As the frustration of loadshedding grows, so does the interest in alternate means of keeping the lights on. From convenience and lower long-term costs to tax incentives, there are a multitude of factors encouraging South Africans to consider alternative means of keeping the lights on.
Rooftop solar photovoltaic (solar PV) systems are a form of small-scale embedded generation (SSEG) systems with growing popularity amongst South African homeowners, facilitating the conversion of energy from the sun to electricity. While this natural resource certainly provides plenty of incentive to convert to solar, the process of installing and implementing the systems necessary to take advantage of the sun’s energy, are not without a myriad of legal and regulatory hoops to jump though.
Within the Western Cape, and specifically areas supplied with electricity from the City of Cape Town (the City), as opposed to Eskom, written permission from the relevant department at the City council is required prior to the installation of a solar PV system. Further requirements become relevant for property owners who wish to take advantage of a grid-tied feed-in system (whereby excess electricity generated may be sold back to the City). The permissions and authorisations required for the lawful installation of a solar PV system differ when dealing with areas supplied with electricity directly by Eskom or other municipal councils. Property owners should familiarise themselves with the nuances of applicable municipal by-laws or regulations that may apply in their area.
Over and above the authorisations and permissions required prior to installation, there are essential safety and compliance considerations not to be forgotten when considering going solar. The Electrical Installation Regulations, 2009 (Regulations), published in terms of section 43 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993, place a hefty responsibility on property owners (and lessors) to ensure the safety, safe use and maintenance of all electrical installations on their property. As solar PV systems, on their proper installation, will form a part of the electrical installation in your home, such installation will be included in this responsibility.
Essential requirements relevant to the lawful installation and maintenance of a solar PV system include:
- All electrical installations must be installed by an electrical contractor, registered as such in terms of the Regulations. It is therefore essential to ensure that you check the qualifications of a contractor before engaging their services.
- A certificate of compliance (CoC) must be issued for every electrical installation, in the prescribed form, together with the required test report. Where there is a change to an existing system (which is usually the case upon the installation of a solar PV system), the same will apply, and a supplementary CoC must be issued. Your original CoC should be kept as a record of the compliant installation of your system and for the issuing of supplementary certificates, as necessary.
- Make sure to familiarise yourself with the relevant warranty and maintenance requirements of your solar PV system. This is important not only in respect of your ongoing responsibility to maintain the safety of all electrical installations but will also hold relevance for your homeowner’s insurance cover, which should be updated to include these valuable installations.
The benefits of going solar are certainly glowing but should be carefully considered taking into consideration the pre-installation, installation, and post-installation (maintenance) safety and regulatory requirements, each of which are not without their own cost.
If you are planning to finance your new solar PV system with a bond, it is wise to note that banks, for purposes of the bond finance approval process, will only accept an electrical CoC that is not older than two years (sometimes one year), as part of their requirements for the approval and registration of a bond over immovable property. Should you have updated your electrical system to include a solar PV system within those periods, a supplementary CoC which covers the changes made to the system, will also be required. Should you not have an existing valid electrical CoC for your property, the issue of a new certificate may be necessary, for the entirety of your electrical system.
Post installation considerations
In the event of your property being sold, it’s important to bear in mind when entering into the sale agreement, that a purchaser might insist that new CoC’s be issued, despite them having been issued within the previous two years, or, their own bank, for their bond finance, may require the re-issuing of these certificates.
While not currently dealt with separately, as a system apart from the rest of a property’s electrical system, solar installations will undoubtedly start to feature more prominently on the mandatory immovable property condition report required in terms of section 67 of the Property Practitioners Act 22 of 2019, in respect of both the sale and lease of immovable property, in the near future.
Noting the presence of a solar system, the size of the kilowatt (kW) inverter, and how many panels are installed on your property in your sale agreement is sure to add to the appeal and value of your property. Property owners should therefore be sure to remind the suitably qualified electrician completing the supplementary electrical CoC (or new CoC for your whole electrical system, as the case may be) on completion of their solar installation, to include the relevant details of your solar installation.
Whether you are a first-time installer, preparing your property to be sold, or looking to purchase a property which has pre-existing solar installations, familiarising yourself with the legal requirements of installing and maintaining a solar PV system will ensure that you are well equipped to navigate and manage your system, legally and safely.