Solar panels: Stock shortages possible as more homeowners go off the grid

Google searches for ‘solar’ have seen a massive increase in the country over the past five years. Picture: Kindel Media/Pexels

Google searches for ‘solar’ have seen a massive increase in the country over the past five years. Picture: Kindel Media/Pexels

Published Dec 20, 2023


South Africa has only been blessed with 19 load shedding-free days in 2023 and this frustration and inconvenience has pushed more homeowners off the grid.

In the worst year of load shedding the country has ever experienced, the planned outages have occurred on 335 days of the year so far, according to data from The Outlier and Eskom se Push.

It is therefore not surprising that South Africans are investigating in alternative power sources, says Dominique dHotman, head of ooba Solar.

Citing Google Trends reports, he says Google searches for ‘solar’ have seen a massive increase in the country over the past five years, with the biggest spike in January 2023.

“These search volumes have far exceeded searches for other alternative power solutions such as diesel generators.”

To understand how South Africans are planning to overcome load shedding, dHotman and his team started tracking the volume of solar-related internet searches using monitored keywords. Analysing the monthly totals against the number of load shedding hours for each month since January, the three most popular keywords of the 97 monitored were:

1. ‘solar panel’ – more than 40,500 searches

2. ‘go solar’ – 8,100 searches

3. ‘solar panels for sale’ – 6,600 searches

The absence of any solar financing-related terms in the top three monitored keywords indicates that, while searches for solar are being driven as a response to load shedding, consumers are not yet seeing the financial benefit that solar can deliver when matched with the correct finance solution, he says.

“These findings are echoed by the research conducted by Nedbank and other companies, which has shown that solar is the most sought-out alternative power solution in the country, but its perceived unaffordability has left many unaware of the wide range of financing options available.”

The analysis also found a direct correlation between periods of heavy outages and consumers desperately looking for alternative power solutions. In total, there were 703,750 solar-related search hits by the end of October 2023, with the highest volume observed during the first five months of the year. During this January to May period, 1,034 load shedding hours were recorded. This makes up 59 percent of the 1,749 load shedding hours recorded as at the end of November.

Source: ooba Solar

dHotman says January took the lead with the highest solar-related search volumes at 127,750, followed by May with 97,730 and February with 91,100.

“There is a strong correlation between the number of load shedding hours in a certain month and solar search volumes, as evidenced by June having both the lowest number of load shedding hours this year (96) and the lowest search volumes (43,260).”

His argument is further strengthened by the low volume of solar searches in October (49,530) – a month that saw 11 of South Africa’s 12 load shedding-free days this year.

dHotman adds: “Another factor to consider in the correlation between low solar search volumes and lower load shedding hours is that solar systems are often perceived as a significant financial investment – when load shedding eases, the pressure to fund a solar installations as an alternative power source also eases.”

Load shedding in 2024

Bradd Bendall, head of sales at BetterBond, says experts estimated that load shedding is likely to be a regular occurrence for at least the next three years, and so the bond originator expects green living to be one of the leading residential trends next year. One of the top trends is the investment in solar power.

“Back-up power solutions have become increasingly desirable in South African homes as we plan our lives around power cuts and learn to live with load shedding. Once viewed as nice-to-haves or even luxury add-ons, solar installations have now jumped to the top of homeowners’ and landlords’ must-have lists, with the positive spin-off of prices coming down sharply.”

A solar installation at home not only helps reduce your monthly energy bills, but could increase the value of your home by as much as eight percent.

“With a variety of finance options now available through our banking partners, as well as the 25 percent government rebate up to R15,000, solar will become a feature of more and more homes in 2024.”

Echoing this, ooba believes that the most recent load shedding forecast indicates that things are going to get worse before they get better, with Eskom announcing that rolling blackouts between Stages 1 and 3 will be implemented every day of January 2024 – and this is a best-case scenario.

Thus, dHotman anticipates a significant spike in solar-related key search terms in January 2024, and trusts that homeowners will follow through on their New Year’s resolution to make the switch.

“Data from The Outlier shows that over R12 billion worth of solar panels were imported between January and June 2023, with local installers struggling to keep up with demand.”

He adds: “South Africans have heard the same promises that a solution is close at hand for over a decade now, and it’s time for us to take back our power and protect ourselves from an unreliable grid.

However, he warns that the ongoing elevated demand levels for solar panels may result in stock shortages in 2024 as the majority of panels are manufactured overseas.

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