How much does solar cost?

How much does solar cost?

Last Updated: January 18, 2024By

How much does solar cost in South Africa? This is a super complicated question but I’ve got some analysis and a real-world example that might help you out.

We live in a 3 bedroom house with a small outside cottage, a small swimming pool and 3 electric geysers for our hot water needs. Our goal is to go 70% off-grid so that we are less reliant on grid-supplied energy and to save money.

We got quotes from 3 different solar installers. Two of them were fairly basic and felt like a copy/paste job – as if though they were simply ticking the boxes.

The third quote, which I am going to unpack below, was excellent. The installer came to our house, asked a bunch of questions, did a full analysis of our energy requirements and created a very detailed solar quotation.

 

My goal is to answer the question “how much does solar cost” in a way that is practical and insightful.

Here’s the answer to “how much does solar cost?” for our 3 bedroom house:

R238,631 (fully installed, as of May 2022)

The details of how I got to this answer is fully explained below.

Let’s start!

UPDATE: please note that the below is based on quotes we received in early 2022. The final installation we went for 6 months later is very similar.

Unpacking the solar quote

I’m going to break down the solar quote and give an overview of what our current energy usage is and how the solar installation will help us move to solar energy.

Overview of our home and energy requirements

  • 3 bedroom house, family of 3, 2 dogs, 1 small swimming pool, 1 small outside cottage, 3 hot water geysers
  • Approximately 40 kilo Watt hours (kWh) PER DAY required
  • We have a prepaid electricity meter
  • We buy about 1,200 kWh per month of electricity from the local municipality
  • We currently spend about R3,300 per month on electricity
  • We live in an area with frequent power cuts

Our installer recommended a 5kVA/5kW Hybrid Solar PV system to support our basic energy requirements.

What is a hybrid solar system?

hybrid energy solar system combines off-grid and on-grid energy components. This means that we still have access to the grid but our energy usage is supported by renewable energy from the solar panels.

What is a 5kW system?

The 5kW number is how much power the solar panels produce. The more solar panels you have, the higher the kW the system produces.

How will the system work?

The solar panel quote includes a battery bank which assists as a buffer in case of cloud cover and bad weather. The battery will also power essential systems like lights, WIFI and more when it gets dark and the solar panels stop working.

The system will generate 20kWh per day. This is the amount of energy produced in a day on average over a year and will offset 70% of our current energy needs.

The Full Hybrid System is designed to first use all the solar power and then move onto the grid for topping up.

We wanted the system to be fully modular so we can expand energy output over time as our budget increases.

The entire system will be remotely managed and monitored through a Cerbo GX Victron Energy system controller with bluetooth enabled and the VictronConnect app – more about this below…

Components of the solar system installation

Below are the components of the solar installation.

This obviously excludes any equipment, tools and meters needed if you were doing the installation yourself. Unless you absolutely know what you are doing, I highly recommend you DON’T go the DIY route, simply because it’s a mess if you make a mistake and can have expensive implications for your equipment and insurance.

Trust a professional solar installer and you will sleep better at night.

Switch Gear and Storage

Quattro 48/8000/110-100/100 230V VE.Bus

The Victron Quattro is a combination inverter and battery charger. This component takes the energy from the solar panels or the grid and charges the battery pack. It also has two AC outputs which kick in when there is a grid power failure.

The change over from grid power to solar or battery power is within milliseconds, so you won’t even know there is a power failure and all your appliances and lights will keep going.

Features and price:

  • Combination inverter and battery charger
  • 2 AC inputs and 2 AC outputs
  • True sine wave inverter
  • Adaptive charging
  • Hybrid PowerAssist technology
  • Three, split or parallel phase operation
  • Remote monitoring and control
  • 5 year warranty and 20+ year life expectancy
  • Price through my installer: R48,000

Freedom Won eTower 5kWh Stackable Battery Module -100Ah

The Freedom Won eTower battery is a lithium iron phosphate battery. These batteries are designed to be stackable, so you can increase your storage capacity over time as your budget allows.

There’s a 10 year warranty on this battery which is about 4,000 charging cycles. The rated service life of the battery is greater than 16 years (or more than 5,500 cycles) and the expected service life is greater than 20 years (more than 7,500 cycles).

Features and price:

  • Total energy capacity: 5kWh
  • Current capacity: 100 Amp hours
  • Nominal voltage: 52 volt, suitable for 48 volt inverters
  • Weight per battery: 45 kg (99 pounds)
  • Includes internal electronic protection including overcurrent, cell under and over voltage, temperature out of range, weak cell detection, minimum SOC control, active voltage based charge current limiting
  • 10 years warranty with greater than 15 years service life
  • Price through my installer: R25,600

SmartSolar MPPT RS 450/100-Tr

The Victron SmartSolar MPPT RS is a solar charge controller for solar PV systems with large solar panel arrays charging 48 volt DC battery banks. It’s ideal for our purposes – to to eventually go fully off-grid.

What does MPPT meant?

MPPT stands for Maximum Power Point Tracking and is a way to get the most out of energy systems which have variable power sources (such as solar PV systems and wind turbines). The MPPT ensures that the power transferred from the PV array is at highest possible efficiency as conditions change. Find out more.

The SmartSolar MPPT comes in 5.76kW and 11.52kW models and accepts a wide range of solar voltage input from 80 to 450 VDC. VDC is the Direct Current (DC) voltage produced by the array of solar panels.

