This is as more property owners turn to solar to reduce their reliance on a severely strained national electricity grid, while also benefiting from reduced electricity bills and “greener” living. As the cost of the technology continues to decline, it is anticipated that more South African property owners will replace their conventional geysers with solar-water heaters. This will only place further pressure on the system to produce more skilled installers.
“There is currently a very high demand for suitably qualified installers, a field of specialisation in the plumbing profession,” Brendan Reynolds, Director of IOPSA, says. “As a result, there are many unqualified individuals who are being appointed to install, maintain and repair solar-water heaters in the country. This has led to numerous faulty installations that fuel distrust of the industry and false rumours that solar-water heating is ineffective. If installed correctly, this ‘green’ plumbing technology is much more efficient than conventional water-heating systems. Importantly, it is also safe to use, whereas an incorrectly installed solar-water heater can be downright dangerous,” Brendan Reynolds, Executive Director of IOPSA, says.
In response to this demand, IOPSA and the Plumbing Industry Registration Board (PIRB), the professional body of plumbers, devised a temporary way of helping more qualified plumbers to attain a recognised qualification in the installation of solar-water heaters.
Qualified plumbers complete their training at a reputable training provider that is accredited by IOPSA. IOPSA assesses the candidates and issues them with a certificate when they have completed the course. Individuals who hold this certificate are recognised as “Solar Installers” by the PIRB. They are, therefore, permitted to install solar geysers and issue a Certificate of Compliance as required by SANS 10106.
They then compile a portfolio of projects for the Construction Education and Training Authority (CETA) to complete the practical component of their training. As these installers are already qualified plumbers, testing their hand skills is unnecessary. The assessment is, therefore, mainly based on theory and, specifically, their understanding of the SANS Standards requirements. Newly accepted solar installers are subjected to additional audits from PIRB. This ensures the timely detection of mistakes. Continuous failures and refusal to correct errors could lead to disciplinary action which may include the removal of the designation. In this way, the quality of the installation, maintenance and repair of solar-water heaters is ensured and the public protected.
These qualified professionals have completed the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) 244499 Installation and Maintenance of Solar-Water heaters Unit Standard. CETA applied for the revival of the unit standard to help overcome the many logistical challenges that qualified plumbers faced trying to complete the practical component of the stand-alone SAQA 94619 qualification. The request was granted by SAQA until the end of June 2023. By this time, it is intended to have a long-term solution in place that will continue to efficiently develop solar-water heater installation, maintenance and repair skills in the country.
Meanwhile, IOPSA has also made free training available to representatives of all municipalities to improve their understanding of solar-water heater installation, maintenance and repair. This will help them to better regulate workmanship in their jurisdictions. The increase in sub-standard installations, maintenance and repair of solar-water heaters can also be attributed to a lack of knowledge of the technology among many Building Inspectors and municipal officials.
“IOPSA has been in contact with relevant municipal officials so that they take advantage of this opportunity. We have also urged all qualified plumbers who are interested in solar-water heating or those already involved in the industry to undergo this process while it is still available. Meanwhile, property owners and the public must check the qualifications of the plumbers who they appoint to install, maintain or repair a solar geyser to avoid disaster,” Reynolds concludes.