Implemented in January, the National Building Regulations Act amendments require that buildings generate 50% of their hot water using renewable energy sources, such as solar power.
The amendments arise out of the need to alleviate strain on the nation’s electricity grid, an issue that has drawn increasing media attention as a result of the recent load shedding measures.
Power demands may well exceed supply if the current situation persists, which would mean rising energy prices and more frequent blackouts. However, the mass installation of solar heating mechanisms in commercial and residential buildings offers a viable means to significantly reduce the workload.
Domestic water heating comprises 40% of the average household’s electricity bill, and around 18% of South Africa’s electricity consumption is for the purpose of heating water.
Data such as this is what prompted Eskom to set a target of installing one million solar heaters by 2014; estimating that the proportion of the workload that could be reduced through such measures would be so significant, it would be the equivalent of building a new 2,000 megawatt power station.
The City of Cape Town plans to install between 60,000 and 150,000 high-pressure solar water heaters over the next five years, contributing 23% to the government’s renewable energy target.
Solar Heating up to the Task
Of course, there are some significant logistical challenges when it comes to the mass implementation of solar heating. Those tasked with carrying out installation of the necessary equipment require both electrical and plumbing skills, as well as specialist knowledge of the technologies utilized in solar heating.
Furthermore, buildings require specific design features in order to incorporate solar heating, many of which may not be present in some of the structures earmarked for installation.
It’s these very challenges that prompted the recent slow-down in South Africa’s solar heating market, according to Selected Energy. Sales of their solar heaters increased 1000% during the load shedding crisis of 2008, but untrustworthy installation methods utilized by many fly-by-night companies have held the industry back from achieving its full potential.
A survey conducted by the City of Cape Town found that whilst 85.9% of residents knew a solar water heater would save them money, and 67.9% wanted a solar heater installed, only 34.4% of those surveyed had confidence in solar water heater installers. (bdlive)
The new building regulations can change all that, providing South Africa’s solar power industry with the boost it needs, and ensuring that a greater number of construction projects are undertaken with the requirements of renewable energy in mind.
Large solar water heaters are extremely energy-efficient, and more than up to the task of heating water supplies for commercial and industrial buildings. They are particularly well suited to organizations operating in the hospitality industry, and Selected Energy claims that their solar water heaters are also favoured by mining companies due to their durability.
Despite the slow-down in growth that occurred between 2007 and 2010, the solar heating market has expanded at a steady rate overall. 400 suppliers were operating in the market by the end of 2011, versus the 20 that were available in 1997. (Timeslive)
Providing an energy source that is both environmentally-friendly and goes some way towards solving the nation’s energy issues, the future looks promising for South Africa’s solar heating industry.
Image credit: Hugo, CC BY-ND 2.0, Via Flickr