- Solar installers will play a vital role in South Africa's bid to address the energy crisis following President Cyril Ramaphosa's call for greater uptake of rooftop panels.
- Being a qualified and registered electrician will allow installers to mount, connect, and issue a Certificate of Compliance for solar installations.
- Being a part of the PV GreenCard programme will also give installers important accreditation that's required by some clients.
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South Africa's solar photovoltaic (PV) industry is set to boom on the back of President Cyril Ramaphosa's push for rooftop installations as one of the remedies to the country's energy crisis.
Solar panels installed on the rooftops of South Africa's households and businesses will help ease the country's power problems, according to President Ramaphosa. To incentivise greater uptake of rooftop solar, a feed-in tariff, which will allow private generators to sell surplus power to Eskom, is being developed.
"There are already a number of large-scale projects that have benefited from government's efforts to expedite the export of energy to the grid, and this is being seen in the recent rapid growth of NERSA's [National Energy Regulator of South Africa] registration approval of renewable power plants," said Rethabile Melamu, CEO of the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA), in response to the president's public address.
"The interventions listed further expand the options available to developers and sponsors of energy projects to deliver their projects on shorter timeframes and will directly expedite private power coming onto the grid, at no cost to Eskom and the general public."
For the president's plan to have its desired impact – creating more capacity in the private sector to plug significant gaps in Eskom's generating capabilities – South Africa will need to import, or produce locally, far more solar panels, inverters, and batteries than it has in the past. The country will also require a new crop of skilled solar installers.
Here's some advice on how to become a solar installer in South Africa, with input from SAPVIA, which has been at the forefront of developing the country's renewable energy sector for more than a decade.
Being a qualified and registered electrician
Mounting solar panels on a rooftop is just one, and arguably the simplest, part of a PV installation. Any part of the installation that flows from the inverter – that converts direct current (DC) electricity generated by the solar panels to alternating current (AC) electricity used by the electrical grid – must be done and signed off, through a Certificate of Compliance (CoC), by a qualified and registered electrician.
To become a registered professional electrician in South Africa, you must pass a trade test, have an NQF level 3 minimum that includes a Technical Senior Certificate, and must pass the national exam on SANS 10142-1. You'll also need a Wireman's License and need to be registered with the Department of Labour (DOL) to be legally recognised as a qualified electrical contractor.
Being a qualified and registered electrician is critical if you’re hoping to become an independent contractor or start your own company that will fulfil all aspects of a solar installation, from mounting right through to the final CoC.
If you’re looking to work for a company that already employs a qualified and registered electrician – who will effectively oversee all the work being done and is responsible for sign-off – then obtaining a Solar PV Service Technician qualification is a quicker way of entering the industry for some hands-on experience.
The Solar PV Service Technician National Curriculum
Based on the need for national training offering support to the growing renewable energy industry, the Solar Photovoltaic Service Technician NQF Level 5 was registered with the South African Qualification Authority (SAQA) under Qualification ID 99447 in December 2016.
The qualification consists of four modular part qualifications: Solar PV Mounter, Solar PV Installer, Solar PV Technician, and Solar PV Service Technician. Enrolment requirements include a minimum of Grade 11 (NQF Level 3) passed with Maths and Science as subjects.
While you don't need to be qualified as an electrician to become qualified as a Solar PV Service Technician, both qualifications are important steps in the PV GreenCard programme.
Be a part of the PV GreenCard programme
The PV GreenCard programme is a quality assurance initiative led by SAPVIA that provides installers with accreditation. While participation in the programme is voluntary, for now, multiple municipalities and business customers are buying into the concept, with some requiring installers to be accredited.
PV GreenCard endorsed service providers form part of the SAPVIA PV GreenCard online database, which can be searched by potential clients.
The five-Day PV GreenCard Installer Training Course follows the exit outcomes of the curriculum specific to the Solar PV Installer Part Qualification.
The two-day PV GreenCard Training includes theoretical as well as practical training where candidates are required to mount PV installations on a simulated roof environment. The purpose of this training is primarily to ascertain the competency of installers and vet their abilities to gain access to the PV GreenCard quality mechanism, according to SAPVIA.
SAPVIA-accredited installers can issue PV GreenCards to their clients in both physical and digital formats. These documents detail the specifications of the solar installation and assure that the installation has been completed to the required standard.
To qualify for the PV GreenCard programme, installers must provide company registration details, proof that they're registered as qualified electricians with the DOL, proof that they have completed a five-day PV installer course and undertake a two-day theoretical and practical assessment.
"The PV GreenCard Programme focuses on education, skills development, and training to build installer capacity as well as improve standards development and compliance in line with international best practice," explained SAPVIA.
SAPVIA’s website contains a list of all accredited training facilities across South Africa.