How to become a solar installer in South Africa

So you want to become a solar installer but don’t know where to start? Through GREEN’s extensive experience of the industry and our interactions with industry veterans we have come up with 5 steps you can take to becoming a qualified and recognised solar installer.

1. What is required?

Before taking your first steps as a solar installer you need to get to grips with everything you are going to need to check off to begin your journey. The first question is, can you just start being an installer by buying some modules and a bakkie? The answer is no! While this might be a tempting route to take, in the long run it would be detrimental to both your career and to any of your potential clients. Especially if you are starting with no background in renewable energy, it is dangerous to begin installing without any training or qualification. Trust us and follow the right steps and you will set yourself up to successfully become a solar installer in South Africa.

While there are no legal requirements to become an installer at the moment, the governing body of the solar industry in South Africa, the South African Photovoltaic Industry Association (SAPVIA), is working to fix that. SAPVIA has created the PV GreedCard assessment as a form of accreditation that separates the qualified and trained installers from the bakkie brigade we mentioned earlier. This is an important part of your journey in becoming an installer, its so important it is an entire step on our list (see step 2).

The first steps you take in your journey as an installer are important because you are laying the foundation for your career. Take your time to get the right training, complete the PV GreenCard Assessment and become part of their accredited installer network. Any steps you take after this will be well grounded and help you see what information is fake, and what information will be helpful to you and your journey to become a solar installer.

Getting training and accreditation means you are half way done

2. Get certified

SAPVIA is working to formalise accreditation for solar installers in South Africa called the PV GreenCard. While this might be a new concept it is becoming more relevant as the industry grows and gets more mainstream interest and investment. To find more information about the PV GreenCard read our latest article here.

Some clients will require you to have this accreditation, especially regarding tenders. Some wholesalers will also require you to prove you are an accredited installer to sell you their products, even FNB will only give loans to clients who are using installers certified by the PV GreenCard Assessment or by GREEN Solar Academy.

While the PV GreenCard accreditation is currently still voluntary what is not voluntary is having a certified electrician sign-off on you solar installation. AC installations (everything that comes after the inverter) must be done by an electrician. All regulations like SANS 10142-1 (and soon -2!) must be followed and an electrician with a wireman’s license needs to sign a CoC for the whole installation.

After going through solar training (especially the SuperSolarSchool) you will be able to confidently participate in the SAPVIA GreenCard Assessment. This assessment is a 2-day endeavour which will test both your theoretical and practical knowledge on solar installations. Once you pass the assessment you will become a SAPVIA accredited solar installer and added to their database, which can be used by the public to find qualified installers in their area.

This is an important step to take to become a solar installer as this accreditation will identify you as a professional installer with a high quality of work.

3. Get plugged into a network

Getting the right training and qualification is not the only step to become a solar installer. Being plugged into a good network can help you identify learning opportunities, quality products and pitfalls to avoid. Your network should be one-part wholesalers and one-part fellow installers. This might sound daunting, but the solar industry is full of people that will be willing to assist you, and who knows maybe you will find your first business partner there.

We at GREEN want to make it as easy as possible for participants in our courses to become part of our GREENetwork and connect with colleagues and wholesalers across the industry. This is why we frequently hold alumni meetings both online and at our trainings, as well as run a networking Facebook group and WhatsApp groups. For more information visit our website.

Getting plugged into a good network of wholesalers and fellow installers will provide you with many opportunities and helpful information

4. Learn the product/s

Once you become accredited and qualify yourself you will want to set out on your first installation, now you need to decide which product to choose. This can be a daunting task at the start as there are many possibilities of brands for many different installation tools, modules, inverters etc. With choosing a brand also comes choosing a price strategy, it’s a hard choice to make.

This choice should not be made solely with price in mind, as a cheap product usually means a bad one. Although going for the top of the range is usually not an option when starting out. We recommend that you find a product with a good warranty and a reliable manufacturer with good technical support. The best thing you can do for yourself, and the golden rule in the solar industry, is RTFM… Read the F******* Manual.

Your starting point should always be to read the manual, because most manufacturers will have spent a lot of time and money to create them. Treat these manuals as your first source of information as it will save you a lot of time and wasted calls to technical support.

Lastly, if you have the time and money you can go for product specific training. Many trainers like Victron and Sinetech will hold training sessions for solar installers to teach them how to use their products and answer any questions. These training sessions are a great way to grow in your knowledge as a solar installer, and also helpful if you want to focus on installing/working with a specific product. Build good relationships with wholesalers in the solar industry, because the more you grow as a solar installer in South Africa, the less time you want to spend shopping around.

When you start to market yourself make sure to pick a niche and dedicate yourself to mastering that section of the market

5. Get started and market yourself

When you start out as a solar installer in South Africa, the temptation is to market yourself as widely as possible, but this is a mistake. Doing this will put you in competition with every Tom, Dick and Harry in the market and put yourself up against more experienced installers.

The best decision you could make is to concentrate on a specific area and market yourself there. Make you and your business unique and you will be able to begin growing a successful business. For example, maybe you specialise in off-grid installations, or your specific area, or installations for small businesses. Focusing your target market will allow you to communicate to the customer clearly and attract a demographic of customers that might be overlooked in your area.

Using this focused target market, you will be able to streamline your process. While you may have to suffer through some long and costly installations at the start of your career, it is always wise to know what you are good at and concentrate there. And who knows as you grow in your target market you will be able to branch out into more complex systems or new solar markets.

If you feel like you want to learn more about how to become a solar installer in South Africa, contact us on info@solar-training.org. Or visit our website and sign up for one of our courses.