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As another wave of crippling stage six blackouts grips the country, South Africans are increasingly rushing to solar solutions to plug the energy gap. However, homeowners need to be cautious, as installing a poor-quality system could increase your long-term costs by as much as 50%, warn solar experts.

“Solar systems should be seen as a long-term investment, which is why you need to perform proper due diligence and research before selecting a service provider,” notes Alumo Energy Managing Director Rein Snoeck Henkemans.

“As the saying goes, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Simply choosing the cheapest option may mean lower upfront costs, but cost you thousands of rands extra in replacing components, as well as maintenance and repairs over time.”

To demonstrate the point, Snoeck Henkemans crunched the numbers to show how the expense of continuously repairing inferior solar systems can add quickly add up. Using three examples, he reveals the significant long-term savings value generated by premium solar brands with longer warranty periods in comparison to the shorter warranties on cheap components.

In the first example, Cheap Chad opts for an inexpensive system which costs below R70,000 to install, but offers a warranty period of just one year on the inverter and battery.

The worst-case scenario then happens, with breakdowns forcing Chad to replace his system just after each warranty period expires. After 25 years of continuous repairs, this means that Chad would have spent an overwhelming total of nearly R450,000 on his solar system.

In the second example, Halfway Harry opts for a middle-of-the-road system which costs about R100,000 to purchase and install , with system warranties of two years on the inverter and three years on the battery.

Like Chad, the worst-case scenario then occurs, forcing Harry to replace his system components just after each warranty period expires. After 25 years, this means that Harry would have spent a total of nearly R320,000 on his system – over R100,000 less than Cheap Chad.

The third example, Alumo Jo, picks a top-of-the-range system from a reputable provider who offers warranties of five years on the inverter and 10 years on the battery, paying R140 000 for the installed solution. Like Chad and Harry, her system components then break down just after each warranty period expires.

After 25 years, however, her longer warranty periods mean that she would have saved the most money on her solar system, spending a total of just R300,000 – a nearly 50% cost-saving in comparison to Cheap Chad.

Graph: The long-term impact of system warranties on solar costs

Source: Alumo Energy (2022)

Notably, these comparisons are made on the basis of warranty periods, as the true average lifetime of systems after their warranty periods is not yet known. This is because the technology is not yet old enough to verify the average life expectancy of components with normal South African usage.

“However, this simple comparison of the impact of warranties proves the importance of opting for high-quality systems for reducing your overall expenses,” explains Snoeck Henkemans.

“But it’s also important to consider factors such as whether your service provider will ensure that your system is installed correctly and in keeping with all the relevant regulatory requirements, and whether they offer proper post-installation support should anything go wrong.”

“We’ve seen numerous cases of homeowners who have been unable to claim their money back after having a poor system installed by fly-by-night operators who have subsequently disappeared or gone broke, forcing them to contract yet another provider to help fix the problem,” he says.

“By contrast, quality systems installed by reputable providers offer the benefit of significantly longer lifespans, proper customer service and after-sales support, ultimately saving you time, money and headaches.”

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