Sparks Electrical News

Improper installation of commercial solar photovoltaic (PV) systems can drive up maintenance costs in later years and severely diminish any potential cost saving benefits for South African businesses. This is according to Manie de Waal, CEO of Energy Partners Solar, who warns that although PV systems have become an attractive option for businesses, experienced installation services are critical to maximising their cost efficiency.

Poor installations put solar projects at risk

“In a country like South Africa, installing a PV system is one of the best ways to reduce a company’s energy costs. The international price of PV systems has contracted so much in recent years that the payback period on the average commercial solar installation is currently as short as four to six years.”

He points out, however, that both scheduled and unscheduled maintenance during the years that the system is in operation will have a significant impact on how much value a business can extract from solar power generation.

“Every business has unique requirements but, in general, a PV system is expected to reduce an operation’s electricity costs by between 15% and 30%. In order to achieve this, annual maintenance of the system can only be between 0.9% and 1.5% of its initial capital value.

The system’s inverters will also need to be entirely replaced during the 25-year life cycle of the system. However, if this replacement is required before the tenth year of operation, the business may start to incur additional major costs before the planned decommissioning of the PV installation.”

According to De Waal, businesses therefore need to ensure that they make use of experienced service providers during the initial installation. “Most of the maintenance problems that affect a PV system start at the installation phase. At the most basic level, an inexperienced service provider can damage solar panels or inverters during installation, or cut corners by making use of low quality fasteners and mounting brackets that cannot withstand regular wear and tear, and damage equipment.”

The market in installation, operation and maintenance of rooftop PV is estimated at R2 billion over the period 2016 to 2019, with the potential to create 3 000 medium- and low-skilled jobs over the period, according to GreenCape, a non-profit organisation which drives the widespread adoption of economically viable green economy solutions.

The rooftop solar PV market has been a significant driver of growth in the energy services market. Last year there were an estimated 100 000 systems installed throughout South Africa, with part of this growth being as a result of service providers offering customers end-to-end energy management solutions. According to a local, voluntary database of solar PV installations hosted, the commercial and industrial sector presents the largest opportunity for installations, a sector which far outstrips the rest of the market in terms of installations.

“Solar energy is becoming more advanced and exponentially cheaper every year, and companies are therefore considering their options for deploying renewables. However, when purchasing the technology, and installing the systems, cutting costs and taking short-cuts with poor service providers could cost a company dearly in the long run,” De Waal concludes.



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