Eskom hands over the reins of solar power geyser initiative

It is Eskom’s job to produce energy, not to save it. But as its power station maintenance comes into focus the utility says breathing room of about 5 000MW is needed to avoid load-shedding and, to achieve this, energy saving is imperative.

The government’s ambitious solar water heating rebate programme could have gone a long way in helping reach this level of energy saving. But the project, entrusted to the power utility, has fallen dismally short of its target.

Now the project will, by January 31, move to the department of energy where it could potentially be bolstered. But the department’s silence has detractors worried that the industry, and the jobs it has created, could be at risk.

When the solar water heating rebate programme was launched in 2008 – when rolling blackouts first took hold of South Africa – it was hoped that a rebate would encourage consumers to heat water, one of the most intensive household activities, with solar power and result in “maximum power savings”.

The government aims for 10 000GWh to be replaced by power from renewable sources, and the department of energy believes 23% of this target can be achieved by solar water heating.

According to Eskom’s website, an electrical element geyser is responsible for 40% of the average household’s energy cost. A high-pressure solar water heating system can reduce a household’s electricity bill by up to 24% while a heat pump is three times more energy efficient than an electrical element geyser.

New hands at the wheel
The programme aimed to have installed a million solar geysers in homes across South Africa by 2013. Only 400 000 systems have been installed, according to Eskom.

Eskom does not see the 400 000 as a failure and in response to questions said: “We have enjoyed mixed success.”

The introduction of minimum specifications on local content has had the unfortunate consequence of stalling the programme because of the low number of qualifying manufacturers, according to the utility. “In the long run the standards will be beneficial, but in the short term the industry is taking pain.”

Yet the installation of 400?000 systems makes this one of the biggest solar water heating programmes in the world.

Eskom said the programme had also led to new and improved quality standards. “This has been good for service delivery, job creation, electricity savings and environmental management,” it said.

But the Democratic Alliance said the manner in which the handover was being done could put thousands of jobs at risk.

Potential for disaster
The DA’s spokesperson for energy, Lance Greyling, said Eskom risked creating a major disruption in the solar water heater industry because of inadequate notice of withdrawing from the programme.

According to Greyling, rebates range from around R5?000 and R12?000, depending on the size of the geyser, and have achieved energy savings of up to 50% to households.

But, “if a new rebate programme does not start running immediately after Eskom withdraws, there will be a complete stop in installation and many companies and thousands of employees will be out of business and work”, Greyling said. “The industry is also facing a precarious financial state due to the uncertainty given to the market by government’s constantly changing policies.

“The government’s revised policy also repeats the mistakes of its past programme in that priority is given to the installation of low pressure units whereas it is only the high pressure units that actually achieve the goal of demand reduction.

“This latest move by Eskom is indicative of an entity in complete disarray, looking for any and all ways to remove themselves from delivering on their mandate,” said Greyling. “This state of affairs must not be allowed to negatively affect an entire industry, risk jobs and threaten the livelihoods of those most in need of support. We need a proper government plan for solar water heaters that can urgently reduce demand to the grid and provide certainty to the industry so that it can flourish and provide much needed jobs.”

Close deadline
Asked about the reasons for the handover, Eskom said it would be focusing on its core business of supplying electricity in future.

Despite Eskom’s inability to meet the target, in November the department of energy said it was committed to ensure that a million solar water heaters were installed in households and commercial buildings by the 2014-2015 financial year, leaving it with little more than three months to go.

The department has been vague on the particulars but last week told the Cape Times it would, towards the end of the month, release details once these had been finalised.

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


Tension over who’s boss of courts

In a letter, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng questions whether Justice Minister Ronald Lamola has acted constitutionally

SABC sued over ‘bad’ clip of Ramaphosa

A senior employee at the public broadcaster wants compensation for claims of ‘sabotage’

Soundtrack to a pandemic: Africa’s best coronavirus songs

Drawing on lessons from Ebola, African artists are using music to convey public health messaging. And they are doing it in style

In East Africa, the locusts are coming back for more

In February the devastating locust swarms were the biggest seen in East Africa for 70 years. Now they’re even bigger

Press Releases

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world

SAB Zenzele special AGM rescheduled to March 25 2020

New voting arrangements are being made to safeguard the health of shareholders

Dimension Data launches Saturday School in PE

The Gauteng Saturday School has produced a number of success stories