Solar Water Heaters from Israel on the Roofs of Sandton

Kayema Energy Solar Water Heating Project

Few days ago I visited the installation site of 117 solar water heaters on the roof of the Legacy hotel in Sandton. The Israeli-South African company Kayema installed equipment of the Israeli company Rand and has shown to everybody that it is possible! The Legacy hotel (still under construction) would be able to save about 16% of its energy costs.

I thought it would be also aopportunity to share with you my lecture during the workshop on solar water heaters that was organized by the Department of energy in november last year:

Israel is a powerhouse in the area of renewable energy and a global leader in solar thermal energy. Israel has the highest penetration of solar water heaters (SWHs) along with Cyprus and Greece. Some 95%, or two million households, use SWH in Israel. Solar collectors produce 3 000MW which saves about 4% of the country’s electricity production, and Israeli companies now sell SWH systems throughout the world.

Israel realized the potential of solar energy for heating before everybody else and made SWH installation mandatory as long ago as 1980. Every building constructed since then had to install SWH. The only exception was buildings higher than 27 meters, or eight storey’s, though with today’s technology it is possible to install SWH in buildings of this size and in even larger structures. In addition, Israel removed bureaucratic barriers to SWH and the Government made it as easy as possible for consumers to install systems.

Another major factor in our success has been market education. Israelis no longer need encouragement to install SWH and landlords are willing to use the technology because they know this will make their properties more attractive to rent. The fact that replacement of systems comprises 80% share of the market and 20% is new installation, shows you that Israelis keep faith to the technology.

A number of countries have subsequently made SWH installation mandatory. A particularly interesting example is Barcelona which made SWH mandatory in 2000. With the support of Israeli experts, this has led to installation of 30 000 square meters of solar panels, and Israeli companies now dominate the Spanish market.

If South Africa wants to succeed with a SWH programme, the first step should be the make SWH installation mandatory. A particularly interesting success story in Israel is the case of the Lot Hotel on the Dead Sea. The hotel invested $100 000 in SWH and various other energy saving measures and received a $20 000 government grant. It made a return on its investment after only the first year and is now saving $80 000 a year in energy costs.

Cost Efficiency
A particularly important factor in a successful SWH programme is letting only cost-efficient systems to get into the market. It is not sufficient to simply regulate and educate the market. If the technology does not save money, if the return on investment takes too long, if maintenance is too expensive, SWH will remain a lifestyle of rich people who want to become more “green”. Israel set very high standards for SWH equipment and this prevented the use of inefficient systems. It must be sold as a concept that saves money – otherwise – no success is promised.

Social Benefits of SWH in Israel
First and foremost, SWH saves money and gave consumers more money into their pocket. SWH has also created large numbers of jobs in Israel. An entire industry around SWH has developed and companies now export piece of art equipment for use in buildings ranging from homes to hospitals, hotels and factories. Last but not list is the benefit to the environment.

New Developments in Solar Energy in Israel
The Israeli government has introduced a feed-in tariff which is encouraging companies to establish solar farms. Households and businesses with installed solar panels can now also sell electricity to the national grid.

If you want to succeed make it mandatory and let only cost efficient equipment to get into the market. A successful SWH programme should not aim to solve the energy problem alone. The economic, social and environmental benefits must also be promoted.

The Israeli government and Israeli SWH companies offer their experience and expertise to assist South Africa with its important goal to make SWH common and accessible to everybody in this country.