Status of Solar Heating/Cooling and Solar Buildings - 2015

Status of the Market for Solar Thermal Systems

Market Size and Trends

South Africa enjoys high solar irradiation and has 24% of the world's best area for winter sunshine. The most populated province receives annual global irradiation of around 2,000 kWh/m² per year, while the range for the country is form 1,600 kWh/m² on the coast, reaching 2,400 kWh/m² in the sunny interior. This potential is not used.  This is largely due to historically low electricity tariffs, high upfront capital costs of the technologies and limited implementation of national policies. However, this paradigm is quickly changing as tariffs have increased by over 300% in the last 7 years, technology prices are decreasing and government programmes to grow the green economy are being implemented.

The main focus of solar thermal applications in South Africa, is on solar water heating (SWH) for the domestic sector. The most recent scientific market survey of SWH in South Africa was published in 2005. The only reliable statistics available in the market since 2005, are from the Eskom rebate programme – please refer to next section. Suppliers also sell SWH outside of the rebate programme and although the volumes are not known it can be reasonably assumed that they do not exceed the rebate programme volumes. By March 2015, the total number of units installed under the national SWH rebate programme are:

High Pressure -             102,498
Low Pressure -              292,956
Total (2008-2015) -       395,454

There are about 220 industrial / commercial (large) SWH installations in the country covering a surface area of approximately 10,635m²

Since 2013 the country has seen exponential growth in rooftop PV installations but these are off a very low base. The absence of formalized feed in tariff programmes for grid tied systems with the major electricity distributors means that most installations are not recorded. An analysis of known rooftop PV installations undertaken by the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Study at the University of Stellenbosch found that in Q2 there were 285 installations -- minimum of 1,2 kWp and max of 1 200 kWp -- giving a total of 29.3 MWp installed (excluding REIPPP and off grid).

Typical Applications and Products

A relatively small market for solar thermal applications has traditionally existed in Solar Water Heating (SWH) for the residential sector. Annually approximately 450,000 electric water heaters are sold in the country to service a housing stock of 7 million, this excludes government subsidized and informal housing. The South African domestic SWH market can be divided in two distinct sectors – 1) Replacing predominantly resistance elements with high pressure SWH, where there is competition with heat pumps; and 2) Providing hot water with low pressure SWH to low income households who otherwise would have used a kettle or paraffin stove to heat their water. High pressure systems have an electric resistance element to offset any energy shortages whilst low pressure systems do not. In 2008 Eskom, the national utility, was mandated by the Department of Energy to administer a SWH incentive programme to stimulate uptake. In 2010 the SA President and Minister of Energy set a target of 1 million installations by 2015. The Eskom rebate programme was later expanded to include low pressure systems for subsidised housing. Only South African Bureau of Standard (SABS) approved systems are eligible to participate in the rebate programme to ensure that SWHs meet pre-determined minimum requirements for quality, performance and safety.

High Pressure SWH: Found in middle and high income residential homes, where the typical tank size is between 200-300 litres. In South Africa both flat plate and evacuated tube technology is available with no outright market domination. Suppliers also offer thermosyphon and split systems. Although this offers consumers more options it does create confusion about which is more effective and makes it difficult for either technology to create the economies of scale which would reduce installation costs. In 2014 it is estimated that there are 150,000 HP SWH units installed with an average area of 4m². This equates to 600,000m² of installation area.

Another SWH technology used in South Africa, is unglazed plastic water heating for swimming pools. It is estimated that there approximately 800,000 swimming pools in South Africa, the majority of which are not heated by solar or electricity. In 2014 it was estimated that there were 4,335 installations with an average of 20m² / installation, implying that there is 86,700m² of unglazed water heating in the country.

Low Pressure SWH: These systems have a storage capacity of between 80-100 litres and are installed on government subsided housing which is a free-standing single family house of 50m² or less. The vast majority of units make use of vacuum tubes as these are imported for less than flat plate collectors can be locally manufactured or imported.

Main Market Drivers

In South Africa, water is almost exclusively heated by horizontal electric resistance water heaters placed in the uninsulated roof space of buildings and connected with unlagged pipe systems. The national standard allows for as much as 2.59 kWh of daily standing losses for a 150 litre water heater which is the tank size that dominates the market. Manufacturers of these horizontal electric resistance water heaters have no incentive to improve on these inefficiencies as water heaters are a homogenous product, which competes on price.

