Solar water heating in South Africa gets two boosts from REEEP

27-07-2009, Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa

South Africa is a powerhouse of the African continent, but its growth in demand for energy is outstripping supply. This makes it one of the first in the world to look seriously at the widescale adoption of a renewable energy technology, solar water heating (SWH), as a mechanism for coping with a mismatch between energy supply and demand.

Two REEEP projects being implemented by Sustainable Energy Africa (SEA), one of them completed in April 2009 and the other one just beginning, are helping to facilitate the uptake of SWH in major cities.  The first was titled “Developing a vehicle for solar water heating mass implementation in South Africa” and concentrated on two major outputs.  This project sought to establish sustainable delivery vehicles, in the form of either ESCOs or city-owned SWH utilities, in three leading South African cities.  Its second aim was to establish and widen a manual and website for local authorities, outlining the renewable and energy efficiency options that are available to cities.

“We actually initially felt that working with a smaller municipality - Sol Plaatjie - would be a better proposition than tackling a large metropolitan area” says Andrew Janisch, the project leader at SEA, “however, we soon realized that the SWH industry is so small, that it would probably be better to work in the areas where there is the largest concentration of suppliers, namely Gauteng (Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane) and Cape Town. We also had the opportunity at the time to work with all three of the Gauteng Metros at once around this, and seized it. This formed the basis of the first half of the project.”

“The project has seen an absolutely fundamental change in climate. We’ve gone from having no major SWH initiatives at city level to seeing many well down the track towards implementation” notes Amanda Luxande, REEEP’s Regional Coordinator for Southern Africa. “While no city has actually created a SWH delivery vehicle, we’ve been able to do a lot of learning about how to make things happen on the ground. The manual itself is already in place and available from the City Energy Support website.” (

Janisch echoes this point of view. “Probably the most important lessons are a fairly simple ones.” he points out, “City processes continue to be slow and unpredictable, especially when you’re trying to introduce something new and unexplored.”

In the case of Cape Town, the REEEP project supported the SWH bylaw process by helping city staff make their case with the city’s legal department. This involved developing a financial model based on financed repayments, proving that a SWH is immediately more beneficial to the end user when compared to an electric water heater in a new build or in a 'blown' water heater scenario.  The findings were then presented to the City Energy committee, a politically-powerful group which gave the recommendation that the bylaw process continue.

“Even once you’ve got to implementation stage, cities often don’t have the staff, the institutional capacity or the funds to handle the implementation,” says Janisch. “So what’s needed is an integrated approach that looks at a combined framework of legislation, sound business models and additional government support.”

In view of this, the follow-up project in the 7th REEEP funding round will have a range of activities. It will continue supporting the City of Cape Town in implementing its SWH bylaw, and support the Ekurhuleni  Metropolitan Municipality (EMM) in moving its own SWH bylaw process forward and establishing mass rollout businesses. This business effort will include cooperating with the Development Bank of South Africa's Renewable Energy Market Transformation unit to create financing structures. In parallel, SEA will conduct capacity building activities for the municipalities.

“These two SWH projects in South Africa exemplify the flexibility that is needed on the ground to really make things happen, and this is a strength of the REEEP approach” says Marianne Osterkorn, the organisation’s Director General. “And they show how small interventions can lead to far-reaching effects.”

It is expected that following the adoption of its SWH bylaw, Cape Town will see the installation of an additional 10,000 SWH units each year, thus saving 6.25MW and 20,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.  And this will also promote the establishment of SWH bylaw legislation in cities throughout South Africa. The wider benefits will include a reduction in peak electricity loads, and the jobs created through a thriving SWH manufacturing and installation industry.

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