By Bernhard Suchland, Managing Director at Schletter South Africa
Roof-mounted solar photovoltaic (PV) panels can change the power dynamic of South Africa by supplying efficient, green energy for almost any use. They are, however, a new option for many South African companies, many of which may now be reasonably wary of installing them following Carte Blanche’s exposé of the poor installations of rooftop solar geysers that resulted in unserviceable solutions.
In the case uncovered by Carte Blanche the problem lies not so much with the quality of the products used but rather with the installation process.
Installation is as crucial as getting the right product. Solar solutions will fare better in the long term if they are easier to install and suitable for a wide range of structures since solar panels can actually be mounted to commercial and residential roofs, carports, car parkades and even vertically to building facades, depending on the building’s orientation.
The industry is divided into companies that supply the solar panels, those that provide the mounting systems and those that actually install the systems.
In the case of the Carte Blanche exposé in June this year, there were numerous installation problems that resulted in leaky pipes, brackets that weren’t attached to roofs and internal, structural damage to homes.
At this early stage of solar deployment in South Africa, considering Eskom’s preferential rebate programmes and the Department of Energy’s programmes to deploy alternative energy plants, it is crucial for the industry not to gain a bad reputation that would take years, if not decades, to rectify.
As government is learning, through issues such as the solar geyser tender, it is important to find suppliers with good quality systems that are installed by professionals. This does not have to be at the cost of local businesses, local manufacturing and BBBEE.
Local businesses with good reputations and years of experience have invested in these systems. They range from local electricians to construction services, materials and infrastructure investment groups, engineering businesses and even architects.
With the maturity of the offshore solar PV industry many of the current suppliers are from abroad, but they are investing in a South African solar PV industry by establishing local manufacturing, working with local manufacturers, and training local installers. The benefit of this approach is that decades of experience are passed on very quickly to local businesses, which means they can quickly rival the quality of their international counterparts.
The solar mounting equipment manufactured locally can be as good as that produced in Germany for example, because it can be done according to ISO 9001:2000. The ISO standard specifies requirements for a quality management system. Another standard, DIN 18.800, DIN essentially being Germany’s equivalent of ISO, governs the quality of welds used to manufacture the mounting brackets and platforms. Tests are also conducted on the designs of the solutions to ensure they can withstand atmospheric, particularly wind, conditions by using sophisticated and expensive wind tunnels.
If you tally the manufacturing processes, the quality of the materials used, and the certification of qualified installers, the net result should be systems that are guaranteed for more than a decade, which should be the minimum time these solutions should be productive. The challenge is to find the right solution and asking the right questions about quality.