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Making Solar Power Work for Your Lifestyle: Key Facts You Need

The Pro’s and Con’s of Going Solar in South Africa, According to Experts

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By House & Garden South Africa | June 17, 2024 | Architecture

Going off the grid is on the mind of almost every South African. For many, installing solar panels seems like the best solution when there are many anecdotes of those who save on their electricity bills, live without the burden of load shedding, and City of Cape Town residents who will receive cash back for their surplus electricity generated from solar panels, that can be fed back into the city's grid.

After the April 2024 electricity hike, both homeowners and tenants are now paying over 33% more for electricity than they did just two years ago, which has led to a growing interest in solar energy due to the possible electricity bill savings. But, when it comes to choosing solar solutions for your home, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. In fact, that’s what makes solar power so attractive today: There are solar-powered products tailored to maximise these savings across the board from electricity bills to installing and insuring solar panels.

Idasvallie Primary Drone

To learn more about this vital step forward in making solar power more accessible, we spoke with Johanna Horz, Chief of Staff & Director of Strategy and Emerging Business at Wetility Energy, a leading solar-as-a-service company with a national footprint providing affordable and flexible solar solutions that work seamlessly with your lifestyle.

H&G: How does Wetility help residents save on their electricity bills?

Johanna Horz: At Wetility, we offer an all-in-one solar bundle on a subscription basis – the Beast Bundle. This means that alongside the inverter, PV panels, and battery storage the Wetility Beast Bundle also includes a smart geyser control and surge protection to protect the durability of household appliances.

We have tailored our products to maximise these savings. For example, the included smart geyser control can provide up to 30% savings on electricity bills. It learns when customers use the least amount of solar power and optimises these times to heat water. This system leverages solar power to provide free hot water, which accounts for 40% of energy bills, enhancing the customer’s return on investment.

Wetility Energy

Customers can easily track geyser and wider solar savings through our We-X app, and many choose to upgrade their systems after noticing the benefits. Our hybrid solar system solutions are modular and scalable, allowing customers to start with 30-70% of their energy needs being met by solar power. They can then expand their systems incrementally, progressing towards complete off-grid independence.

H&G: What are the costs linked to installing solar power at home?

JH: Our subscription solutions at Wetility are geared to make solar accessible, affordable and worry-free for all our customers and include insurance, annual system checks, maintenance and continuous customer service. Similarly to how customers would pay for their Eskom bill, they will now pay for their Wetility subscription. These payments are made even more affordable via the anticipated electricity bill savings – generated by the solar – as well as (where available) the additional revenue obtained from feeding back power to the grid.

Wetility Energy

Important things to look for when considering the cost of solar are the quality of the components as well as the maintenance contract:

The quality of the solar panels, inverters, and batteries can significantly impact the long-term performance and reliability of your solar power system. Cheaper, lower-quality equipment may have a lower cost but can lead to higher expenses down the line due to inefficiencies, repairs, or replacements.

Wetility Energy

There are many types of batteries on the market and investing in high-quality batteries is crucial for long-term cost-effectiveness. At Wetility for example, we only use Tier 1 lithium-ion batteries. These have a product lifecycle of over 10 years, compared to other batteries which may run at significantly reduced capacity after two years already.

Another cost to consider is maintenance. At Wetility we include annual system checks, annual panel cleaning as well as 24 hour customer support and remote monitoring in our subscription.

Having a clear understanding about whether maintenance is included with your solar system is important as servicing call outs can otherwise significantly add to the overall cost.

H&G: How does the installation of solar power improve or elevate a homeowner’s lifestyle?

JH: Solar power ensures that essential household functions continue uninterrupted, significantly enhancing the overall quality of life. This autonomy and flexibility are key factors that elevate the lifestyle of homeowners who install solar power systems.

Empowerment that comes from managing one’s own power needs is of the primary benefits.

Even during periods with less load shedding, interest in solar power remains high since homeowners value the reliability and control it provides. Our customers consistently emphasise the freedom that comes from not having to check their ever-changing loadshedding schedule. Instead, they can plan their day according to their own schedules rather than around loadshedding timetables.

Wetility Energy

It’s also important to note that quality of life with solar power extends beyond ensuring essential services. In January 2023, we conducted a survey with 10,000 DStv Rewards customers, and the vast majority reported that load shedding severely disrupted their entertainment activities— such as watching TV and using the internet. This means that solar offers the freedom to enjoy leisure activities whenever desired, without interruption.

H&G: Are there any projects where Wetility’s solar solutions have made a significant impact?

JH: Our vision at Wetility is energy independence for everyone and that’s something we take very seriously. We recently started a national roll out of solar solutions to schools, identifying them as critical community infrastructure points. To make solar feasible for all schools, we have developed a school-specific product suite, available as a flexible rental solution. This product suite – the SCHOLAR series – is able to power anything from critical needs only (admin facilities) all the way to powering classroom lights, projectors, and security equipment.

In April this year, we did our first school installation at the Idas Valley Primary School in Stellenbosch – a very exciting moment for us. Having a Wetility solar solution will enable uninterrupted lessons for both teachers and students. One of the key concerns shared by teachers we spoke to is that power outages severely impede their lesson planning and lesson efficiency, reducing the quality of education for the learners.

Additionally, having reliable energy will help the school function by allowing administrative duties to continue without interruption. Anecdotes shared by the principal, for example, include that the school will now be able to contact parents in case of an emergency – something previously not possible during power outages.

H&G: For homeowners and renters, does solar power affect their property value?

JH: Yes, solar power installations have become a key value driver for properties. This is why we have launched our RISE product series, which caters to apartment buildings in South Africa. At Wetility we collaborate with many property developers and owners of large apartment complexes who are witnessing tenants leave due to the lack of backup power. Installing solar power not only retains current tenants but also attracts new ones, thereby increasing the property’s marketability. Moreover, homes equipped with solar power systems often see an immediate boost in market value, making them more attractive to potential buyers.

H&G: Are there different types of solar panels for different size and style roofs?

JH: Yes, there are different types of solar panels designed to accommodate various roof sizes and styles. Like the selection of batteries, we highly recommend using high-quality materials for optimal performance and longevity.

At Wetility, we exclusively utilise ‘monocrystalline' solar panels renowned for their high efficiency and space saving design. This makes them particularly well-suited for household roofs where maximising power output per square meter is crucial. While polycrystalline solar panels are an alternative option, being less efficient than monocrystalline panels, they may appeal to individuals with larger roofs where space is less of a concern.

Also, the choice of panels significantly impacts the aesthetics of your home. Monocrystalline panels boast a uniform dark colour and are often considered more visually pleasing and suitable for visible roof areas. Polycrystalline solar panels on the other hand typically exhibit a blue hue, and the resulting overall look of the property may be less appealing to some homeowners.

Of course, aesthetics is not everything, but at Wetility we have really taken care to combine functionality and design. Our cabinet (the “PACE cabinet”) holds the battery, inverter and switchgear all in one neat case. It is one of the things that customers compliment us for often.

For more information visit Wetility.