This article aims to provide readers with information in an effort to increase sales of solar PV rooftop systems by providing information and statistics on various sectors within the solar PV rooftop market and then providing a breakdown on the types of information required in order to sell PV systems to the three main PV sectors in SA.

Information is arguably the one big factor that can drive sales towards or away from an organisation. It is not always the information that is shared that drives the sale but rather the information that is not being shared. In order to sell anything, sales staff need to have access to information and have the ability to assess which information should be disclosed and which should not be disclosed in order to close-the-deal. Disclosing too much information or the wrong information will discourage or even confuse clients.

This brings us to the information that you need to know; should you, or your organisation be interested in approaching shopping center owners as an avenue for potential sales. A growing number of shopping centers in South Africa are being fitted with rooftop solar PV systems to supplement the current electricity supply. PQRS has done a brief aggregated analysis that considers different categories of shopping center where the watts per meter squared (w/m2) is compared to Gross Lease-able area(GLA) in an attempt to determine the overall capacity of solar PV that can be fitted in this lucrative and growing market.

This analysis aims to find the average sized system per category of shopping center. That value is then extrapolated across the total number of shopping centers in order to find the total capacity for solar PV rooftop systems that can be fitted onto shopping centers. Couple this information with the growth estimation on malls and an analysis to understand the growth as well as potential of PV that can be fitted on shopping malls throughout South Africa becomes possible. The analysis did not take roof coverage into account as there are some shopping centers where the roof area is increased with the use of car ports. The approach of looking at the category of center compared to the w/m2 installed seemed to make more sense at the time of doing the analysis. SA is the 6th on the list of countries in the world with the most shopping centers per capita; with more than 2000 shopping centers larger than 2000m2 in GLA.

Table showing shopping center categories

Table showing shopping center categories and total PV installed per shopping center.

In table 1 a breakdown of 22 shopping centers show the name of the center in the second column and then towards the right the GLA (short for Gross Lease-able Area) which effectively indicates the size of the center in square meters. The ‘size Wp’ column indicates the size of PV system that has already been fitted onto the center. Mall@Reds as an example shows a 2,1MW PV system on a 163 000m2 floor area resulting in 13 watts per square meter installed at that center. Between the three Super Regional Retail stores, the average sized system fitted on these category of malls are 2,58MW. The last column gives and indication of the watts per square meter installed on each mall.

Graph showing projected growht of shopping centers

Graph 1 showing shopping center projected growth in m2, as well as, growth in number of shopping centers

When looking at future growth of retail center floor area; GLA growth is not 100% consistent with the growth of the number of centers being built. Two figures were applied to determine growth. A value of 6,7% annual growth (according to the number of retail centers) were used to determine the value of “ongoing growth” This value was determined by looking at the average growth of the available history of source data. A value of 3% was used to determine projected growth termed “conservative growth” estimation as indicated in graph 1. Conservative growth takes rand/dollar exchange rates, tougher trading environments due to credit ratings, and a declining spending potential into consideration as disposable cash resources from retail consumers come under even more pressure. Average m2 growth was determined and a value of 23w/m2 (source table 1) was applied across the total floor area in order to determine current and future potential PV rooftop capacity, for Malls and retail centers with a GLA greater than 2000m2.

Table showing estimated PV capacity on shopping malls

Table 2 shows the estimated capacity for rooftop PV on shopping malls until 2020

Table 2 shows the projected capacity for malls based on source data. This data can be further extrapolated into each category of mall as well as the projected growth for individual categories. Super regional shopping malls for example may not be growing at the same rate as regional or neighborhood malls.

Each year is marked with a significant shift in sales and how sales are achieved as market drivers take dramatic shifts based on grid stability, cost of electricity, the rand dollar exchange rate, and the list goes on. During 2015 SA had an unstable grid, and smaller systems that contained some form of storage were popular with the more affordable Axpert type inverter selling by the 1000’s. Battery suppliers couldn’t keep up and the PV industry was thriving under the demand. Most suppliers noted a 300 to 600% growth in sales. (By the way. . . In this article we are also not discussing the quality of installations at the time of blackouts or the installation standards at the time.) In short, industry couldn’t keep up.

