eThekwini Municipality reaches 10,000 solar water heater target two years in advance

Submitted by: Tholakele Nene, Tuesday, June 11, 2013

<p>The Parkgate community, just outside Verulam, was amongst the number of low income earner communities in Durban who were beneficiaries to the low cost solar water heater programme (Image source: Jonathan Ramayia).</p>

The Parkgate community, just outside Verulam, was amongst the number of low income earner communities in Durban who were beneficiaries to the low cost solar water heater programme (Image source: Jonathan Ramayia).

The eThekwini Municipality has reached and exceeded their 2015 goal of installing 10,000 residential solar water heaters (SWHs) two years in advance. The number of solar water heaters installed through the Municipality’s programmes now sits at 30,550. Of this number 30,000 low pressure SWHs have been installed through the low cost SWH programme and 550 high pressure SWHs through the Shisa Solar Programme.

Running parallel solar water heating programmes

There are two types of solar water heating programmes in eThekwini, mainly the low cost solar water heater programme and Shisa Solar. The low cost SWH programme is aimed at implementing affordable low pressure SWHs in low cost housing developments in the eThekwini Municipal Area. The programme was launched in 2009 by the eThekwini Municipality and funded by national utility Eskom to reduce the amount of energy used by low cost houses to heat water. The units were installed free of charge to low cost housing residents.

Following the success of the low cost SWH programme a city-wide solar water heater programme was launched in 2010, under the Shisa Solar programme. The concept was the brainchild of eThekwini Municipality’s Energy Office which is aimed at promoting green technologies and sustainable renewable energy methods. The idea was to help eThekwini residents to save money on their monthly electricity bills and reduce their impact on the environment. 

The Shisa Solar Programme is targeted at the middle to upper class residents of eThekwini and is focused on high pressure SWH installations. The programme links residents to accredited service providers who can either provide them with a quote or request an energy audit from the supplier to help them understand how they use electricity in their home to heat water and whether a solar water heater would be the best option for the resident to save money on their electricity bill.

As part of the 10 000 installations by 2015 drive, the eThekwini Energy Office launched the High Pressure solar water heater programme for middle and high income earners (Image Source: eThekwini Municipality Energy Office).

Adopting a universal initiative

The origin of the concept for the eThekwini Shisa Solar initiative is a borrowed method from Portland’s Solarized Portland, a programme aimed at increasing the uptake of solar energy.

However, the Energy Office has turned it into one suitable for Durban. The initial idea was that the City would buy SWHs in bulk, in turn making them cheaper, and would then offer installation to residents through a “pay- by- saving” model, meaning residents would have to pay the City back over the years through the installation which allows for electricity savings. But the idea was rejected by national government on the basis that the City would become a loaning agent, which was not within the legal regulations for South African municipalities. 

In response to this the Energy Office decided to take a different approach which included launching a website to promote the SWH initiative throughout the city. The Office also took to extensive advertising and marketing to promote the website. Unlike before where discounts were given through group buying, residents who apply via the Shisa Solar programme can now get a discount.   The aim of this is to encourage more and more residents to sign up to install the SWHs and promote renewable energy.

Sourcing local installers and manufacturers:

A number of local manufacturers and installers have been appointed to service the community for the Shisa Solar Programme. Four particular installers have been accredited onto the Shisa Solar panel. These are KZN Solar, Renu Solar, Solar Primeg and Geoplus.

However, explains eThekwini Municipality’s Energy Office Project Manager Magash Naidoo, “the only manufacturer that is on our panel is Solar Primeg. We update the panel on a yearly basis and we are currently undertaking the process for the 2013/ 2014 year.”

Anyone in KwaZulu- Natal can register to be part of the programme. The full list of service providers can be found on the Shisa Solar website.

Moving forward:

Speaking about the success of the Shisa Solar project to date Naidoo says “From the time Shisa Solar was launched, we have had over 5000 people register on the system and have installed 550 High Pressure SWHs. Information from Eskom and their auditors indicate that there were installations before the launch of Shisa Solar. However, we have noticed an increase in installation for high pressure SWHs after the launch of Shisa Solar.”

The slow uptake experienced earlier is now a thing of the past as the Municipality is currently investigating adding a financial component to the programme “that will make the purchase of a High Pressure SWH much easier, So instead of paying an upfront cost of (for e.g.) R15,000 the home owner will only pay an instalment amount of a few hundred rands which in most cases should be covered in the savings in the amount of electricity consumed”, says Naidoo.

Asked if the SWH programmes have had any impact on the municipal energy demand in the City, Naidoo said “Most definitely, from a residential scenario ‘heating’ contributes that large portion to an electricity bill and installation of SWHs in thousands of houses across the Municipality has definitely played a role in decreasing the electricity demand”.

“Being part of the project has been a fantastic experience, because of things that have come to the fore. I’ve learnt that the way that we have to address the green industry is quite different. The initial idea when we launched Shisa Solar was to promote the installation of SWHs so that people can save money but now it has moved to education and awareness on the other benefits of participating in the Shisa Solar project”, added Naidoo.

The eThekwini Municipality has also re- issued an Expression of Interest (EOI) for Solar Water Heater and Heat Pump suppliers to register on the Shisa Solar Panel.

To keep updated with sustainability news subscribe to the fortnightly Urban Earth Newsletter

Tholakele Nene