As demand for solar skyrockets in South Africa to avoid load shedding, the Electrical Contractors Association (ECA) has warned households and businesses to scrutinise the qualifications of solar system installers.
Solar now dominates the embedded generation market in South Africa, especially since the government lifted the threshold for private energy generation.
According to Nersa, solar accounts for over 78% of all registered projects, with the highest concentration in the Northern Cape, Free State and the North West.
Investment into solar has shot up. Nedbank noted it had financed over R1.2 billion of private power generation for businesses, small businesses and private residences and had arranged 42 transactions in the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) to the value of R26 billion.
This boom in demand for backup solutions to escape load shedding has meant that the need for electricians has also rocketed in South Africa, as the profession has a positive relation with solar installations.
According to several experts, solar power installations at homes and commercial properties have risen sharply in the past six months as load shedding worsened, and installers are experiencing something of a gold rush.
Frank Spencer, a spokesperson for the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (Sapvia), estimates that the number of installations has quadrupled in some places, with high demand noted in Cape Town, Gauteng, and Kwa-Zulu Natal.
This spike in demand is attracting a flood of solar system installation professionals in South Africa. While some are genuine, others are unqualified “cowboys” trying to benefit from the craze, the association said.
Considering this, Sapvia implemented a PV GreenCard to filter out “rogue” installers and ensure that electricians were operating in compliance with industry and international best practices.
“The procedure is simple: Sapvia gives out guidelines for assessments where installers undergo a theoretical and practical test which they must pass to be included in the list of certified installers in the PV GreenCard database,” said the association.
This GreenCard is fast becoming accepted in the solar industry, with many commercial and private customers requiring such for installations.
However, despite the programme’s good intentions, the national director of the ECA, Mark Mfikoe, said the industry-backed GreenCard is a “fictitious” proof of qualifications and credibility.
Speaking to SABC News, he said that customers must scrutinise the qualifications of solar installers beyond the GreenCard, as it is not formally recognised.
“You can’t install solar systems without a certified electrical contractor. This requires registration with the Department of Labour as an electrical contractor,” he said.
He added that the minimum qualification needed to install solar is to be an installation electrician or a master installation electrician.
“This GreenCard is fiction. It is not an accredited qualification with no formal recognition,” said Mfikoe.
In response, a spokesperson for the Sapvia, De Wet Taljaard, said that the PV GreenCard should not be seen as a qualification but rather as proof that the installer is a registered electrician that is qualified to do the work properly and can provide a Certificate of Compliance (COC).
Regardless of the ongoing debate, solar consumers are warned to double-check solar installers’ qualifications beyond the PV GreenCard to ensure quality and accredited service.