To stimulate the market in SWH, a rebate scheme (detailed above) and new building regulations were introduced. The National Building Regulations, to which all new building being erected must comply, were amended in 2010 to make provision for sustainability. To support these amendments SANS 10400-XA was developed and in November 2011 the SANS 10400-XA regulations came into effect. 10400-XA regulates the maximum allowable energy consumption for all new buildings as well as any additions to existing buildings. The amended South African National Building 10400–XA Regulations now require the following:

  • XA1: Buildings should utilise energy efficiently and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with a checklist of requirements.
  • XA2: Not more than 50% of the annual volume of domestic hot water may be heated using electricity.

By the beginning of 2015, the policies in place for HP SWH, had failed to stimulate the market to the extent that was expected and the rebate programme was suspended by the Department of Energy, who took over the management the programme from Eskom, pending a review. It is not clear whether the rebate programme will be re-introduced or whether it will be terminated.

The LP SWH programme was successful as about 300,000 systems were installed across the country over a two year period. This programme delivered additional benefits as it trained locals to undertake the installations (training and jobs); operated on very low profit margins; undertook installations to low quality houses; and provided free warm to hot water on tap for the first time to many households.

To continue funding the programme Government would require suppliers to meet a specified local content requirement to qualify (local manufacturing and jobs). The programme was suspended in 2013 as almost no suppliers could meet the new local content requirements that were introduced for specific components, which became a mandatory requirement. The impasse is currently being discussed between national government and suppliers.

In summary, the key barriers and their statusses are summarized:

  • Low electricity tariffs: This is no longer a barrier as tariffs have increased by 10-15% (and in some years by 25%) since 2008. However, weak economic conditions mean that most households are unable to make the initial capital investment required for a SWH;
  • Price of SWH: Most households, even with the rebate, believe that they are too expensive. An electric water heater costs as little as R2,500 (EUR200) whereas HP SWH average around R15,000 (EUR1,200);
  • Technology choice: As detailed above too many options results in fear of making the ‘wrong’ decision
  • Enforcement of national regulations: SANS 10400-XA requires new houses to have a SWH or other qualifying technology. A stricter enforcement of the regulation would encourage higher compliance


High Pressure SWH: A reasonably strong, but small, SWH manufacturing sector for high pressure units existed in South Africa for more than fifty years.  Before the SWH rebate was introduced, the HP SWH market was shared by imported products, from Australia and Europe, and local manufacturers.  Of the local manufacturers, some produced flat plate collectors only, others tanks and the rest tanks and collectors. There was, and continues to be, no evacuated tube manufacturers in South Africa.

With the introduction of the rebate scheme in 2008, the supply side of the market was stimulated, with many new companies (mostly importers) entering the market. The demand for SWH did not grow to the extent required to support the number of suppliers resulting in many of the local manufacturing companies going out of business.

Low Pressure SWH: There was no low pressure SWH market to speak of until the rebate was introduced. The industry grew quickly due to the volumes and the market was dominated by Chinese imports, which used evacuated tubes. With the new requirements for local manufacturing of components, some industry players have come to the fore and have committed to building local manufacturing plants.  It is expected that the manufacturing industry will be able to supply enough units for the low pressure market as soon as the new low pressure SWH contracting scheme commences. These units will, however have flat plate collectors and not evacuated tubes as it is unlikely that evacuated tubes will be manufactured in South Africa in the short term.

As at Q2 2015 the structure is still being negotiated between government and the market participants, so it cannot be stated with certainty what form the low pressure SWH market will ultimately take.


In South Africa SWH create 5.9 direct work places per MW installed. Most of the value creation is downstream in the value chain, after manufacturing.

By comparison, a study undertaken by United States Department of Energy found that the jobs created to operate power plants (per MW) are 0.5 nuclear; 0.2 coal; wind 0.1; and gas 0.06 (Source:


A 2011 study conducted by Eskom found that the average electricity consumption of a middle income home is 850 kWh per month, of which 39% is attributed to heating water. The performance of a SWH is subject to many variables, such as: geographic location of the house, orientation of the collector of the SWH, quality of the product, quality of the installation; and also the behaviour and effective usage by the household. In broad terms it is reasonable to expect a saving of at least 50% of your yearly electricity usage for heating water after a SWH is installed. Under these conditions, for the average middle income home this equates to 330 kWh / month or R528 (2015 tariff = R1.60 incl 14% VAT). Assuming an average purchase price of R15,000, a straight payback period is less than 3 years. This calculation is simplistic as it excludes rebates, time value of money and other relevant variables. It does illustrate however that it is financially attractive to install a SWH.

