Sun Blocked: Cape Town’s Lengthy Wait for Solar Panel Installations

When envisioning a sustainable future, the image of solar panels glittering under the Cape Town sun often comes to mind. However, this dream is experiencing a significant delay, with citizens enduring a prolonged wait of up to five months for permission to install these energy-saving devices. What’s more, early birds risk facing fines if they jump the gun before getting the green light.

The Solar Roadblock: A Communication Blackout

This solar power quandary came to light when Solar Advice, a local energy advisory firm, shared their concerns with us about the prevalent gridlock in the City of Cape Town’s (CoCT) application process. They claim that support lines are overburdened, and there’s a substantial void in communication concerning already submitted applications.

Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be a specific timeline for these applications. In their words, “All areas are experiencing significant backlogs in applications as there are no set deadlines for when these applications need to be processed.” Once submitted, customers are left in the dark, with approvals only emerging after an Electrical Engineer conducts a final site inspection.

Penalties Ahead: The Cost of Early Installation

Those tempted to bypass the lengthy approval process and dive straight into solar power usage might want to think again. Skipping this crucial step could result in penalties ranging from R5000-R7000, warns Solar Advice. Even worse, the CoCT could cut the power supply to the eager solar user’s home.

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The backlog varies between areas in Cape Town. While some regions have managed to process applications within a three-month period, others are lagging behind by up to five months. Solar Advice noted, “Area South has the fastest processing time of around three months… Area East is still processing applications submitted in January, so they have a backlog of around five months.”

Finding a Temporary Solution: Batteries First, Panels Later

Amid the waiting, some solar providers are seeking innovative solutions. Adrian Kenneth-Watts, the owner of the One Energy Cape Town franchise, told us they first install batteries and inverters to shield customers from load-shedding, with the solar panels only added once approval has been secured.

He believes the application backlog stems from an overwhelming demand for solar installations, but also sees a silver lining. “It is reassuring that installers and homeowners are much more aware of the due diligence required and are complying with the registration requirements,” he shared.

Improving the Solar Horizon: The CoCT’s Response and Advice

Acknowledging the issues, Councillor Beverley van Reenen, a CoCT mayoral committee member for energy, explained that a combination of high volumes of applications and incomplete or incorrect submissions are contributing to the backlog. However, she assures residents that the City is working to improve the situation.

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To streamline the process, the City is developing an online registration system aiming to drastically reduce turnaround times. According to Van Reenen, “the authorisation process can take between three and six months, provided that residents supply the City with all the relevant information.”

For those Cape Town residents keen on installing solar panels, Van Reenen offered this advice: “Solar PV systems that are configured as grid-tied or grid-tied hybrid systems using City-approved inverters, are typically approved faster than systems configured as standby or off-grid systems.”

In the interim, while the sun continues to shine brightly on Cape Town, let’s hope the clouds part soon over the solar installation process. After all, a solar-powered Cape Town is a sustainable Cape Town, and we’re all in this together.