South Africa Booming for Solar Water Heaters

26 March 2011 

The solar water heater market in South Africa has recorded a phenomenal growth of 2000% during the past 14 years expanding from fewer than 20 suppliers in 1997 to more than 400 suppliers by 2011, according to Frost& Sullivan.

In line with global trends, South Africa's domestic water heating market is moving away from traditional water heating methods, such as conventional geysers, toward more energy-efficient measures, namely solar water heaters. Such a development may be due to the fact that domestic water heating accounts for approximately 40% of a household's electricity bill in South Africa and 18% of the country's national electricity consumption is allocated toward the heating of water, for residential, commercial and industrial use.

After a power crisis in 2007-2008, solar water heating became a viable alternative for times of high demand. Between 2007 and 2010, the market experienced volatile growth, plagued by malfunctioning products and incorrect installation and application of the products. The market began to stabilise somewhat during the second half of 2010 with established companies with good word-of-mouth reputation forming efficient distribution networks, franchises and partnerships. As these suppliers and installers began to grasp the intricacies of South African climactic conditions such as solar irradiation and the myriad different ways of installing a solar water heater, market development has proceeded in a more orderly manner.

Frost & Sullivan believes that this slow-down in sales is misleading. New building codes have been announced that will change the face of the market, and conventional plumbing, as we know it. When the new building codes are officially instated, new buildings or those undergoing refurbishments will be required to have at least 50% of their hot water consumption generated by energy-efficient methods, for example solar water heaters or heat pumps.

The demand pressure that this will place on the market to manufacture and install these products is exciting. Frost & Sullivan research has shown that solar water heater manufacturing in South Africa can be conducted at internationally competitive levels for flat-plate product types. Solar water heater installation is approximately four times more labour-intensive than installing a conventional geyser. In addition, many skills variables of installing products in different applications needed to be acquired, some of which can only be learned practically: different roofs, roof-restructuring, buildings, piping, latitudinal tilt irradiation, and other variables.

Frost & Sullivan believes that the solar water heater market in South Africa is preparing for a second, high growth phase that will be larger than the previous growth surge

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