Shining a light on solar system pitfalls

Many wealthy South Africans are reducing their reliance on the national grid by either in part or fully converting their households to solar energy.

The reasons for this vary: Some want to escape the ever-increasing price hikes and sky-high electricity costs; others want a reliable power supply free from loadshedding interruptions, while many simply want to do their bit for the planet by using cleaner energy.

But there are a number of pitfalls when using solar polar that can result in things going wrong when it comes to claims stage, warns Tarina Vlok, MD at Elite Risk, a specialist high net worth insurer and subsidiary of Old Mutual Insure.

“The installation of solar geyser systems differs immensely from that of an electrical system and is subject to strict regulations. We often have to reject claims or are unable to replace geysers because the previous installation did not comply with regulation,” says Vlok.

Consumers have two main options when considering solar energy — a ‘hybrid’ or ‘off the grid’ set-up. To install a solar power generation and storage system that is sufficient to take a small household off the grid, it can cost in excess of R250 000. Even a hybrid solution doesn’t come cheap – between R80 000 and R150 000, depending on the size of a home and how much power is needed to produce each month.

“If you are spending this kind of money on a solar system then it makes sense to work with qualified technicians and installers who know what they are doing. You don’t want any regrets should you need to ever claim from your insurer,” says Vlok.

She notes that an engineer’s certificate must be issued for all solar geyser installations of 300 litres or more. She also encourages clients to ensure that their solar geyser systems are installed by technicians who are well versed with the regulations and supported by the appropriate engineering professionals.

“Policyholders should make sure that their installer demonstrates that they are familiar with the technical regulations relating to solar installations,” says Vlok.
These can be summarised as follows:

    • Installers must ensure that the roof structure is able to support the solar system. (SANS 10106:2014 5.3.1)
    • Where it is not possible to comply, a professional engineer or registered technologist must design the installation in such a way that the safety and performance principles of the standard are incorporated. (SANS 10254 2017 and SANS10106 2014 4.1.7)
    • Water heaters or storage tanks with a capacity of 200 litres or more may not be attached to a wall. (SANS 120252-1 2012
    • The solar system must be installed in such a way that it does not accelerate the deterioration of the roof. (SANS 10400-L, SANS 10243, and SANS 10252-1)

How else can policyholders protect themselves if going the solar route?

To avoid catastrophes when it comes to claims stage, she encourages policyholders to make use of their insurer’s network to find the accredited technicians and installers who are able to put the right solutions in place.

“If your electrical geyser bursts and you want to replace it, some specialist insurers will offer you the opportunity to use the claim payment to pay either in part or full for a solar geyser system instead of a new electric geyser,” concludes Vlok.