South Africa imported R17.5 billion of solar panels in 2023

South Africa imported R17.5 billion worth of solar panels in 2023, driven by record levels of load-shedding. These solar imports have a capacity of around 5,000 MW. 

This was revealed by a senior economist at the Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS), Gaylor Montmasson-Clair. 

Montmasson-Clair said that the value of imports hit R17.5 billion in 2023, triple the R5.6 billion spent in 2022.

South Africa has seen sustained demand for solar panels, inverters, and batteries in 2023 as the country experienced the worst load-shedding in its history. 

This has pushed businesses and households to adapt to the reality of an inconsistent energy supply, with many turning to solar to reduce their reliance on Eskom. 

The demand for alternative energy sources has increased almost in lock-step with the increased load-shedding South Africa has experienced in 2022 and 2023. 

Montmasson-Clair’s data shows that in South Africa, there was a massive peak in demand in the middle of 2023. 

Demand skyrocketed at the beginning of 2023, with R3.6 billion of solar panels imported in the first quarter alone. 

This was followed by a record second quarter, with R8.4 billion worth of solar panels imported. 

This was partly due to the fear of increased load-shedding during winter, with warnings that the country would likely hit stage 8 load-shedding and beyond.

It was also the quarter where the rooftop solar tax break also came into effect.

Sustained demand has created local business opportunities and a local solar panel manufacturing industry potentially emerging. 

Since 2010, South Africa has imported close to R40 billion worth of solar panels. Imports were initially supported by government investment into renewables but are now primarily supported by private investment.

Source: Gaylor Montmasson-Clair with data from TradeMap and Quantec

Eskom estimated in its latest Weekly System Status report that there are 5,412 MW of private rooftop solar installed in South Africa. 

The report showed that private companies and households installed over 2,400 MW of rooftop solar in the past year. 

Eskom estimates the amount of rooftop solar installed in the country by measuring the decrease in electricity demand on optimal solar generation days compared to sub-optimal days.

It previously said that behind-the-meter solar installations have helped stave off higher stages of load shedding on sunny days.

Solar PV is, therefore, helping the country avoid higher load-shedding stages. However, it comes at a revenue cost to Eskom.

Its latest financial results showed that the reduction in demand caused by solar installations resulted in its sales declining by over 2%.

This capacity exceeds that of Eskom’s largest coal-fired power stations, Medupi and Kusile. These stations have a nominal capacity of 4,800 MW each.

Medupi and Kusile have not run at maximum capacity due to delays in finishing the stations, design flaws, and mismanagement.

It must be noted that the country’s 5,412 MW of solar capacity refers to its nominal capacity and does not mean private installations are generating more power than Medupi and Kusile.


Top JSE indices