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Solar energy: Who wants amateur technician?

Davis & Shirtliff’s 132 kilowatt peak solar system at Mundika water treatment plant in Busia County.

Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority is proposing new solar energy laws to improve workers’ professional skill. Further, the authority seeks to protect consumers by only allowing high quality products with guarantee. Also, the new regulations simplify the current solar power laws.

An article by Nation Media Group’s Business Daily on the proposed laws by Energy and Petroleum Regulatory Authority (EPRA) set off some public objections. The article on 28 November said that the proposed new regulations would “stifle the mass switch to cheap solar power.”

Kenyans in social media lashed at EPRA, accusing the authority of discouraging consumers from using solar energy.

The authority is working on draft Energy (Solar Photovoltaic Systems) Regulations 2020 to replace the current Energy (Solar Photovoltaic Systems) Regulations 2012.

Professional qualification was the main source of objections.

But the qualification requirements under the proposed regulations are similar to the current Energy (Solar Photovoltaic Systems) Regulations 2012. The only addition is that the licensed technicians must continually improve their skills.

The media reported that one would need a bachelor’s degree or three courses in engineering to operate as a solar power technician. This is untrue.

Only those seeking Class 4 licence must have a bachelor degree in electrical engineering. This top licence allows the holder to install advanced solar system and connect to grid and hybrid systems.

There are three other classes whose minimum academic qualifications range from a certificate to a diploma.

In fact, a solar power worker can apply for the second highest licence, Class 3. They need a diploma in electrical engineering and advanced solar power training.

Who wants an unskilled technician?

How to qualify

New regulations add one more level of certificate bringing the total number to four. In addition, the new regulations would increase the capacity the lowest grade technician can handle from 100 watt peak to 400 watt peak.

With the new regulations, top certificate holder can design, install, test, commission, maintain and repair solar systems of any capacity. This is similar to 2012 regulations.

A top certificate holder can install advanced solar system and connect to grid and hybrid systems.

Grid is a network of transmission systems and distribution systems for supply of electrical energy, in this case Kenya Power.  Hybrid system is a solar power system joining other electricity generation sources such as diesel generator or wind generator.

To renew a licence, a worker must show the authority that they had collected at least 30 credit points through continuous professional development (CPD). This is a new requirement.

A licence holder must earn at least 30 points at the expiry of the licence. This is how they will earn their points.

  1. Attending relevant trainings or seminars or workshops, 0.2 credit points per contact hour
  2. Giving relevant seminar or training or workshop as a resource person, 0.5 credit points per contact hour
  3. Presenting a paper on a relevant topic at a conference or publishing a paper in a journal, each paper two credit points
  4. Project credit points earned through experience gained from design, installation, testing and commissioning, operation and maintenance of solar projects, four points per project

Licence to import, distribute

Under current regulations, manufacturing solar power systems regulations were separate from importing, distributing and selling. One requires a licence to manufacture, import, promote, distribute or sell solar power systems.

In the new regulations, EPRA will license manufacturers, importers, sellers and contractors of solar power systems.

The new regulations have five classes for solar power systems importers. They range from the lowest Class 1 where the holder can import and sell inverters not exceeding 400 watts.

With Class 4 licence one can import and sell solar power products, design, install and repair solar power system of any capacity.

Top class is Class SPM. This entitles the holder to import parts necessary to manufacture solar power components. Also, the holder can manufacture and sell solar power components and systems.

All licence holders of various classes must employ technicians with required skills depending on the capacity of solar power systems they are selling.

What is the warranty?

The proposed regulations and the current regulations define warranty in the same terms. Warranty means an assurance or guarantee given to the purchaser by a manufacturer or his agent.

The warranty says that a product will perform as stated, is reliable and free from known defects.

In addition, the manufacturer shall, without charge, repair or replace defective parts within a given time limit and under certain conditions.

The proposed laws require a licence holder to give a warranty to a customer for the set period. The warranty covers components in the solar power system, solar power installation and consumer devices.

The new law would reduce from 10 to five years the warranty for controllers or regulators and inverters. It also brings down warranty for panels from 20 to 10 years.

Current regulations give warranty for battery as one year. The proposed law has two types of batteries, lithium ion and lead acid. For lithium ion the warranty is five years while for lead acid is two years.

The proposed laws give two years’ warranty for consumer devices and one year for workmanship.

The new law recommends a fine of 10% of the cost of the solar power installation or a component for not giving a warranty.

Fines for breaking the law

The authority will fine a worker with an expired licence Sh50,000 for every day the law is broken. If one takes work which is beyond what their licence allows they will be fined Sh50,000 per incident.

Further, the authority will demand a fine of Sh1 million from those giving it false data or false information on a solar power component or system to a client.

EPRA will fine sellers Sh10,000 for every substandard solar power systems, components and consumer devices they sell.

About Kaburu Mugambi

Kaburu Mugambi is a veteran of business reporting having worked with two national newspapers in Kenya. He is a graduate of economics from Kenyatta University. He started his journalism career in 2000 with The People Daily as a business reporter before becoming a business sub-editor. He joined Daily Nation in 2004 as a business writer. He holds a post-graduate diploma in mass communication from University of Nairobi's School of Journalism and an MBA in marketing from the same university. In 2016, he founded Water Tower, a media firm focused on water, energy and climate. Its content cuts across water, energy and climate with emphasis on adaptation and sustainability.

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