At times like this, we often ask ourselves the obvious question: why aren’t more South Africans off-grid and producing electricity for themselves? How come rain-soaked Germany can generate almost 7% of its annual power needs through rooftop solar panels, when sun drenched South Africa can’t?
And the answer we often come back to is simple: in many countries, and especially European ones, there are generous “feed-in tariffs” (FITs) through which national electricity suppliers are forced to pay home owners for every unit of electricity that they produce with their own renewables but don’t use. High FITs introduced in the UK in 2010, for example, provoked a boom in the solar industry a few years ago as regular consumers discovered they could actually make a profit over the lifetime of a photovoltaic generator on the roof.
Bet you didn’t know we have almost exactly the same set-up here in South Africa? Or at least, in one place in South Africa anyway.
Back in September, an office park in Observatory became the first customer of the City of Cape Town’s electricity department to legally sell surplus energy back into the grid. The 1.2MW Black River Park Solar Project switched on following two years of pilot programs devised by the city to see how a feed-in tariff would work in South Africa.