The South African Solar Thermal Training and Demonstration Initiative (SOLTRAIN) is a project aimed at supporting Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries in renewable energy production within “Energy for Sustainable Development” and relevant national policies.
SOLTRAIN is focused on solar thermal systems because solar radiation levels in southern Africa are high, and these systems can readily be manufactured or assembled there. Solar thermal systems like solar water heating have a huge potential to alleviate the serious problems of unemployment, power supply, energy costs and pollution.
The initiative, which was sponsored by the Austrian Development Agency (ADA), has recently been assessed by Dr. Susanne Geissler, who travelled to South Africa for the external evaluation.
“The final review resulted in the conclusion that SOLTRAIN has achieved the overall goal to contribute to the switch from a fossil fuel-based energy supply system to a sustainable energy supply system based on renewable energies,” stated Geissler’s final report.
Geissler said: “It was the main goal to achieve a substantial leverage effect in the field of solar-thermal technology, and in this regard, the project fully succeeded by building up training capacity in the participating countries, by improving the quality and performance of solar thermal systems, by creating awareness in the professional and political field, and by initiating political support mechanisms for solar thermal systems. In the long run, an important contribution to job creation at small and medium enterprises has been made.”
Looking at milestones and deliverables, SOLTRAIN over-achieved the objectives of the project, e.g. regarding the number of training courses held and the number of demonstration systems installed.
Project partners were highly satisfied with the project management carried out by the Institute of Sustainable Technologies (AEE INTEC) and emphasised the supreme quality of technical support and the inclusive management style.
Geissler’s final review resulted in the following recommendations to be considered in a follow-up project or other projects funded by the ADA:
• Address the general public with testimonials: Cooperation with role models who are seen with solar technologies will raise awareness to use solar thermal systems.
• Support architects as drivers for change: Architects need support regarding systems design and building integration.
• Strengthen the testing of components and support local manufacturers: The testing of the solar water heating system as a whole hinders the development of the local component producing industry. Therefore component-testing facilities must be strengthened.
• Develop and test new models for financing, operating and maintaining solar thermal plants (in social institutions): When contracts with beneficiaries are established, they must include a provision for operation and maintenance of the systems.
• Create a solar thermal technology platform: This platform represents a dialog forum for policy, industry and education, which will ensure the development of a stable market for solar water systems.
• Develop solar water heating systems for low-income families: A specific project should be developed to address the needs of low-income citizens, who rely on wood fuel to warm-up water for bathing.
• Extend and further develop training programmes and capacity building approaches: It will be useful to have more kits for systems monitoring and put specific emphasis on systems operation and maintenance.
• Offer various formats for dissemination seminars: For example, to last for half a day and to address specific sectors, according to the needs of the respective target group.
• Offer practical training covering the basics for installers: Practical training was not within the scope of SOLTRAIN, but brought it to the fore that practical basic training is required.
• Promote gender equality: Cooperation with various institutions is needed to train young girls in technical skills/courses and to increase the participation rate of women in this field.
SOLTRAIN Partners experienced how SOLTRAIN contributes to the global Energiewende by synergies from dedicated teams in four neighbouring countries, brought together by the ADA and Austrian expertise. While partners in South Africa greatly appreciated technical insights on designing large solar water heating systems, partners from Namibia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe found the project very challenging due to the less-developed capacity of their countries.
SOLTRAIN significantly contributed to building relationships and common procedures, which are also important in building a viable solar thermal market in southern Africa.
The SOLTRAIN approach proved to be an appropriate strategy to start solar energy projects at an institutional level – firstly, in order to avoid that people regard solar systems as poor man’s energy supply, and secondly, to contribute to creating a constant demand on the market.
As a result of this positive review, the ADA decided to extend the initiative by another three years, incorporating all the recommendations.