By 6 June 2024 | Categories: news


By Bridgett Majola, Director, Banking & Finance, Head of Project Finance: Energy & Infrastructure, CMS South Africa

Solar PV in South Africa has grown immensely over a short period of time. Energy expert Anton Eberhard looked at data released by Eskom that supports that SA’s rooftop solar PV capacity has increased from 983MV to 4,412MV in just over a year. That is a 349% increase, and it is only the beginning. Solar PV in South Africa shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

In a move aimed at streamlining the development of solar photovoltaic (PV) facilities, or solar farms in South Africa, the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment has adopted a new norm that excludes these projects from requiring environmental authorisation. This decision, based on the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA), allows certain activities to be exempt from authorisation requirements if they meet specific criteria outlined in the Act.

Exclusion criteria

The new norm applies to solar PV facilities that meet specific conditions, including:

  • Being located in "low" or "medium" environmental sensitivity areas, as determined by a screening tool and verified by specialists;

  • Pre-negotiated linear infrastructure that considers conservation concerns; and 

  • Battery storage facilities integral to solar PV operations are also included.

Site sensitivity verification

A crucial aspect of this norm is the site sensitivity verification process, which involves physical inspections and specialist assessments to confirm environmental sensitivity in designated areas. This process covers themes such as plant and animal species, agriculture impacts, and cumulative effects, and requires discussions on mitigation strategies, ecological corridor preservation, and a final specialist report documenting findings and recommendations.

Consultation and registration

Before starting any activities related to developing or expanding a solar PV facility, the developer  must engage in consultations with potentially impacted parties, including adjacent landowners, conservation entities, and local government bodies. The developer must also register the facility with the competent authority, submitting several documents, including a completed registration form, screening report, consultation records, and environmental management programme compiled by an environmental practitioner and signed off by the relevant specialist.

Benefits and Implications

This new norm aims to streamline the development process for solar PV facilities while ensuring compliance with environmental standards. By excluding certain activities from environmental authorisation requirements, the norm is expected to reduce administrative burdens and promote the growth of renewable energy in South Africa.

However, it is crucial to note that this norm applies only to specific activities and areas, and that proponents must still comply with relevant regulations and verification protocols. Additionally, changes to the proposed footprint or linear infrastructure alignment may require re-registration, and changes of ownership may require re-registration or updates to registration documents.

What does all of this mean?

In short, solar PV is still booming in South Africa, and the relevant authorities are putting measures in place to support it. Yes, there are still rules to follow when it comes to environmental standards, but with the rapid growth of solar PV in South Africa amidst the ongoing power crisis, it is safe to say that this is only the beginning, and perhaps we could expect consideration to be given to other technologies.

The new norm adopted by the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment marks an important step towards streamlining the development of solar PV facilities in South Africa. By understanding the exclusion criteria, site sensitivity verification process, consultation requirements, and registration process, developers can navigate this new norm and contribute to the growth of renewable energy in the country.


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