Many of Cape Town’s residents have been confused since the City announced that domestic solar power systems must be registered by February 28 2019, and are wondering about the implications.
Over the past few years, Cape Town has seen a huge increase in the number of rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) installations. However, these can pose safety and legal risks if not installed correctly. Due to this, the City is enforcing the registration of these and all other small-scale embedded generation (SSEG) systems.
“The City would like to clear up some of the confusion that has become apparent in light of the City’s reminder that solar PV systems need to be registered with the municipality,” the City said in a statement.
No charge for registration
It must be stressed that the City does not charge for the registration of solar PV systems.
The R6 425.90 service fee will only be charged to residents who fail to register their systems with the City. Residents should note, however, that there may be costs associated with ensuring that their systems are grid-compliant or off-grid.
Registration not precursor to solar PV ‘tax’
The registration requirement is not a precursor to taxation directed at residents who off-set their municipal electricity consumption by using solar power. There are no such plans in the pipeline.
The main reason registration is required is to ensure the safety of local residents and to supply electricity to all customers at a quality standard.
Registration also means the location of all solar systems are on record; this information can be used for electricity demand control, quality of supply management and for planning future investment in electricity infrastructure.
Only 2% of systems confirmed as off-grid
Some residents have queried why registration is necessary even if the system is not ‘grid-tied,’ i.e. connected to the City’s electricity infrastructure or power grid. However, of the systems that have registered for authorisation so far, only about 2% are actually confirmed to be off-grid.
The City reminds residents that it has statutory obligations to ensure that all grid-tied systems comply with safety and performance standards. In order to understand whether a system is grid-tied or off-grid, all PV systems must be registered so that the City can confirm if the system is connected to the grid or not and so off-grid systems are not mistaken for unauthorised grid-tied systems.
Registered systems will be cross-checked with aerial photographs which the City is using to identify the existence of all PV systems.
Furthermore, many solar PV systems that claim to be off-grid are not electrically separate from the house’s wiring and so are not technically off-grid. To qualify as ‘off-grid,’ a solar PV system must be completely electrically separate from a property’s wiring, for example, a pool pump powered only by a solar PV system.
Certain other configurations of PV systems can also qualify as off-grid; for example, a changeover switch that is installed in a way that the property uses only electricity from its PV system, or only from the City’s grid, but never both.
The registration process for off-grid systems is a simplified process, as the equipment does not need to comply with the City’s standards. (The equipment will still need to comply with national safety standards). At a minimum, a letter will be required which has been signed by a registered electrician verifying that the system is truly off-grid.
Very small systems that would not be mistaken for grid-tied systems, such as solar-powered appliances or solar lights, do not need to be registered.
Solar Water Heaters (SWHs) that use the sun’s thermal energy to heat water directly are not considered electricity generators and do not need to be registered. However, solar PV panels that are directly connected to a hot water geyser element via a change-over switch will need to be registered (as do all solar PV panels irrespective of their use) to confirm that the system is an off-grid PV system and is not mistaken for a grid-tied system.
City pre-empting national legal requirement for registration
It has always been a legal requirement that generation systems connected to the City’s network be authorised by the City before they can be connected.
It has taken some time for South Africa to develop national standards to connect PV installations safely. In the absence of national standards, the City has developed interim standards for PV systems to be safely and legally connected to the grid.
Draft national legislation indicates that formal registration of SSEG systems will become mandatory.
“The City understands the frustration that comes with government red tape. However, the safety of our staff and residents is paramount. As solar PV is now becoming affordable for many more of our residents, and uptake is expected to increase, it is important that we ensure that residents and the industry are aware of what is required in terms of the City’s Electricity by-law, and that existing systems are compliant. Offering a grace period for registration of these systems was the best way to achieve these aims. It is very clear that we are moving towards a system of national registration and it is the City’s intention as far as possible to assist its residents with this transition within the confines of legislation,” said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Energy and Climate Change, Councillor Phindile Maxiti.
Forms for registration of solar systems as well as a guide to completing the registration process can be downloaded from www.capetown.gov.za/solarPV.
Once completed, the forms can be sent to the relevant technician as per contact details that can be found also by following the link referred to above.