IOPSA’s Solar water heater installer program.

24 May 2022 9:50 AM | Anonymous

Introduction of e-assessment - Company Registration in India

Solar water heaters or geysers are becoming a much more popular method of heating water in South Africa. Over the past few years, the cost of installing these units has come down and with electricity prices continuing to increase at a rapid pace, they have become more financially viable. With Eskom once again implementing loadshedding, more homeowners are turning to solar as an alternative. The growing movement towards more sustainable living has also impacted the industry positively. With this growing demand, the need for suitably qualified installers is becoming urgent.

As most qualified plumbers will know, the installation of solar water heaters does not form part of the curriculum for a plumber. The knowledge needed to install solar water heaters correctly would significantly increase the requirements to complete a plumber qualification and it is not commonly seen as a requirement but rather a specialisation. With this in mind, a qualification was developed to meet the need. Initially a skills program was developed as an elective subject as part of the plumber qualification. This program, 244499, was 10 credits at NQF level 4. However, with the move away from the old learnerships with the unit standards education method this skills programme fell away.  

A new qualification was developed and registered with the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA). SAQA 94619 is a stand-alone qualification, in other words, there is no requirement for a person to be a qualified plumber in order to enter the program, something which IOPSA has great reservations about. The qualification is a NQF level 4 with 67 credits, which would typically take 6-8 months to complete. The cost of attending this qualification is estimated at around R25 000. It is not hard to see why qualified plumbers have not taken up the challenge; it is expensive and would require them to take a lot of time off work, something that most plumbers cannot afford to do. A few training providers have registered for accreditation in the qualification, but IOPSA was not able to find a single person who has qualified through this route.

With a desperate need for solar installers and no uptake from industry, it seemed that a crisis was unfolding. Fortunately, in the interim, CETA applied for the old skills program (244499) to be revived and this request was granted by QCTO (Quality Control for Trade Occupations) until 30 June 2023. This created space for industry to put in place an interim solution. But there was a stumbling block; the skills program requires practical on the job installations to take place. The conundrum is that plumbers cannot legally install solar water heaters without a qualification, but they cannot get the qualification without doing installations. All good and well for an apprentice working under a qualified plumber but what about the already qualified plumber, especially if they already own their own business.

This is where IOPSA and PIRB stepped in to come up with a temporary solution. An already qualified plumber can do the skills program with any accredited training provider. For quality control purposes, the training provider would need to additionally register for accreditation with IOPSA. The candidates then apply for an assessment by IOPSA. On successfully completing the assessment they receive an IOPSA certificate. This certificate is accepted by the PIRB, the professional body for plumbers, and the individual is granted the designation of Solar Installer. This allows them to install solar geysers and issue the certificate of compliance (CoC) as required by SANS 10106. Thereby allowing the solar installer to put together a portfolio of evidence to submit to CETA in order to complete the practical portion of the qualification.

The fact that these solar installers are already qualified plumbers means that the testing of hand skills is not really necessary. The assessment is therefore based on theory and specifically, the requirements in the SANS Standards. Newly accepted solar installers are subjected to additional audits from PIRB. This ensures that any mistakes are picked up and rectified as soon as possible. Continuous failures and refusal to correct errors could lead to disciplinary action which may include the removal of the designation. In this manner, the quality of installations is ensured, and the public is protected.

Sadly, there are many unqualified individuals in the industry who continue to undertake solar installations without the required skills to the great frustration of everyone, especially homeowners. In many instances, this leads to distrust of the industry and false rumours that solar water heating is not effective. In fact, if solar water heaters are installed correctly, they can be far more effective than electric water heaters, but done incorrectly they can be ineffective and even downright dangerous. There is a lack of knowledge on solar water heaters amongst most Building Inspectors and municipal officials which is allowing this state of affairs to continue. IOPSA has made free training available to any municipality which requests it to assist in this regard. IOPSA encourages municipalities to make use of this service.

The window of opportunity is closing, and the skills program will only be available for one more year. IOPSA urges all qualified plumbers who are interested in solar water heating or those already involved in the industry to take the opportunity while it is still available. In future it could be very costly and time consuming to get qualified. Property owners and the public are urged to check the qualifications of plumbers before having a solar geyser installed or repaired to avoid disaster. The easiest way to do this is to check the individual’s registration with www.pirb.co.za


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