Due to the significant disruption caused by power outages in South Africa, there has been a noticeable rise in the use of solar power systems. This increase in popularity can be attributed to the attractive tax incentives and the relief provided by solar energy. However, people’s satisfaction has been undermined by malicious individuals who target these systems, as well as faulty units that can lead to fires.

By Mbali Mthembu

The rise in the acceptance and usage of solar power has attracted criminals who are now boldly making money from solar panel systems. Consequently, security firms are now providing more services to deter crime, directly capitalising on this trend.

In addition to supplying essential electricity during load shedding, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a relief measure for individuals who had installed solar systems in his State of the Nation address in February. This announcement has resulted in a significant increase in the popularity of solar systems.

The president said the relief was a component of the country’s efforts to address the severe power crisis. He unveiled several new initiatives, such as declaring a state of disaster, appointing a new minister for electricity, and providing loans and incentives to encourage South Africans to transition to solar energy.

Following the announcement by the president, finance minister Enoch Godongwana detailed the incentives in his budget speech.

He said the treasury, “would offer R4 billion in relief for individuals that install solar panels and R5 billion to companies through an expansion of the renewable energy tax incentive. This is available for this financial year only and it can be used to reduce their tax liability in the 2023/24 tax year.”

To be eligible, Godongwana said the solar panels need to be bought and set up at a private home, and a certificate of compliance for the installation must be obtained between 1 March 2023 and 29 February 2024.

According to a recent report by Business Day, financial institutions have developed creative methods to finance solar installations. As a result, there has been a significant surge in the number of solar systems being installed.

The recent increase in solar installations has attracted the attention of criminals, who have identified solar panels as their latest target. In response, security companies have capitalised on this trend by offering a variety of products and services.

Many security companies have sprung up with an assortment of solutions from “electric fencing, motion-detecting beams and motion-activated lights, burglar bars, and interior detection systems.”

Even in the event of successfully safeguarding your solar panel, only half of the challenges would be resolved, as numerous solar solution units possess dangerous flaws that can lead to fires.

Several fire incidents in the country related to solar panels have been brought to attention in media reports. One prominent example is the recent fire at Vodacom’s Cape Town headquarters, which was caused by faulty solar panels.

Power experts have warned that the likelihood of fires may soon rise as households and businesses transition to solar energy in response to load-shedding.

According to Bryan Anderson, a firefighter at East Rand Fire and an expert in fire safety and risks, the growing installation of solar panels due to people’s desire to avoid power outages poses a potential fire hazard.

“I do not say solar energy should not be installed despite its risks. However, they need to be installed properly to keep everyone safe because they are a fire risk. Another issue is that the panels do not work for every roof type, now this is where installers lack communication because if wrongly installed, they pose short circuits, faults, or thermal runaway all these threats can cause fire,” Anderson told The Telegram.

Bongani Mtshali, a co-founder of Neils Batteries Pty Ltd, a Germiston-based company that provides solar panels, states that the chances of solar panel systems causing fires are generally low. He recommends that homeowners regularly maintain their solar power systems.

“The few fires associated with solar systems are caused by poor installation or defective parts like DC isolators, sensors, or junction boxes rather than solar panels. A correctly installed and well-maintained solar system is incredibly safe and does not necessarily pose a fire risk issue.

“Businesses or homes with solar panels installed need to take care of their solar PV system as one would for any other electrical system in their business or home. Solar power system owners just need to get a licensed technician who will conduct regular solar inspections or any repair work to remain safe,” Mtshali said.

Meanwhile, Bafana Jiyane, a homeowner who has had solar panels placed in his home for over a year, believes solar panel systems are worthwhile and advises people to invest in them despite the risks.

“Every electrical producer or installation has its own hazardous or fire risks, but I believe with proper maintenance and installation they can go a long way. Solar panels are good for me although they cost me a lot but are worth the price. Not only do I not feel the effects of load-shedding, but they reduce my electricity usage which results in a lower spend on my electricity bill,” said Jiyane.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *