Solar energy in South Africa: what does the future hold?

Anyone forecasting the outlook for solar energy in 2020 has had their predictions entirely undermined by the chaos of the last 10 months. The coronavirus pandemic has impacted every corner of the world, leaving no sector untouched.

Surprisingly, the solar industry is one of few sectors to not only have survived the pandemic but also to have recovered tremendously. While the drive for solar power in South Africa remains stronger than ever before, how has COVID-19 impacted the industry to date? And what can be expected going forward?

A decade of growth for solar PV in Africa

In recent years, the growth of Africa’s solar PV capacity has been exponential. Although starting from a low base, the cumulative installed capacity grew tenfold from 2009 to 2014 with the figures continuing to rise year-on-year since. As of 2019, South Africa alone had over 2,500MW of installed solar capacity — an incredible increase from just 2MW in 2010.

It is clear to see solar power’s ever-improving reputation for being an affordable and reliable source of electricity for homeowners in large cities to farmers in more rural areas across South Africa.

South Africa has adopted solar with such vigour primarily due to the country’s overburdened and monopolised energy infrastructure. Load shedding reached an all-time high in 2020, with power prices are due to see yet another increase in 2021. The dire power situation in South Africa is impacting families and businesses nationwide — people are ready for something to change.

Over the last decade alone, electricity tariffs have increased by 300% in South Africa. But now, the country has reached a stage where electricity generated from new wind and solar power farms is 200% cheaper than that by both Medupi and Kusile. Thanks to its fantastic return on investment and low running costs, solar energy is set to undercut fossil fuels and take over as the go-to electricity source in the coming years. Households and businesses are more able than ever to swap to solar energy to shift their reliance off the grid and onto an abundant, renewable energy source. It certainly feels like change is on its way.

Worldwide chaos in 2020

Despite the expected slowdown of the solar industry following the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, the market is nevertheless expected to expand steadily in both the medium and long-term. The sector has remained largely unaffected due to solar’s affordability compared to its alternatives and the role it has proven to play in providing essential electricity during the time of crisis.

Solar has also stood out as a saviour for many hospitals in rural areas of Africa, providing electricity for critical care for coronavirus patients where medical professionals cannot risk relying on the grid. While solar power did its job during the height of the pandemic, the renewable energy sector will also be a fundamental element of Africa’s recovery from the devastating effects of COVID-19. Government investments in renewable energy will mean keeping businesses open and ensuring a continuous flow of electricity to essential infrastructures.

The future is bright

In 2013, IRENA recognised the substantial potential for Africa’s rural electrification using decentralised solutions — off-grid solar installations. In fact, it anticipated solar rooftop systems using batteries could meet half of the rural demand in Southern Africa.

However, if solar is to become a central part of South Africa’s energy consumption, governments, policymakers and regulators need to take steps to scale up renewables. Coordinating multiple countries in Southern Africa to manage shared resources effectively will be central to increase the overall renewable energy supply.

According to a post-COVID report published by IRENA, Africa’s need for an accelerated energy transition has never been more critical. Renewables have shown more resilience than any other parts of the energy sector throughout a time of real crisis, demonstrating their durability and reliability for the future.

SegenSolar is an official member of the Africa Solar Industry Association (‘AFSIA’). AFSIA is dedicated to the PV initiative in Africa and describes itself as the “go-to association for anything solar” across the continent. With regular reports on the implementation of solar in airports, schools, hospitals and farms in the SADC regions, AFSIA is an example of how PV energy is gaining more and more traction each year.

The push for renewable energy has well and truly begun.

SegenSolar offers an unmatched variety of solar equipment for off-grid solar projects in both South Africa and the SADC regions. If you are a solar installer, sign up to the free customer portal today to explore the products. Or, as a homeowner looking to get solar installed, take the quick survey to find out what kind of PV system suits you best.