How Solar Power Investors In Africa Cope With Lack Of Skilled Manpower

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Written by Kevin Mwanza

Solar power investors in Africa have managed to make strides across the continent despite a glaring skills gap, thanks to increased demand for their products by a growing population and rising per capita income levels.

According to a Solar Novus Today report, companies on the continent are enjoying booming sales as the cost of acquiring raw material drops due to technological advancement over the last decade.

A fall in silicon prices, a main component in solar panels, since 2008 has been fueled by a rapid increase in global demand that has made production per unit much cheaper due to economies of scale, the South African Photovoltaic Industry association (SAPVIA) said.

These savings have made it viable for companies to invest in Africa’s solar market, despite the high cost of scarce skilled labor.

A study by the University of Nairobi showed that in Kenya, a country where several global solar giants have found a perfect market for their pay-as-you-go bottom of the pyramid products such as M-Kopa, has only about 800 to 1,000 PV (photovoltaic)  technicians.

“(A) majority of them have the basic skills but no formal training to provide the service,” the study said.

“PV application technology is evolving towards very advanced systems but capacity to deal with installations has not been growing in tandem with the advances in the technology.”

This skill gap will need to be addressed fast as the East Africa’s largest economy plans to install 300 megawatts of solar PV generated electricity by 2030.

Even in South Africa, where ongoing and approved solar PV projects were nearly 1 gigawatts by 2014, there is a shortage of adequate skills, which experts say must sealed to successfully cope with the increasing demand, Solar Novus Today reported.

But all is not lost as initiatives such Akon’s Lighting Africa Initiative and Sun Cybernetics in South Africa have introduced training programs for beginners and those that want to explore opportunities in installation of Solar PV technology.

“One of the aims is to establish sustainable knowledge transfer by teaching both the practical as well as the theoretical knowledge related to photovoltaic energy solutions,” said Marsha Delport, Head Training Coordinator at Sun Cybernetics.