6 February 2009 – Recently announced funding of R60 million from the Royal Danish government to support renewable energy projects at local government level in South Africa could be used to support solar energy.

The funds will be used for a range of projects from wind energy to methane gas capture at landfills.  But consultant Frost & Sullivan believes there is also potential to direct some of this money towards solar energy. While the potential for solar in Africa in general is quite significant, the uptake of technologies has remained limited due to the cost of equipment.

“The support from Denmark is an important development in the South African renewable energy sector,” says Frost & Sullivan energy industry manager Cornelis van der Waal. “Projects that were previously unfeasible can now be developed. This will hopefully change people’s mindsets about renewables in Africa and encourage more projects.”

With this Danish support, Van der Waal hopes that increased efforts will be directed at projects such as running traffic lights from solar power and installing solar panels in new housing developments. This will alleviate some of the strain on the national grid.

Moreover, there is still a lot of open space that is not utilised for solar power, for instance on rooftops for photovoltaic panels or solar water heaters. The major reason that private individuals and institutions are not taking advantage of this though, is the lack of incentives for them to do so.

“In South Africa, solar energy is still primarily used for off-grid applications,” he says. “This is because of the lack of a feed-in tariff for individual users. The biggest challenge in the solar market in South Africa has been the lack of government support for individuals to purchase equipment and supply any excess power they might generate to the grid. In countries like Germany and Spain, government support for this approach has been significant.”

While the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) has proposed such a structure, the suggested feed-in-tariffs may not be high enough to stimulate significant interest. There are also no clear indications of when these will be implemented. The government’s targets for having 3% of all power generated by renewable sources by 2013 has also been criticised for not being ambitious enough.

With additional funds available for renewable energy projects, Frost & Sullivan believes that more could be done to encourage solar options. There is scope to create a win-win situation in which consumers reduce their electricity bills, the demand for power from Eskom is reduced and government promotes sustainable, green power generation.