Barriers to adopting residential solar in South Africa

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  • A team of researchers have called for a collective response from government and the private sector to address barriers to adopting residential solar in South Africa.

In “Adoption of residential rooftop solar PV systems in South Africa: a scoping review of barriers,” which was recently published in the latest issue of Heliyon, the team analyzed the barriers to adopting rooftop PV in South Africa that are covered in relevant literature published since 2000.

Despite the great potential for solar technology in South Africa, uptake remains “very low,” according to the researchers, who estimate that close to 10% of households have adopted solar energy for day-to-day use. But solar remains widely seen as the solution to both the country’s high dependency on fossil fuels – with over 95% of South Africa’s energy still coming from coal – and the load shedding caused by energy shortages that have plagued the country in recent years.

In their review, the researchers grouped the barriers they examined into five categories: financial, personal, institutional, technical and societal barriers. Each of the five categories were found to have more negative effects on low-income households than on high income households.

But the researchers have not found any studies on barriers across an income gradient, which they said is “a glaring omission given debates on just transitions.” The review said it is “clear” that solar systems are still beyond affordability for most households, particularly as approximately 55% of the people in South Africa are classified as low-income households, while a further 20% are considered middle income households.

The researchers concluded that, given the complexity of the barriers, it is “not responsible to expect the government to facilitate transition to solar PV alone.” Instead, they call for collective approaches to create enabling conditions for solar PV development. “The private sector has a key role to play either in supporting state-initiated programs or creating the means for solar PV adoption such as power purchase agreements,” the researchers wrote. “That said, the state remains a central player in facilitating an enabling economic and political environment to leverage responsiveness from other actors.”

They also said the government should invest in educating households so they can ascertain the risks and benefits of PV. They claimed that a strong strategy that is inclusive of all households, including those from marginalized societies, will be vital.

“Without an integrated approach to addressing barriers to solar PV adoption, solar adoption will remain a source of energy for the economically privileged, and the imperative to just transition to renewable energy a pipe dream, in a country characterised by large inequalities among households,” the researchers explained.

In 2023, South Africa’s National Treasury launched a ZAR 4 billion ($216.7 million) rebate program for residential PV. According to South African utility Eskom, the country surpassed 4.4 GW of rooftop solar capacity last year.

In March, the South African capital Cape Town opened an online portal to simplify the authorization process for solar and reduce approval waiting times for rooftop installations

Author: Patrick Jowett

This article was originally published in pv magazine and is republished with permission.


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