting your pocket against the impact of hyperinflationary increases.  So, instead of paying exorbitant electricity bills, you’ll be investing the money over the short term into your new resources, while saving thousands over the long term.

Contact One Energy for an obligation-free PV consultation and site assessment – we’ll do the heavy lifting, perform the energy analysis and specific the right solution for your immediate needs and long-term objectives.

Why One Energy?

Solar is a major purchase and probably one of the most important investments you will make towards securing your self-sufficiency and saving a huge amount of money on electricity bills.  It’s also going to be attached to your single most valuable asset – your home or business – and considering you’re essentially setting up your own mini-powerplant, you don’t want to get it wrong.

With so many new renewable energy products and suppliers in the market with varying levels of quality, performance, technical expertise and installation experience, its often very difficult to know what the right system is for your needs. Be sure to work with a supplier that complies with safety regulations, that your installation is 100% safe, sound and optimised for your needs, that your products are top tier quality products that provide the savings you expect and will be around for years to come to fulfill on warranties and other servicing requirements.

A quick look at Hello Peter and the proliferation of ‘mom-and-pop’ contractors that have suddenly sprung up trying to cash in on the renewables boom are evidence that there are plenty of very bad deals out there, and even more questionable installation and safety standards. A cheap PV deal is likely to be a hideously expensive lesson.

At One Energy, we believe in doing things right the first time.  Our credo is perfect installations that are right for your unique needs and your pocket.  So, before you rush into making a deal with a provider, check out these important reasons to put One Energy on your list for serious consideration:

  • Quality, efficiency, durability and extended warranties are very important considerations.  Buying down on quality is likely to be an expensive purchase at the end of the day – the efficiency of the system will be compromised and before long the system will not provide the energy output required to make a significant enough impact on reducing your electricity bill – the whole point of why you bought it in the first place.
  • Another important aspect is the installation of the system. Cutting corners can also have dire implications for the safety of the systems and even present a fire hazard.  One Energy complies with the highest industry standards in terms of safety and system quality and all our people undergo regular product, technical and safety training.
  • After sales back-up and support is essential. Dealing with a reputable supplier with a good service ethic that you know is going to be around for years to come and honour warranties is important. Our ethos of perfect installations backed by quality work, service and products means that every one of our clients is a contactable reference. Every installation is tracked with an installation report, photographs and saved to our CRM system for quality checking, warranty management and performance monitoring. 
  • No shooting in the dark – some providers will ask you only for an electricity bill and attempt to provide a PV solution based on this, but the approach is fundamentally flawed and inaccurate since your bill cannot reveal day and night usage, selective loads or peak demands which need to be factored into your PV solution. A thorough load analysis is a must. One Energy can tell you how much your system will generate and what you will save with absolute confidence – because we do the proper groundwork upfront.
  • It may sound a little arrogant, but we know that our product and technical knowledge is world-class. In fact, our technical director is consulted by the industry ombud to consult on problematic installations by suppliers where consumers are unable to get their issues resolved. We believe it’s essential to establish that you are dealing with people who have the required knowledge, expertise and integrity.
  • We pride ourselves on our 100% quality guarantee that will see you saving money and the environment from the moment it is up and running, with an expected life span on many products in excess of 25 years.
  • Not all companies offer a range of products. This inevitably results in their pushing the product they stock which may not be right for your needs. At One Energy we never sell a product simply because we want the sale. We always provide the best possible product to suit your needs and we always conduct a thorough needs analysis.
  • We believe in investing the time and effort into educating clients about the finer workings of renewable energy solutions and the benefits both in terms of savings, self-sufficiency and living a greener lifestyle.
  • We are fierce proponents of quality and integrity in the industry, taking a firm stance in educating clients against fly-by-night operators and sub-standard equipment, which does untold damage to the industry and consumer confidence in renewable technologies.

If you are serious about getting off the grid and taking back control of your electricity costs and supply, contact One Energy at with your contact details and area – we’ll schedule an obligation-free consultation to provide you with a thorough overview of the steps you can take to get off the grid, step-by-step.