Electricity minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa says that his department is pushing for the rooftop solar incentive in South Africa to be extended and expanded – specifically, to include equipment like inverters and batteries as part of the package.
Briefing the media on the state of the Energy Action Plan on Monday (23 October), the minister said that the recent boost in performance of Eskom’s grid can be attributed to a conflux of factors.
One of the key factors giving the grid a boost is a significant drop in demand, he said.
The minister said that the rapid adoption of rooftop solar among residents in the country has contributed to this in a big way, with installed rooftop solar now estimated at about 4,500MW, almost doubling from June 2022.
“Generation from rooftop (solar) is a significant feature of how we see the energy landscape in the country,” he said.
“People say demand is going down because of rooftop solar – yes, that is what we want, that is what we are encouraging.”
Ramokgopa said that his department is advocating for more rooftop solar in South Africa, and it is pushing for the tax incentive that was put into effect this year to be extended and expanded to batteries and inverters.
“It shouldn’t be restricted to (solar PV panels). Once we (expand the incentive), there will be a significant uptake,” he said.
The minister added that the department is also pushing for a new financing instrument to be introduced that will allow poorer households to also take advantage of the boom.
He said that an “unintended consequence” of the current incentive is that only middle- to high-income households could take part, creating an imbalance. The department is seeking to balance this.
Any additional or extended incentives will work together with the coming feed-in tariffs, he said, which would further incentivise the uptake of solar as excess generation will then become an income earner.
“We want this number (of rooftop solar MW) to be higher and higher,” he said.
The problem with (non-solar) inverters
While an extension of tax breaks to inverters and batteries will be great news for anyone looking to go solar, it is unlikely that the government will incentivise these components on their own.
National Treasury has been clear that the tax incentives have been put in place to encourage new generation.
It previously dismissed the inclusion of inverters and batteries because these components do not generate electricity on their own.
Research has shown that inverters and batteries on their own – without the solar component – are actually detrimental to energy grid, and effectively undermine the goals and intention of load shedding as a way to protect the grid.
A study conducted by the University of Stellenbosch found that a non-solar inverter and battery setup pushes peak power demand higher as these units come online at once after load shedding to recharge.
This means the grid has to deal with normal post-load shedding demand as well as the increased demand from these units.
The researchers found that because of this, inverter installations that are not connected to or charged by solar actually negate as much as 85% of the impact of load shedding.
Eskom has also previously acknowledged this problem, and has encouraged non-solar inverter and battery users to delay the charging of their units for a few hours after load shedding ends.