Important steps for buying a safe and legal solar power system

23rd February 2023

The City of Cape Town has published a comprehensive checklist of all the steps homeowners should take to ensure their solar system is safe and legal.

The city’s mayoral committee member for energy, Beverley van Reenen, said there has recently been a lot of uptake of rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) systems paired with batteries due to high levels of load-shedding.

The metropolitan municipality is ahead of the rest of the country regarding regulating self-generation for its residents.

In addition to having a list of approved inverters for solar installation, the city’s mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis recently announced it would start paying businesses and households R1.07 for every kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity they feed back into the grid.

That came after the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) approved a rate of 78.98c/kWh for the financial year. The city is adding a 25c/kWh incentive tariff on top of this.

Van Reenen said the initiative would likely spur even more installations.


For this reason, Cape Town developed a set of guidelines to help protect Capetonians from fly-by-night operators installing substandard or unsafe, illegal systems.

While it does not vet solar installers working in the private sector, it nonetheless encourages customers to use its checklist to help them decide which provider to use.

Most of these guidelines also provide best-practice advice for those looking to install solar outside of Cape Town.

Below are ten guidelines from the City of Cape Town to ensure your home solar power system is safe and legal.

1. Verify that your installer is qualified and certified

The first important step is to decide which solar PV installer to use.

You must ensure the solar PV service provider has substantial prior experience.

To substantiate this, ask for references and previous proof of electrical Certificates of Compliance (CoCs) or professional engineer sign-offs on previous installations.

You could also request proof that their previous installations were authorised by the relevant authority, such as a municipality.

In addition, learn whether the solar PV service provider designed, supplied and installed the systems or only carried out one or two of these steps.

The city also recommends that the installer is an accredited service provider under a third-party quality assurance programme.

These include the PV Green Card, a South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA) endorsed programme, and the P4 Platform quality assurance programme.

Furthermore, establish whether the installer employs or subcontracts qualified staff to design and install systems.

“Ask for proof of up-to-date registration, also called a wireman’s licence and DoLE registration. It is critical,” the city advised.

If you want to install a grid-tied system, it must be signed off by an Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA) registered professional.

“Check that the solar PV service provider has such a professional available,” the city said.

While not required, registration with SAPVIA and the Electrical Contractors Board (ECB) shows the installer is committed to industry best-practice.

2. Get approval from the relevant authority 

Where the necessary regulation is in place, installers must apply to the relevant authority (like a local municipality) to authorise the system for grid connection.

That will ensure the continued safety of the electrical network, your home, and people who work on the electrical grids.

“If municipal staff and contractors do not know about systems connected to the grid, they run the risk of electrocution,”

For residents of Cape Town, the city must provide written authorisation for the system, regardless of its type.

3. Watch out for fake “authorisation” fees

An installer may charge an administration fee for the professional services rendered to perform the authorisation on the customer’s behalf, but there is no charge from the City of Cape Town itself.

4. Get a structural engineering assessment

Make sure roofs can withstand the weight and wind load of solar PV panels where necessary.

5. Know when you need a building plan

Typically, you will not need to submit a building plan to the relevant authority, except if:

  • The panels protrude more than 600 mm above the highest point of the roof; or
  • They are raised more than 1.5 m above any point on the roof; or
  • If ground-mounted, the panels in their installed position project more than 2.1 m above the natural/finished ground level.

6. Buy an approved inverter

Check with your municipality to find out if they have a list of approved inverters. Cape Town’s approved inverter list is available on its website

Victron inverters installed by AWPower

7. Check solar PV panel standards

A Certificate of Compliance for the PV panels should have the following SANS/ IEC standards, as a bare minimum:

  • SANS/IEC 61215: 2015 − Crystalline silicon terrestrial PV modules
  • SANS/IEC 61646: 2016 − Thin film terrestrial PV modules

8. Store batteries safely

Make sure batteries are properly racked in a dry and well-ventilated room.

While most batteries have built-in safety mechanisms to avoid catching fire during normal operation, incidents could be more likely where overheating becomes a factor.

9. Ensure the installation uses specialised circuit breakers 

The direct current (DC) from the solar panels requires specialised circuit breakers. These protect an electrical system from damage in the event of an overcurrent or overload, and short circuit.

10. Have recourse for shoddy workmanship

For final peace of mind, you can request an independent inspection of the installation.

In Cape Town, an organisation that carries out this work is the Electrical Approved Inspection Authority of Southern Africa (EAIASA).

Before it can carry out an inspection, it must be provided with the Certificate of Compliance, and the customer will need to pay an inspection fee.

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