2016 Saw grid and market stabilization as the need for back-up power, dried up overnight and new suppliers were left with container loads of stock. I believe some of the more aspirant entrepreneurs who decided to import container loads of batteries are still sitting with stock almost 1 and a half years later.

This brings us to 2017 as we see yet another year where the market forces and demand have shifted gears. Whether the gears were shifted up or down would have been determined on your strategy, approach, network, relationships, existing agreements carried over from 2016 as well as the type of sector companies were operating within. Lest we not forget insurance for the fluctuating Rand/dollar exchange rate for stock caught between ports.

We see some new EPC’s having a hard time getting the door leading into the market opened; and some others finding a way into the market through a window instead of the traditional door. Some “new” EPC’s have been working in the background on a single project for years and have made a sudden appearance with projects abound and the latest craze being solar PV systems being offered free of charge to consumers through PPA;s or agreements with municipalities to buy power being generated.

There are three main PV sectors that are reflected or captured in the PQRS database.

  1. C and I is short for Commercial and industrial. These types of installations would be installed on office parks, factories, shopping centers, schools, mines, lodges, guest houses, municipal buildings, libraries, retail outlets, in fact any type of business environment where goods are produced or sold, places of work, etc.
  2. Agricultural is fairly obvious and would be systems installed on farms for the purpose of providing power for the cultivation, irrigation, processing or production of perishable goods being either crops or livestock.
  3. Residential is also fairly obvious and would include places where people stay. Flats, townhouses & homes in any shape or form.

Each one of these sectors, have a unique approach, each with its own fields of expertise, i.e. how do you sell a system to an end user in a residential environment; or to a farmer. Each sector has its own approach and in each instance the approach may be unique according to region.

Below we have included a list of bullet points containing information you need to know before approaching clients to sell PV systems in the various sectors.

Commercial and industrial PV installations

  1. Know what the municipality in your region is up to with regards to embedded generation
  2. Find a partner that can assist with financing solutions
  3. Create a Purchase Power Agreement solution
  4. Brush up your knowledge on 12B, 12L, accelerated depreciation, and the various tax benefits offered for PV and renewable energy installations
  5. Get involved with energy metering
  6. Focus on energy efficiency
  7. Start by approaching clients with energy efficiency solutions
  8. Understand large scale solar thermal plants
  9. Build a relationship with some of the other EPC’s and installers. Everybody uses a sub-contractor at some stage. Make sure that sub-contractor is your organization even if it is a competitor you are providing services for, we all need a little help at some stage.
  10. Make your organization indispensible by diversifying your service portfolio and by offering multiple services.

Agricultural installations

  1. Know what Eskom is doing as most Agri connections lie within Eskom regions
  2. Know how to shift loads and shift demands. Be innovative and think out of the box. Dairies have a peak demand that lie outside of peak sun-hours, find a way to create a solution, it exists
  3. Learn another language or appoint someone that looks, walks and talks like the locals. Farmers like working with people they can associate with, look like them and people they can understand.
  4. Invest time in energy management and not just installing PV
  5. Consider borehole pumping for livestock and crops using solar PV along with variable speed drives or solar drives
  6. Understand seasonal loads and craft solutions around seasons
  7. Get to know local installers, they are the door into the region as they have an existing customer base.
  8. Understand that theft is a huge issue on some farms, find a way to combat theft.
  9. Know the maximum sized system that can be installed on a farm based on the NRS standard.
  10. Get to know your competitors and what they have done to make it work.

Residential installations

  1. Know contractors in your region that can do PV installations
  2. Get to know a couple of engineers that can assist with design and signing off systems
  3. Build relationships with companies in your region.
  4. Build a flexible business model where your organization can appoint sub contractors on short notice to compensate for smaller and bigger projects.
  5. Think out of the box.
  6. Get to know what the banks are doing
  7. Get to know what the insurance companies are doing
  8. Brush up your knowledge on the sector, trends and installation standards
  9. Experiment with PV, start small and work your way up.
  10. Specialize in something. Grid tied PV installation is not a field of specialization. Earthing, Bonding, SPD’s, LPD’s, Mounting structures, generation system integration, off grid integration, PLC control, system programming, storage and system communication are fields of specialization. Specialize in something.

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