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[In the next five years] a further 1.3 million homes will be installed with solar water heaters, bringing the total to 1.75 million homes, covering more than 7 million South Africans

  • When made: January 2014

  • Where made: Party manifesto

  • At the start of the 2014/15 financial year, 400,046 solar water heaters had been installed. To keep this promise, the government should have installed at least another 1.3 million solar water heaters by the end of 2018/19.

Department of energy (now mineral resources and energy) annual reports record that only 36,190 solar water heaters were installed, in the first two of the five years.

In 2014/15 the government installed 31,190 solar water heaters. This dropped to a reported 5,000 in 2015/16. None were apparently installed in 2016/17 and 2017/18, and data is not yet available for 2018/19.

The report for 2016/17, the third year, mentions a solar water heater programme implementation plan instead of an installation target. The 2017/18 report (year four) says units could not be installed because of “delays in confirmation of installation areas by municipalities”.

The number for 2018/19 – the final year – is not available. The department has failed to respond to our enquiries since January 2019.

Solar water heaters installed by the South African government
Financial year Solar water heaters installed in homes
2014/15 31,190
2015/16 5,000
2016/17 0
2017/18 0
2018/19 Unavailable

Source: Department of energy annual reports (2014/15 to 2017/18)

In January 2019, with the promise due on 31 March, the national treasury told Africa Check that “thousands of units” had been manufactured but were being stored in warehouses.

In the absence of a response from the department, it is hard to tell how many of these units there are.

87,000 procured units

But one number does pop up repeatedly. A December 2017 parliamentary reply, a January 2019 tender document and an April 2019 speech by former energy minister Jeff Radebe all say about 87,000 units were procured. 

The terms of reference for a January 2019 request for bids for the installation of solar water heaters said 87,206 “baseline systems” were ready for installation.

A baseline system is “a solar water heater system with a capacity ranging from 80 litres to 150 litres, together with any and all associated components and equipment”.

The document said these solar water heaters were procured as part of a supply phase, which started in December 2015 “for a period of three financial years” from 2015/16 to 2017/18, or years two, three and four.

The 2019 budget review, published in February, claims these units had been installed. But the treasury told Africa Check this was incorrect. The units would be installed “over the next few years up to 2021/22”.  

In July 2019 Bavelile Hlongwa, the deputy minister of mineral resources and energy, said it had “taken a few years to turn around” the solar water heater programme, which was “beset by a number of challenges”.

A million solar heaters in a year?

Given the slow pace of delivery in the first four years, would it have been possible for the government to meet its promise by installing a million units in 2018/19, the year with no data?

Angelo Buckley, a research engineer at the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies at the University of Stellenbosch, said it would be possible to install a million low-pressure solar water heaters in low-income households in one financial year, if the units had already been manufactured. 

“But its success and the pace of delivery would depend on factors such as the implementation plan, whether there is buy-in from recipients as well as the available budget.”

Was there a budget available for the installation of a million units?

A November 2018 energy department report  says the budget for the solar water heater programme only “allows for the installation of approximately 50,000 systems” each year.

How many people?

Statistics South Africa’s first estimated the number of households with solar water heaters in its 2015 General Household Survey, said Niël Roux, director of service delivery statistics.

In 2018, the year of the most recent survey, an estimated 482,645 households had these heaters. (Note: The surveys use the word “geyser” for a household water heater.)

South African households with solar water heaters
Year Number of solar water heaters 
2015 505,000
2016 520,000
2017 510,000
2018 483,000

Source: Statistics South Africa General Household Surveys (Note: Numbers have been rounded off.)

Why the drop from 2016 to 2018? According to Roux, it’s difficult to say. “Surveys are not ideal to state absolute levels, and we, therefore, tend to use it to calculate percentages and trends (particularly over multiple years).”

Nevertheless, if the latest available Stats SA figure is multiplied by the average household size (3.3), it comes to 1.6 million people. That’s a lot less than the ANC’s promise of 7 million people.

We rate this promise as broken for a number of reasons:

  • The pace of delivery over four years.

  • The fact that even if the 87,206 procured units had been installed in 2018/19, the department would still not be close to the target in the ANC promise. 

  • The deputy minister’s concession that it has taken years to turn around the project. 

  • The department’s failure to dispute our conclusion when we gave it the opportunity to do so.

  • Africa Check will update this report after the department releases its 2018/19 annual report. 

The ANC did not respond to requests for comment. – Africa Check, August 2019

Note: The ANC’s 2014 manifesto was released on 11 January and the election held on 7 May. Government reporting keeps to financial years. We tracked the party’s five-year progress in keeping its promises from 1 April 2014, the start of the 2014/15 financial year, to 31 March 2019, the end of the 2018/19 financial year.

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