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Solar Energy Systems: Regulatory requirements for Homeowners By Marieke du Toit

Homeowners installing solar energy systems must comply with the registration requirements applicable in certain areas; and the owners of units in Sectional Title Schemes may have to obtain prior permission from the management of the scheme.

South Africa’s increasing energy shortage, load-shedding and the predicted increase in electricity rates have resulted in a rapid increase in rooftop solar photovoltaic (“PV”) installations by Capetonians. This may well be a convenient way to overcome the difficulties presented by unforeseen power outages. Homeowners considering a solar power installation must also be aware of possible regulatory requirements.

As a property owner, you have the right to install solar panels on the roof of your free standing property and to generate solar energy for household use. A property owner does not require prior permission to install solar panels, but the City of Cape Town and the Stellenbosch Municipality require that all PV installations (not solar water heaters), be registered and authorised in accordance with the City of Cape Town’s Electricity Supply By-Law or the Guidelines for Small Scale Embedded Generation in Stellenbosch Municipality. Small-scale embedded generation (“SSEG”) refers to power generation under 1MW/1000kW, which are located on residential, commercial or industrial sites where electricity is also consumed. Very small systems, such as solar-powered appliances or solar lights, do not need to be registered. The reason for the registration requirement is the safety risk presented by inadequate equipment or incorrect installation. There is no charge for the registration of solar PV systems, but homeowners may be fined if existing PV installations are not registered by 31 May 2019. If a PV system previously installed is found to be non-compliant, the system may be disconnected until it is compliant and authorised by the City of Cape Town or the Stellenbosch Municipality.

In Sectional Title Schemes, homeowners must also comply with the registration and authorisation requirements of the City of Cape Town and the Stellenbosch Municipality, but in addition prior permission for the installation of solar panels may also be required from the management of the Sectional Title Scheme concerned. Sectional title owners should acquaint themselves with the management and conduct rules of the particular Sectional Title Scheme prior to installing a PV system. In Sectional Title Schemes the common property, which includes the roof of every unit, is owned by the body corporate of the scheme and is managed by the trustees. Rules prescribed in terms of section 10(2)(b) of the Sectional Titles Schemes Management Act, 2011 and specifically Rule 4 of the Prescribed Conduct Rules (“PCR”) (which will apply unless the developer or body corporate has amended them), dictate that a sectional title owner may not, without the prior written consent of the trustees, damage or deface a structure that forms part of the common property. PCR 5 states further that an owner or occupier of a section must not, without the trustees’ written consent, make a change to the external appearance of the section, where such changes would detract from the appearance of the common property.

Each Sectional Title Scheme may have unique conduct and management rules pertaining to the use and enjoyment of units and common property within the scheme. Typically, Sectional Title Schemes will have special rules to ensure the uniformity of the aesthetic appearance of buildings and landscaping. The installation of solar panels on the roof of a sectional unit may offend against such aesthetic requirements and may result in a fine and a demand to remove the solar panels or equipment. Also, the installation of solar panels on the roof of a sectional unit will inevitably cause some damage to the common property, hence an owner fixing solar panels or a solar heating system to the roof of a sectional title unit without consent from the trustees will be in breach of PCR 4. A body corporate would in such a case be entitled to obtain an enforcement order from the Community Schemes Ombud (“CSOS”) or a court order compelling the removal of offending solar panels or equipment, at the cost of the owner. In some schemes, depending on how the rules have been formulated, fines can be imposed against members for non-compliance, provided that the owner has been issued a written warning about the contravention and allowed an opportunity to remedy the breach.

Solar power systems may be well worth the investment: Avoid extra costs and legal problems by ensuring that the regulatory requirements for installing your system are complied with.