Everything you need to know about solar PV guidelines:
In 2017, the South African Department of Energy (DoE) released Schedule 2 to the Electricity Act of 2006, which revised the licensing and registration requirements for categories of generators. Under these new rules, generators smaller than 1MW are exempted from having to obtain a license but need to be registered with NERSA. Every form of home electricity generation – including solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and backup generators – will have to be registered with the government under draft rules published by the National Energy Regulator of SA (NERSA) for public comment. The proposed SSEG rules were published for public comment by NERSA on its website on 26 April 2018.
These rules have yet to be implemented. The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) called on NERSA to scrap these rules, and in May 2018 that is exactly what they did. Nevertheless, the City of Cape Town has implemented these rules in their municipality as of May 2019, and the City of Tshwane has followed suit in 2021. This was done as a pre-emptive move towards legislation that is on hold now.
OUTA gave on their newsroom platform the following statement.“The Department of Energy (DoE) should not interfere with the safety and specifications of the requirements or standards of embedded energy generation, as this is best overseen by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) and other regulatory bodies who often take their guide from other countries where the specifications for solar panels, generators, wind turbines and other systems have already been set.” Ronal Chauke, OUTA’s Energy Portfolio Manager said “The administration required by these draft rules is cumbersome and unnecessary. Government should work with its citizens to promote access to reliable energy rather than overburdening them with costs and administrative requirements.”
In South Africa, there are no official regulatory rules enforced by the government that need to be adhered to when it comes to PV system installations.
Homeowners installing solar energy systems must comply with the registration requirements applicable in certain areas, but official conformity codes regarding certain aspects of an installation do not currently exist. This could be a big problem. With specific South African PV industry regulation not yet in place, it is an unfortunate fact that many smaller “installers” are not adequately qualified and do not prescribe to any standards. This can lead to dangerous situations that can even lead to electrical fires. While there are compulsory wiring standards for general electrical installations, there is no dedicated national standard for PV installations yet. Ask your installer about the installation standards they follow.
The standards and quality management are driven by the industry and even quality assurance is achieved in this manner. You can also play an important part in ensuring that your PV system is true to the industry standards and requirements. Collecting as much information as you can about this aspect could save you a lot of heartaches when it comes to the safety and performance of your system. Let’s look at some rules and regulations that are being practiced by reputable installers.
At the core of every PV system is an electrical system that carries electricity generated by your PV panels to your wall outlets to be utilised in every electrical need that you might have. As such, installers should always. And when you are connected to the grid, you have the extra responsibility to ensure the grid is protected and not compromised by your PV system. Every electrical system has the risk of electrical shock, arcing, and fire when not correctly installed; your PV system is no different and installers should always follow the Electrical Installation Regulations of the OHS Act. The following errors should be avoided:
- A solar PV system voltage output that is higher than the module / inverter/ charger / other equipment voltage / current rating.
- Incorrect cable type or cable size too small.
- Improper connections or connection devices, especially on the DC side.
- Improper earthing of the solar PV system.
- Continuous shading on part of the PV array.
- Incorrect weight loading calculations when installing on the roof. For systems with batteries:
- A solar PV generator that is not big enough to charge the batteries fully.
- Incorrect battery charging settings.
- Operating batteries in a poorly ventilated area.
- Operating batteries in very hot conditions.
- Poor or incorrect connections.
Source: City Energy
As a first step, ensure that you are employing a reputable and quality installation service provider.
Look at the provider’s business performance and verify if the PV service provider has substantial prior experience in PV installations and ask for references with contact details. There should be no hesitation or problem to supply you with this information from their side. Establish whether the PV service provider designed, supplied and installed the systems or only carried out one or two of these steps. Ideally, you want your provider to do your installation from start to finish. It is recommended that the PV service provider is an accredited service provider under a third-party quality assurance program, such as
- PV Green Card: A SAPVIA (South African Photovoltaic Association) endorsed programme to ensure the quality and safety of PV installations.
- P4 Platform quality assurance program: An independent system that scores contractors on performance, knowledge and best practice to promote good practice in the PV sector.
- Also, request to see proof of electrical Certificates of Compliance (CoCs) and/or professional engineer sign-offs of previous installations.
Staff qualifications are very important. Find out if your PV service provider employs or subcontracts qualified staff to design and install systems. If your installation’s maximum supply voltage is less than 1 000 volts (most rooftop systems are), the system’s design and installation can be done by a person deemed competent as an electrical contractor by the Department of Labour. Ask for proof of registration (also called a wireman’s licence), and check that it is up-to-date. This registration is critical because it means that:
- The electrician is proficient in the national wiring codes SANS 10142-1:1200, and can install your PV system safely.