Other Key Topics

The Solar Thermal Roadmap identifies the following roles to grow the SWH market

Awareness and marketing:

  • Industry to collect and share consumer satisfaction surveys;
  • Over time Government to transform the SWH campaign from rebates to EE and improve awareness of potential cost savings;
  • Government sponsored monitoring and feedback of existing installation

Institutional roles:

  • Home insurance companies and banks to take a more aggressive role to market and fund SWH installations
  • Industry to provide strong ombudsman role to provide recourse and confidence
  • Government to create clear, transparent, stable and consistent policy
  • Enforce existing regulations
  • Support local manufacturing concerns
  • Ensure level playing field between traditional electric water heaters and SWH. For example, SWH storage tanks must have a 25% higher standby loss performance. This adds cost and provides electric water heaters with a competitive advantage
  • Credible training programmes with certification
  • Government to collect and disseminate credible market data on a regular basis

Status of the Market for Solar Buildings


Solar passive design is the art and science of using the natural forces of a given climate and a building's orientation, size, disposition and management of its elements in order to achieve indoor comfort, while using a minimum of imported energies. Energies flow naturally while the building is in a passive mode -- hence passive design.

In South Africa, heating and cooling accounts for 38.5% of the total final energy consumed in buildings (DAH 2007). In all new buildings, this percentage has to be reduced gradually to near zero by the year 2030: ..."Progressively strengthen the energy efficiency criteria set out in the South African National Standard 204 to achieve a zero carbon building standard by 2030..." (NDP, p. 288, Ch. 8 - Transforming Human Settlements). The assumption is that the existing building stock will be upgraded at a rate of 9% per year (R Milford 2009. Greenhouse Gas Emission Baseline and Reduction Potential from Buildings in South Africa. UNEP SBCI, Paris).

Solar thermal buildings include at least one day's integral thermal storage as a result of the prescribed interior thermal mass (SANS10400-XA).

Market Size and Trends

In addition to the mandatory requirements imposed by SANS 10400-XA as described previously there is a more stringent voluntary certification. The Green Building Council of South Africa (GBCSA) provides certification to buildings, which are designed, built and operated in an environmentally sustainable manner.  Although energy is a major component there are other considerations such as materials, water, waste and transport. GBCSA accreditation can be compared to LEED certification from the US Green Building Council and BREEAM from the UK.

The GBC ( was established in 2007 and the first green certification was awarded in 2009. In April 2014 50 buildings had been certified and by May 2015 this number had doubled to 100.

Main Market Drivers

Interest in solar houses is still in its infancy in South Africa and there is no market to speak other than enthusiasts. However this may start to change in the near future as a larger percentage of the country’s corporations choose to certify their buildings with the GBC (as detailed in the previous section) to demonstrate their environmental credentials. An additional factor is the country’s precarious electricity supply which is in short supply resulting in frequent blackouts. This is impacting heavily on business and many companies are making large investments in energy security. This may take the form of diesel generators but for many the long term option is to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy.


The employment figures for solar thermal have been given above. It is too soon to quantify the employment opportunities in solar thermal buildings due to the very early stages the industry finds itself in. However, the Ministry of Economic Development in its New Growth Path Policy has targeted "300 000 additional direct jobs by 2020 to green the economy, with 80,000 in manufacturing and the rest in construction, operations and maintenance of new environmentally friendly infrastructure"


Common perception has been that a GBC certified building comes at a large premium. However this has changed as the demand for certified buildings has increased and it has been reported that 4 Star rated (entry level) GBC buildings have been built with no additional premium being levied by the contractors. This has prompted companies a greater number of companies to consider and commission that new buildings become accredited.

The favourable climatic conditions means that solar buildings will perform better in South Africa but to date there are few, or no, statistics or a database of buildings that can be reliably drawn upon to provide estimates.

Other Key Topics

After several false starts the move towards a more sustainable energy mix is now firmly in place. The Government’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producers Procurement Programme (REI4P) has received global recognition. The programme has procured 4,322 MW in just 4 years and the Minister of Energy announced in April 2015 a new determination for an additional 6,300 MW.

Provincial and local government have followed the example set by national government and have set up various programmes to support RE industry. For example the Western Cape has the established GreenCape, a sector development agency that supports the green economy, the Eastern Cape has set up the Coega Industrial Development Zone to support the renewable industry, the City of Cape Town has set up the Energy and Climate Change Unit to support the city in renewable energy, energy efficiency and climate mitigation projects and eThekwini municipality has set up the KZN Energy Office to facilitate the development of sustainable energy in the province. These, and other projects, have already started to yield results, which will inevitably include solar thermal technologies.

