South Africans have been enjoying a respite from ongoing load shedding, but is it gone for good? While many energy experts have varying opinions on this, one thing is certain and that’s the fact that progress, albeit slow, has been made in the South African energy sector across both the national grid supply, and residential- and commercial solar sectors.

This, according to Thomas Bergenthuin, energy expert and the founder of a new solar company in Cape Town, The Bees. He says that given that the country still has a reliance on coal-fired energy, the threat of load shedding is never far off, but that the move to alternative energy solutions, is making a significant impact in taking pressure off the grid.

“The good news is that solar-generated energy is becoming more affordable for South Africans, and with growing solar installation across the country, the collective effort will continue to positively contribute to the recovery of the national grid," says Bergenthuin.

According to the latest Africa Solar Industry Association (AFSIA) report, South Africa saw the biggest increase in solar installations in African history over two consecutive years (2022 & 2023).

But the rush to avoid load shedding means current solar systems are not as efficient as they could be.

Optimising residential solar systems

According to Bergenthuin, historically when solar systems were installed in the rush to avoid load shedding, they were installed without consideration for the efficiency of the entire residential ecosystem. For example, the relative sizing of the equipment, settings of the inverters and inclusion of water heating systems were not always considered.

“The drive to install alternative energy systems was initially premised on avoiding load shedding. The solar industry was promoting rooftop panels as the best solution, when in fact a battery could do the job all the same, and a lot of short cuts such as sizing the systems incorrectly, ignoring system demand and efficiency and installing systems with the incorrect settings were taken.

"But these panels now make sense given price decreases and Eskom tariff increases. With a few small changes to current and new systems, homeowners can ensure maximum energy output and financial savings,” he says.

This at a time when globally solar equipment prices have dropped by up to 60% over the past year, and Eskom tariffs are on the rise with many expecting tariffs to double over the next five years.

Navigating rising electricity costs

In 2024, Eskom increased the price of electricity that it sells to municipalities by 12.72%. Some say this is just the tip of the iceberg, and that South Africans who are already struggling to make ends meet can expect even more tariff hikes this year. Ironically the shift away from Eskom to private sources of generation is contributing to the required tariff increases given a dwindling revenue stream to the State utility.

“What used to be a grudge purchase for South Africans who felt they needed to ‘go solar’ because of load shedding is now steadily becoming the natural next step for citizens. Not just to circumvent possible power cuts, but to navigate the rising cost of electricity,” says Bergenthuin.

Transitioning to solar energy can save the average South African household anything from 30% to 70% on their energy bills. Better yet, there are now affordable financing options for solar solutions.

Making finance options easily accessible for citizens has been a key component of Bergenthuin’s offering with his new company, The Bees, so that middle-class families can embrace solar without breaking the bank.

He founded the company in June 2024, after identifying a gap in the solar installation market for a holistic approach to energy solutions that offers high-quality efficient systems, but with affordable and tailored financing options.

Funding your solar installation

“I believe this is a good time for South Africans to continue to invest in alternative ways of powering up their homes, so that we can maintain and build more momentum for sustainable long-term respite from power cuts. Together we can put load shedding behind us, build a greener South Africa, all with the added bonus of saving money.”

The Bees aims to install 100MW of solar systems nationwide across residential and commercial properties within the next five years.

For those looking into solar, Bergenthuin shares three ways that you can source the finance for your installation:

- Consider adding the cost of the solar system to your home loan should there be the required equity available. This will enable you to repay the cost over a long tenor and at the most competitive interest rates.

- Look at the solar loan offerings made available by SA’s major banks – most banks now offer solar financing solutions. While some of the offerings can be limiting in terms of the packages available, if you shop around, you can find the right fit for your needs.

- Partner with a finance-approved solar-installation company – working with a solar company that handles all the financing for you can streamline the process. Some solar providers get better deals as they have secured partnership agreements in place. This enables more tailored and customised solutions.

- Consider services such as ‘paying for generated electricity only’ or ‘rent to own’ equipment.

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