Rapid advances in technology has pushed renewable energy sources from an expensive option that only environmentalists advocated to an economically viable alternative worldwide.
The International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) says in a recent study that the cost of renewable energy sources like wind and solar continue to fall drastically and will start to become cheaper than fossil fuels by 2020.
Irena based its research on the cost of new and completed projects worldwide. While solar projects are still relatively expensive in comparison to hydro power, onshore wind and geothermal sources, the cost of solar plants has dropped by more than 70% since 2010 and continues to fall, says the report. “Auction prices [tender prices in SA] for photovoltaic projects have reached a record low per kWh (kilowatt hour] in Dubai, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Canada and Germany. By 2020, all renewable power generation technologies that are now in use are expected to be comparable with fossil fuel, with most at the lower end of the range or undercutting fossil fuel.”
The lower prices of solar systems due to technological advances and more competition in the solar industry globally has resulted in a big drop in the capital cost to install a solar system for a small business or a household in SA too. Meanwhile, Eskom’s slow decline motivated people to look for alternatives.
He says demand for residential installations has also increased sharply during the last two years as electricity prices have increased, while the cost of solar systems has fallen dramatically and the effectiveness of new generating technology has improved tremendously. “We are receiving a lot more enquiries lately because of the recent wave of load-shedding,” he adds.
The cost of off-grid solar installations has decreased significantly over the last 10 years, with the prices of some components falling nearly 70%, according to Specialized Solar Systems’ website.
“The price of solar panels has decreased to around R5 per watt generating capacity compared to between R11 and R12 per watt 10 years ago,” says Bergs. This means that a 100-watt solar panel costs some R500 today compared to R1 200 in 2008.
Inverters – the heart of a solar system that converts 12 volt direct current to 220 volt alternating current to run household appliances – have also decreased in price, while their capacity, quality, effectiveness and features have improved significantly. For instance, most modern pure sine wave inverters are cheaper than the older modified sine wave inverters, and even cheaper than the bigger and bulkier square wave inverters of years ago.
Modern inverters combine charging controllers, battery management, seamless switch-over from different power sources and computerised operation in one compact unit. Good quality inverters produce pure, stable electricity without dips and surges, which results in electrical and electronic appliances working better.