R&D Activities

R&D Programmes

Many Universities are undertaking R&D activities, examples include:

  • Stellenbosch University has a solar roof and test facility. The engineering faculty supports ongoing student work -- undergraduates, Master’s and PhD’s.
  • Stellenbosch University Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies conduct research into solar thermal technologies and also coordinate the coastal regions for the Soltrain project
  • Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University has set up the Centre for Energy Research
  • Tshwane University of Technology has been contracted by Eskom to assist with R&D activities for SWH
  • University of Cape Town has the Energy Research Centre
  • The state owned Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has set up a RE energy unit.  The Technology Localisation Implementation Unit (TLIU) at the CSIR also conducts research into the localization of SWH.
  • The South African Renewable Energy Business Incubator (Sarebi) in Atlantis, Cape Town has a SWH panel manufacturer set up in their manufacturing incubation space and is in the process of developing and installing a SWH test facility.

It is worth noting that SWH is a mature technology which limits R&D requirements. Activities are now focusing on tracking performance and collecting data to improve the service offering.

R&D Infrastructure

R&D Institutions
Institution Type of Institution Relevant Research Areas IEA SHC Involvement Website
The Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies (CRSES)
Cape Peninsular University of Technology (CPUT) University
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) University
Renewable Energy Centre of Research & Development (RECORD)
South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI)
Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) University
South African Renewable Energy Business Incubator (SAREBI)
Energy Research Centre at University of Cape Town University
Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)
Eskom R&D

Actual Innovations

A major telecommunications company installed Africa’s first concentrated solar cooling plant at one of its new buildings to reduce its carbon footprint[1]. The plant has a peak cooling capacity of 330 kW and compromises of 242 mirrors taking up an area of 484 m². Such projects are highly visible and serve as demonstration projects.


Support Framework


Several national targets exist to achieve a more sustainable energy future in South Africa. Some are broad targets while others are focused on a specific intervention or technology. Ultimately all of them are relevant and contribute to the end objective. The main ones are listed below:

  • Renewable Energy White Paper (2003) targeted 10,000 GWh of RE by 2013;
  • National Energy Efficiency Strategy (2005) set a voluntary target of reducing final energy demand by 12% by 2015;
  • In December 2009, South Africa pledged to take mitigation action to reduce emissions by 34% below the BAU trajectory by 2020. This is referred to as the Copenhagen Agreement;
  • The Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) of 2010, which is the country’s electricity master plan, a target of 17.8 GW of the country’s generation by 2030 will be from renewable sources;
  • In 2009/10 the President of South Africa and Minister of Energy committed to installing 1 million SWH by 2015

Financial support has been through South African Development Financial Institutions (DFI) who have supported the national REI4P, EE projects and provided financing to SWH installers. Eskom introduced a SWH rebate scheme in 2008.

Government Agencies Responsible for Solar Thermal, for Solar Building Activities

Key actors include:

  • The South African Bureau of Standard (SABS) is responsible for formulating SWH industry standards.
  • South African National Energy Developmental Institute (SANEDI) with support from GIZ have developed and are maintaining a SWH installation map
  • Eskom (until recently) operated the national SWH rebate scheme
  • The Department of Science and Technology undertakes research and supports academic institutions
  • The development and update of SANS 10400-XA is undertaken by SABS, CSIR
  • Department of Trade & Industry offers the Manufacturing Competitiveness Enhancement Programme grant for green industries
  • The Green Fund from Department of Environmental Affairs and administered by Development Bank of SA
  • Sarebi (Business incubator) houses a swh manufacturer (govt funded via Small Enterprise Development Agency)

Most Important Public Support Measure(s) for Solar Thermal and for Solar Buildings

The New SANS Buildings Regulations are modelled on the Nordic Structure, which allows a choice between the Prescriptive (Deemed-to-satisfy) or the Performance Based compliance method. The regulations apply to new buildings or substantial renovations/alterations.

  • There are no financial support schemes.
  • The Department of Trade and Industry has mandated the National Regulator of Compulsory Specifications to develop regulations that reduce energy usage in the building sector for new buildings.
  • Training and education is handled by the Tertiary Education Institutions as well as associations like SESSA and IOPSA.
  • Awareness is being created by media coverage of rising energy prices. In addition Eskom runs the Eta Energy Efficiency Awards Competitions since 1985.

Many international development organisations, such as ADA (Soltrain), AFD, GIZ, DFID, DANIDA support renewable energies. 

Information Resources

National Solar Associations (industry and non-industry)


National Associations on Green/Solar/Sustainable Buildings

  • Green Building Council of South Africa

Most Important Media for Solar Thermal and Solar Buildings

  • Media - Engineering News
  • Journal - JESA