Imagine installing a R2.5 million solar operation to power your property, only to have your property destroyed by a fire.

“This is the very real risk property owners face if the installation of the solar power solution is not done in accordance with regulation and South African National Standards (SANS),” says Tarina Vlok, MD of Elite Risk Acceptances, a subsidiary of Old Mutual Insure.

The ever-increasing cost of electricity and load shedding due to Eskom’s aging coal-fired generation infrastructure, combined with the tax rebate incentives as announced in the February 2023 Budget speech, has led to an exponential increase in the installation of residential solar photovoltaic (PV) solutions. In the first quarter of 2023, R3.6 billion of solar panels were imported to South Africa, which is almost as much as those imported during 2022. This represents an estimated additional 1,000 megawatts of solar capacity.

But, according to Vlok, this scenario has also introduced risks, with the insurer noting more fire-related claims because of incorrect installations. She says that the opening scenario is a real-life claim example of what can go wrong.

“The fire in this particular case was caused by the installation of charge controllers, which was done without a professionally authorised design document in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, and the issuing of a certificate of compliance (CoC) which did not comply with the relevant SANS code 10142-1,” says Vlok, adding that this specific code deals with the wiring of installations.

She says consumers may be tempted to settle for affordable solutions and installers, without verifying credentials, which may prove a very expensive decision.

“The installation and management of solar PV systems is a complex and highly skilled undertaking, installed on top of your most expensive asset. It is therefore important to ensure that the electrician can provide you with a CoC, which confirms that they complied with the rules and regulations in place to ensure safe installation.”

She explains that it is also important to ensure that the electrician has the relevant proof of registration with the Department of Labour. This is also called a wireman’s license, which ensures that the electrician is proficient in the wiring codes of SANS 10142-1 and is permitted to issue the necessary CoC.

When buying solar panels, it is advisable to buy the best quality that you can afford. With the huge capital investment that comes with investing in solar, top tier have better durability, unlike cheap imports that may be vulnerable to deterioration and wear and tear, which is not covered by insurance.

Other risks to be aware of include damage by weather-related causes like hail, or accidental damage, and theft.

“It is therefore important to ensure that you include your solar installation for replacement costs on your Buildings insurance so that you are not out of pocket if the installation is lost or damaged. Insurers have various responses to solar installations, and it is best to ensure that you are fully aware of the covers, limitations, conditions, and excesses associated with your solar PV system insurance. If you are a tenant, it is important to talk to your broker about the most appropriate insurance cover for your solar installation.”

Below are Vlok’s important tips:

  • Ensure that your roof is well maintained without broken tiles or rust and ensure that all water damage and visible cracks are repaired before you have the solar system installed.
  • Use an installer who is accredited by the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association’s (SAPVIA) PV GreenCard programme for solar installers.
  • Buy the best quality solar panels you can afford.
  • Get the required municipal approvals for solar systems. Your accredited installer will be able to assist you with the process.
  • Increase the sum insured on your buildings insurance to cater for the replacement of your solar system.
  • Continue to manage your electricity usage and try to save wherever you can.
  • For tenants, ensure a watertight addendum with landlords is signed to remove any backup utilities should they move.
  • Keep all your invoices and remember to claim back your tax rebate!

“For property owners, solar PV will likely increase the value of their property by three to eight percent, and make the property more attractive for potential buyers, not only for the uninterrupted supply of energy but also in support of green energy solutions,” concludes Vlok.