The new chairperson of the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA) says the organisation will become more assertive in outlining the benefits of solar for South Africa and in correcting some of the prevailing misperceptions about the role of variable renewable energy in the country’s future electricity system.
In fact, Wido Schnabel tells Engineering News Online that SAPVIA was directly involved in the drafting of the South African Renewable Energy Council’s (Sarec’s) recent response to Eskom’s assertion that independent power producers (IPPs) accounted for 25% of its primary energy costs in 2019, while meeting only 5% of the grid’s energy requirements.
In a strongly worded rebuttable, Sarec argued that the cost of primary-energy inputs, such as coal, could not be compared with the cost of the finished product, or electricity, supplied by the IPPs to the Eskom grid.
It also refuted the suggestion that the tariff paid by Eskom to IPPs was a primary energy cost, highlighting that it was, in fact, an “all-inclusive cost, which includes capital expenditure”.
Schnabel acknowledges that SAPVIA has been “too silent” in the past and has allowed misinformation to go uncontested.
It has also failed to highlight the positive energy, economic and employment contribution being made by the solar photovoltaic (PV) industry.
“We need to communicate more, engage more and educate stakeholders about a generation technology that is now cheaper, quicker and easier to deploy than just about any of the alternatives.”
SAPVIA also intends reaching out to those individuals and formations that remain deeply skeptical of solar PV and variable renewable energy more generally.
“I think there is still a lack of appreciation of how much cheaper solar PV has become, as well as of some of the technological advances that are being made to improve the efficiency of solar panels,” Schnabel avers.
Less than a decade ago, he reflects, a panel was priced at about $7.50/W. Today, the cost is closer to $0.3/W. Likewise, the panels are improving, with those installed following South Africa’s first renewable auction in 2011 having a capacity of only 200 W, while new panels are emerging with capacities of greater than 400 W apiece.
Schnabel stressed, however, that SAPVIA is not focusing only on utility-scale projects but is equally excited about the prospects for adding solar PV generation to residential, retail and commercial rooftops.
The organisation is convinced that it is feasible for up to 1 000 MW of small-scale embedded generators to be added yearly in South Africa and is optimistic the upcoming Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) will begin to cater for such installations.
Nevertheless, it remains concerned about the slow pace of registration and licensing by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa, as well as the prevailing 10 MW cap on the size of installations.
“We have ongoing engagement with the regulator and have communicated that we would like the registration and licensing processes to be speeded up. We simply can’t wait years for such processes to be concluded.”
That said, the organisation is also concerned about the entry of fly-by-night installers, which Schnabel acknowledges pose a risk to the reputation of the industry.
SAPVIA is aiming to address the risk by encouraging prospective installers to receive training and accreditation under the PV Green Card programme and alerting consumers that they should only contract with installers accredited under the scheme.
“We are convinced solar PV can play a far bigger role in South Africa’s electricity supply industry. This country is blessed with an incredible solar resource and the projects don’t have to all be located in the Northern Cape. There is definitely an opportunity to install solar PV generators across the country and far closer to the load centres.”
SAPVIA is hoping the next iteration of the IRP will cater for the deployment of some 1 500 MW of utility-scale solar PV yearly until 2030 and provide scope for at least 500 MW a year of embedded generation.