Digitalising Solar Training in Africa – A conversation with Niveshen Govender, SAPVIA COO

Featured Image
The Push For a Green Economy (South Africa) – SAPVIA

Quick Summary

We hosted Niveshen Govender, the COO at South African photovoltaic Association who enlightened us on the following:

  • Journey to SAPVIA
  • Role and Achievement of SAPVIA
  • Digital Training
  • Training modules
  • PV Green Card Program
  • Industry Feedback on Digital Training Program

Click HERE to listen to the interview.


RiA (QI): Good morning everybody. So, it is a pleasure to be talking to you today, still with the lockdown on. Not quite lock down but am, still within covid environment. It is a great pleasure for me today to bring to you today a very interesting personality within the industry. You all know me by now, I am hoping. I am Tony Tiyou, the Founder and CEO of Renewables in Africa, your Africa clean Energy champion; And today we are going to be talking about training people, delivering skills, so that they can acquire what they need to go and make the shift into their industry. So, I have with me Mr. Niveshen Gavinder, the COO of SAPVIA Innovation, great to have you today.

NG (A1): Thank you Tony. Thank you for having me.

RiA (Q2): Excellent! So, we are going to be talking about, training as I mentioned. But first, just to give justice to yourself and the fantastic organization that you representing, I was wondering whether you would both introduce you and the subject please.

NG (A2): Good. Thank you, Tony. As you’ve introduced, my name is Niveshen Govender. I am the COO at SAPVIA. I spent the last 10 years of my carrier in green economy. I started off 10 years ago working to set up a Green tech Incubator here in South Africa. It’s called the Climate Innovation Center based here in Gauteng. I then moved my carrier along to policy, where I worked with the department of energy, writing renewable energy policy. So the solar PV policy specifically, and the last four years of my life or my carrier, I worked at the South African photovoltaic Association initially as the Program Manager responsible for small scale embedded generation and now the COO responsible for the operations of the Association. The Association itself is a nonprofit association. We currently represent 400 companies across the value chain of solar PP in South Africa. And these are utility scale, IPP’s, developers, manufacturers; residential installation companies in our installation company PPC’s, finance holsters, consultants across the full value chain. SAPVIA is on its 10th year of existence. So we are celebrating 10 years of existence; and I think I will leave it there for now.

RiA (Q3): Excellent! That’s quite an important organization that you are talking about for South Africa for sure and definitely, Southern Africa and the whole of Africa. So how would you say your organization has been pivotal in the development of Solar in the region?

NG (A3): Yeah! I think that’s a good question. SAPVIA had been formed 10 years ago. It was instrumental in developing renewable energy policy in South Africa 10 years ago. So 10 years ago, go back 10 years ago, South Africa had no renewable energy, the energy mix didn’t include renewable energy; there were no policies in support of renewable energy. We had six individuals, industry players that came together to form the association and to lobby government to include renewable energy in its policy plan, and they were successful in doing that. So in 2010 we had an integrated energy resource plan that mapped out the energy mix in South Africa and at that point included renewable energy. And we saw just over, about 20,000 Mega Watts of renewable energy being included in that plan up until 2030. 8,400 Mega Watts and just under 5000 Mega Watts of renewable energy in total. We now have a new integrated resource plan, so the co function of the Association is to do policy advocacy and lobbing, which we have done in the past and will continue to do. We have a new IRP that now dictates the new vision 2030 which fully includes the bulk share of renewable energy. So we see about 28,000 Mega Watts of renewable energy being plant over the next 10 years in South Africa. 6,000 of that being allocated to utility scales, solar PV, and another 6,000 allocated to distributing generation or embedded generation, which will be majority solar PV in those 10 years.

RiA (Q4): Excellent! So you talked about a very important initiative here, the IRP drive, the power market energy sector in the country, but to deliver that, 6 Giga Watts of solar, that’s what I’ve heard, you definitely need people; you need skills to deliver that. And I was quite interested because very recently SAPVIA has launched a digital solar training course which I believe is part of a much wider program. And I was wondering whether you could tell us, why now, what’s so special about this program that I have referred to? 

SAPVIA T - Digitalising Solar Training in Africa - A conversation with Niveshen  Govender, SAPVIA COO
Figure – 1 Digital Training on Solar

NG (A5): Good! Thank you for that question Tony. I just want to be clear that SAPVIA itself as an association has not launched the digital training. We do have a number of training partners, training institutions who undertake solar PV training within the country and through them we we’ve developed this digital training. So the solar training partners have actually digitized the training program, and we expect that other training centers will follow suit. So skill development is part of the association agenda especially for solar PV service technicians. This qualification is created in such a way that it’s created a clear path of a school leaver. So someone leaving the trip would have a clear path of becoming a solar PV mounter.