- The electrician is permitted to issue a Certificate of Compliance (CoC) for the installation, which will confirm that the installation has been performed in compliance with the national wiring codes.
If you are planning to install a grid-tied system, your system should be signed off by a professional electrical engineer or technologist who is registered with the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA). Check that the PV service provider has such a person available.
Find out if your PV service provider is registered with the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA) and with the Electrical Contractors Association of South Africa (ECASA). Although SAPVIA and ECASA membership are not compulsory, it should indicate how committed the service provider is towards keeping abreast of industry best practice and complying with legislative requirements and standards in the PV and broader electrical sectors.
Your PV panels will most likely be mounted on your roof, so obtaining a structural assessment is always a good idea. Roofs, in general, can support the weight and wind load that PV panels give, but it is still advisable to obtain a structural assessment of the roof to determine whether it can withstand these loads. Structural engineers can provide this service.
The most common roof types for residential buildings in South Africa are cement tiles and corrugated iron. For most roofing types, a suitable mounting system is provided by one or more mounting system manufacturers. The installer must know all the information given by the manufacturer and has to follow the advice and requirements stipulated in the installation guidelines.
Making sure that your inverter is installed correctly and according to the manufacturer’s instruction should be done. If you are planning to install a grid-tied system, ensure that your inverter is correctly installed and the right size for your system. Inverters have been known to cause fires, and an incorrectly installed inverter is usually the culprit.
Check your PV panel standards. At the very least, ensure that the PV panels you will use have a Certificate of Compliance with the IEC standard: EC 61215 − Crystalline silicon terrestrial PV modules. IEC standards are the international version of the SABS and are a good indication of panel quality. Ask your service provider for proof.
If you are installing batteries, make sure that they are stored in a properly racked, well ventilated, dry room, in accordance with the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act, Act 85 of 1993.
When your system is being installed, ensure that there will be effective control over the project. Ensure that the electrician who will sign off the electrical CoC is in control on-site and carries out or supervises the work constructively.
You have to be able to adequately get to your PV panels on your roof to clean them and there also needs to be enough room to provide access for the fire department. Ask your PV installer to demonstrate this for you so you can check the placement of your PV panels.
DC from your PV panels requires specialised circuit breakers. Ensure that your service provider is using these.
The health and safety aspects should always be adhered to on the installation site. Ensure installers work according to national health and safety codes, and hold Working at Height training certificates. If working at heights above 3m, they must use some form of fall arrest system. Personal protection equipment (hard hats etc.) must be used at all times. Health and safety codes need always be maintained to avoid injury and even death of the workers.
After your installation has been completed, request an original Electrical Certificate of Compliance (CoC). The Department of Labour-registered installation electrician who performs the installation must supply you with a CoC after s/he has carried out the installation and completed the required tests and checks. A CoC acts as a check that the installation has complied with the rules and regulations that are in place to assure a safe installation.
As the property owner, you are responsible for the safety of the electrical installation on your property in terms of the OHS Act.
Without a valid electrical CoC, it is difficult to prove that you have taken reasonable precautions should anything go wrong.
Insurance companies might not pay out for damages and if someone is injured or dies as a result of the installation, you could be held liable.
Check the installation work has not caused leaks in your roof. You could suffer major structural damage if leaks are not immediately attended to.
All warranties and guarantees on offer should be attained, both for the installation as a whole and for its components (solar modules, inverters, structural system). Also, check you have all operations and maintenance manuals. They could be of great help is something fails and you or another installer need to fix it.
If you are not satisfied with the work, request an independent inspection of the installation inspection from an authorised inspection authority registered with the Department of Employment and Labour, the ECASA ombudsman or an independent consultant.
What formal renewable energy qualifications are available in South Africa?
The South African Renewable Energy Technology Centre (SARETEC) recently obtained a SAQA ID number for the formal qualification of solar PV service technician at the end of 2016. In addition, with assistance from Deutsche Gesellschaft für Sonnenenergie (DGS) and Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) SARETEC developed the following short courses:
- PV service technician (PV farms)
- PV service technical (standalone/off-grid installation)
- PV installer – (liaises with clients, conducts site visits, obtains and analyses data, designs or customises or compiles a PV system, selects appropriate components, installs, commissions and tests a PV system for functionality)
- PV mounter – (mounts pre-designed PV systems according to instructions from either a PV installer or designer.)
The utmost care should be taken to ensure that your PV system complies with all guidelines, rules and regulations so that you can rest assured that your installation is safe and effective for optimal performance and functionality.
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