South Africa’s solar boom is over

Repairs to South Africa’s coal-fired stations that have helped the state power utility avoid debilitating blackouts for three months straight is giving solar installers an unintended break.

Until March, Eskom had inflicted power cuts for as many as 12 hours a day due to unreliable units prone to breakdowns.

The outages have crimped the economy and inconvenienced residents who have burned candles, bought batteries and — for those who can afford it — put up solar panels.

But the power is back, for now. And after 77 consecutive days and counting of stable supply from Eskom, demand for such installations from the suburbs to small businesses has cooled, according to De Wet Taljaard, a technical specialist for solar energy at the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association.

“Based on anecdotal evidence and if you look at the stats that are available, it does appear as if there has been a significant drop in the capacity that has been installed recently,” he said.

Average monthly capacity additions from February to April this year dropped to 26 megawatts from 97 megawatts during the same period in 2023, Taljaard said, citing Eskom data.

The flow of photovoltaic cells and modules from China to South Africa reflected the surge last year, exceeding $180 million for the month of May alone, according to data compiled by Bloomberg NEF.

That’s dropped considerably, with imports not exceeding $40 million since August last year, the data show.

Eskom Chief Executive Officer Dan Marokane has attributed the recent streak of stable supply of mainly power generated from coal to improvements made to generation equipment by the company.

He’s warned that the cuts could return, though limited to lower levels, over a period of colder weather.


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