As many South Africans surrender to the country’s energy crisis and turn to alternative solutions to counteract power outages, certain go-getters are seizing the moment and making the most out of the demand. Solar energy system providers and installers are popping up left, right and centre, some even offering leasing solutions to desperate consumers; but what are your rights and how do you know you’re not dealing with a fly-by-night?

Commercial law attorney, PJ Veldhuizen says that companies and individuals should do their due diligence when it comes to selecting a solar power installer or provider, and he stresses that as a consumer, you have definitive rights and these should be reflected in any related agreements. Firstly Veldhuizen says that although solar service providers are in high demand at the moment, this does not mean that you should be subjected to unfair and sometimes ludicrous conditions. “We’ve seen outlandish demands of upfront payment or imprudent higher purchase agreements or worse still exit charges required by service providers,” he warned, “Once again, it boils down to either reading the contract, quote or agreement properly or hiring a suitable professional to do so.”

Veldhuizen says many service providers are requesting significant deposit amounts and that first off, you should request workmanship referrals. Once you find your supplier, be mindful that consumers are within their rights to request written contracts and terms of service, which can include Advance Payment Guarantees. “It is unlikely that solar installers will be willing to provide this due to the cost of obtaining this from a bank or insurer, and if this is the case, rather pay a small deposit and only the balance when the installation has taken place,” he recommends.

Continuing his advice Veldhuizen suggests that before any funds are exchanged consumers should ascertain the following;

  1. If the service provider is electrically compliant and registered with the  South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA) which falls under the South African Renewable Energy Council (SAREC).
  2. Does the provider furnish an electrical or engineer’s compliance certificate (COC)?
  3. Are there any guarantees on the equipment e.g.:
    1. Solar panels
    2. Batteries
    3. Inverter
  4. What advance payment guarantees are given?
  5. If this is a rental arrangement:
    1. Make sure that your landlord has agreed to the installation and this includes where the solar panels will be positioned.
    2. Stipulate upfront who owns the equipment/ is your contract a rent-to-own?
    3. Who or which bank is providing the finance and what are the terms of the agreement?
    4. Does the installer intend to discount finance the transaction?
    5. What are your obligations and rights if the system malfunctions?
    6. Can you take the unit/system with you when you move and at what fee?

One only has to turn to social media to realise the minefield out there, as demand creates waiting lists at reputable suppliers while a fresh batch of inexperienced contenders has emerged, some causing much distress and sub-standard products.

You’d be well-served to research and spend time looking for the right contractor, and confirm your terms carefully in writing, taking all scenarios into account. After all, diligence is the mother of good luck.