Features and price:

  • Model: 48 Volt to charge battery bank with either 100A or 200A
  • Charge settings can be adjusted for different battery types e.g. lead-acid, lithium iron etc
  • 80 to 450 VDC operating solar voltage input
  • Independent tracking inputs
  • Isolated PV connections
  • Display screen
  • Fully programmable battery charging parameters
  • Active cooling
  • Remotely controlled and configured through bluetooth and the VictronConnect app
  • See battery voltage and current, PV voltage and current, historical data and trends at a glance
  • Additional units can be equipped in daisy chain formation through VE.Can bus ports
  • Internet connectivity for remote monitoring and control through the Victron Remote Portal (VRM)
  • Additional I/O connections for remote temperature and voltage sensing
  • Price through my installer: R19,700

Cerbo GX

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The Cerbo GX from Victron Energy is a communication centre that gives you full, remote control over your entire system and optimizes performance.

You can access your system through the Victron VRM portal (Victron Remote Management) or access it directly, through the GX Touch touch screen display panel.

The Cerbo GX allows you to monitor:

  • Battery state of charge
  • Power consumption
  • Power harvest from the solar panel array, generator or grid power
  • Check tank levels and temperature

You can use this device to perform diagnostic checks, follow up on alerts and perform fixes remotely.

The real-time optimization ensures you get the most out of your system and ensures all components are working together properly and efficiently.

Features and price:

  • Remote control and performance optimisation
  • Works with the visual display from the GX Touch screen
  • Remote troubleshooting and fixes
  • Full system diagnostics and monitoring
  • Price through my installer: R4,300

GX Touch 50 for Cerbo GX

The GX Touch is the touch screen companion to the Cerbo GX.

This panel screen comes in the 5 inch and 7 inch models to give you an instant overview of your system and allows you to make any changes at the touch of the screen.

Features and price:

  • Pairs with the Cerbus GX with a single cable
  • Easy to install and mount
  • 5 inch or 7 inch models
  • Price through my installer: R3,200

Victron Energy Lynx Distributor

The Lynx Distributor is a modular DC busbar with four fuses.

What is a busbar?

A busbar is an important component which is designed to carry large amounts of current. They allow for new circuits to branch off to different components, like a type of electrical junction.

The Lynx Distributor has a negative and a positive busbar. The positive busbar has 4 connections protected with fuses and fuse monitoring. The negative busbar has 4 connections and a ground connection.

LED lights show the power status as well as the fuse status.

The Lynx Distributor is monitored with the Cerbus GX device and its status can be remotely monitored through the Victron VRM portal.

Here’s what the Lynx Distributor looks like inside:

Features and price:

  • Monitored by the Cerbus GX and remote VRM portal
  • Price through my installer: R3,000

Energy Meter ET112 – 1 phase – max 100A

The Victron Energy Energy Meter ET112 is used to measure the power and energy of the PV inverter on a single phase system with max 100A output.

It can be used for the following:

  • Measure the output of a PV (photovoltaic) inverter
  • Measure the output of an AC generator
  • As a grid meter and as a control input for the Energy Storage System (ESS)

The Energy Meter is connected to the Cerbo GX either through a direct or wireless connection. Once hooked up, the meter will be visible on the Cerbo GX in the Settings section under Energy Meters.

Features and price:

  • ET112 is for single phase max 100A usage
  • Connects directly or wirelessly to the Cerbo GX
  • Price through my installer: R1,200

Solar Panel (PV Array) and mounting hardware

We have a pitched roof with Roman tiles. Let’s take a look at the solar panels and mounting themselves.

Canadian Solar modules (415 W)

We are starting off with 12 solar panels.

Each panel has a 12 year warranty and an expected life expectancy of more than 30 years.

Looking at highlights from the spec sheet from Canadian Solar:

  • HiKU Super High Power Poly PERC (giving 30% more power from the back side)
  • Low Nominal Module Operating Temperature (NMOT) of 41 degrees C
  • 30 year linear power output warranty
  • 12 year product warranty on materials and workmanship
  • Nominal max power output: 415 W
  • 39.3V
  • 10.56 A
  • Module efficiency of 18.57%

Poly Perc cells (polycrystalline) are a more affordable solar panel but less efficient compared to monocrystalline panels.

PERC means “passivated emitter and rear contact” and this means that there is an additional layer on the back of the cell which captures more sunlight. This makes the regular polycrystalline cells more efficient.

Find out more about Canadian Solar Panels.

Price per panel: R2,800

Total cost of 12 panels: R33,600

Mounting hardware, boards, circuitry and cables

I’m not going to go into detail about the pricing for the following but I will broadly list some of the item categories – this will give you a sense of how complex a solar installation is and why you should leave it up to a qualified professional.

The items below make up the rest of the costs for the full installation.

Labour came to 35 hours.

  • Roof mounting structures
  • Earthing components
  • DC cabling
  • Inverter mounting components
  • AC protectors and isolators

There you have it. Solar installations are complex and require many components. Complex systems like those required for a home are best left up to the professionals.

How are we going to pay for solar?

We are borrowing more money from the bank, plain and simple. Our mortage will be increased by the amount required for the solar installation and this means we pay more on the mortgage payments but less overall due to the savings on electricity.

As an added bonus we are adding value to our property and the solar power system and battery will bail us out when there are power cuts.

Plus, renewable energy is good for the planet!

I’ve love to hear your own experience about solar – let me know in the comments below.

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About the Author: Tony Lopes

Tony is the founder and editor of CleanVolts.co.za. He has completed solar certifications and courses through Green Solar Academy. Tony's goal is to see solar panels on every roof-top in South Africa and the adoption of EVs and renewable technology across the African continent.

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