While power utility Eskom’s rebate programme has facilitated interest in solar water heaters (SWHs) , a greater, more assertive framework would be required to attract the mass SWH adoption needed to reach South Africa’s target of one-million installations by the end of 2014.
Global consultancy Frost & Sullivan (F&S) suggested that such a framework could include making SWHs mandatory for new buildings, which would eradicate the restrictive high initial cost of the product, by incorporating this into a new building’s operating cost.
“The inclusion of solar water heaters into new building codes would vastly propagate the market and lead to significant job creation opportunities in both manufacturing and installation,” stated F&S energy and power industry analyst Dominic Goncalves.
There was also a need to establish a locally-based manufacturing hub that will create products suited for South African applications. This would need to be accompanied by sufficient training for installers, appropriate accreditation and monitoring and a large-scale marketing and promotional drive by the government.
New analysis from F&S entitled ‘South African Solar Water Heater Market’, showed that the market earned revenues of $41.6-million in 2009, and estimated that this would reach $407.9-million by 2014.
Concalves attributed the growth to the increase in electricity price lowering the payback period of the product; the looming electricity crisis, which could see load-shedding and thus a lack of domestic hot water supply; environmental awareness; and the subsidisation of SWH products, which was lowering previously daunting high initial costs.
Goncalves said that Eskom’s rebate system provided the initial steps toward a government-supportive framework to roll out SWHs on a mass scale nationwide, and although teething problems were experienced, the rebate programme was one of several mechanisms that would help fulfil the target set by government in 2007 to install one-million solar water heaters by 2014.
This was said to be equivalent to building a 2 000 MW power station.
Research showed that 18% of national electricity usage was attributed to domestic water heating. Most of this domestic water heating occurred during peak times when Eskom struggled to supply electricity owing to extra strain on the power supply.
Bad quality products, lack of skills in installation, and end-user confusion about which is the correct system to purchase were described as the pressing challenges facing the SWH industry.
“The market is confronted with a barrage of low-quality products from China, which is exacerbated by a lack of skills prevalent in the installation sector. This has resulted in a suspicious opinion of solar water heater systems and a subsequent lack of interest by the South African consumer,” said F&S.