Why plumbers should be interested in solar


Plumbers have expressed little interest in solar water heating over the past 10 years. The same can be said of plumbing merchants.

In a country where the climate is almost perfect for solar, and there are more than five million homes with electric geysers, it might be considered surprising that less than 160 000 high pressure solar units have been installed over the past 10 years.

Why plumbers should be interested in solar

The business opportunity would have been far greater if, like in Israel or Cyprus, it was law that every home was fitted with solar, but in South Africa where there is an abundance of coal and historically cheap electricity the motivation for consumers to go solar has just not been there.

The Eskom solar water heating rebate programme from 2008 to 2015 provided some incentives, but it allowed anybody that could complete an application form to become an installer of low pressure solar water heater giveaways.

This created a staggering level of unprofessionalism, poor installations and anyone that drives past Alexandra on the N3, could see just how bad it could be. As the estimated power savings on heating water by stoves and kettles in an RDP home is only 400kWh a year it is not surprising that Eskom were disinterested as managers. The low pressure solar water heating programme was motivated by vote catching and little else. And not surprisingly it backfired.

Additional tenders issued by City Power did little more to improve the reputation. Some 80 000± low pressure units were fitted to homes that have high pressure geysers (ugh!). You only have to speak to residents in areas like Lenasia, to hear that not only do they not work, but with taps outside the home, whatever was the point. Exposés on programmes such as Carte Blanche designed to highlight corruption, actually did even more damage to the reputation of solar.

Yes, in the eyes of the public and in the eyes of most plumbers, solar water heating not only has a deserved bad reputation, it is best to steer clear of it.

Of course, the solar water heating installer is a slightly different breed to the plumber (in most cases), and their track record in high pressure solar water heaters is not much better than those opportunists that came and went into the low-pressure sector.