The first part qualification is mechanical mounting of structures. So it’s purely mechanical. The second part of the qualification then brings in the wiring aspect of installation and this is applicable to small scale embedded generation installations, roof top installations. We then go into design factor. So then the third part of the qualification allows you to design utility scale. So it’s a lot bigger in terms of EPC skills. And then the last part of the qualification is full service technician. So it allows you to develop a project and maintain the project as well. It was very well thought of and is now in place in South Africa. This qualification is a two year NQF level qualification. We’ve seen the market move in South Africa from utility scale builds to more embedded generation builds. So a lot more projects, but a lot smaller projects. And we had to be responsible and sustainable in the way we take skill development around this. We had to look at a program that required not just skill development but quality of installation and safety of those installations so that we are sustainable in moving the sector forward.

SAPVIA Genergy solar pv installation training - Digitalising Solar Training in Africa - A conversation with Niveshen  Govender, SAPVIA COO
Figure – 2 On going Training on Solar PV Installations ( Image courtesy of SAPVIA)

In 2017, the Association launched a quality mechanism program called PV Green Card. The PV Green Card is fundamentally based on three key principles: one being skill development, so you have suitably skilled work force to undertake the work, the second part being accreditation. So accreditation of the persons who are doing the installation and the companies who are doing the installation. So consumers who required the service had a database to go to. The third part is standardization. So we wanted to standardize the way these installations were done. South Africa at that time did not have standards in place. By the way we still don’t have standards in place to do these installations, and we thought we needed to standardize the practice so that we could know what good installation was and what was not. And the fourth part is the documentation of the installation. We saw a lot of the installations going up but there were no documentation of what components were used, what standards were followed, what principles were  guided and it left consumers in a space that they didn’t understand if they needed to fix something were to go.

pvgreencard weblogo 2 - Digitalising Solar Training in Africa - A conversation with Niveshen  Govender, SAPVIA COO

So we thought documentation of that system very critical. And that’s the PV program in a nut shell. We do have a website: where you can get full information on the program. And just in terms of the achievements to date through the program, over the last two years, we’ve trained over 800 young South Africans to be able to do solar PV installations. We have tested and assessed more than 300 of them with an 80% pass rate of installers and we have I think about 300 companies registered to the program. So the question you asked is why now, right? With the fourth industrial revolution and the internet of things, online training is becoming a thing. It’s becoming more popular, people are appreciating it more. You can do it on your own time; it’s just more convenient for people. Given the covid impact over the last five or six months, extra ordinary circumstances require extra ordinary measures. So I think this has forced us to move quicker than expected on getting this training online.

 RiA (Q6): Okay! Excellent! Question to relate directly to what you’ve said. Moving to digital platform, how would you ensure quality standards that you’ve been delivering so far?

NG (A6): It’s a difficult question. We’ve trained through the program about 24 institutions to offer and deliver this training. Managing the training of each of these training centers is a problematic task on its own. Now moving it online has its own problems and challenges but I think the training is developed in such a way that it is easy to deliver and it’s easy to digest. Right! The training has a theoretical and a practical component. The majority is a theoretical component so the entire theoretical component can be digitized very easily. The part that we struggle with a little bit is the practical component. We do like the installers to feel the components, to have touch of the components and get comfortable with it. So even though we’ve digitized the theoretical part, there is still an opportunity for participants to go into workshop and play around with the demonstration facility. So that has not been taken away. It will be done under strict covid protocols, but we still encourage participants to go in and feel the technology when they’re going through training.

RiA (Q7): Excellent! Excellent! So what has been the industry reception so far?

NG (A7): Yeah! It’s an interesting question, right? So this was the first digital training that we had launched. It was in June. It was piloted with 14 participants to see how the industry would react. I can tell you that I have seen only positive reviews that I have received to date. I have not received any negative reviews on it. And as soon as we do we will share those negative reviews so that we can always better the program to ensure that we are meeting the needs of the industry. So we have seen great response and online training makes skill development more accessible. And it’s something that we’ve been struggling with for a long time, like how do we get these skills to the people who really require these skills. Right? And I think online training allows us to get the training more accessible and I think we are going to see more innovative training solutions. And given the circumstance of covid -19 its pushing people into new business model. It’s pushing training centers, schools, universities into new models of how you teach, of how you train. And I think this is going to allow fresh faces, fresh minds, new dimensions, innovation in the space.

RiA (Q8): Excellent! That’s great! And you’re right. Looking at where we are with covid you know we have to innovate and to carry on the work. The work is still there and still need to be performed. So the last question for you is, you had your first pilot session with 14 people, 14 candidates, and when is the next one?, number one. And two, are they going to be from all over Africa?

NG (A8): Let me answer the easy question. The next steps are planned. I mentioned the website:, there is a tab that says training and assessment. It gives you the full list of upcoming training’s whether they be online training or the in house training’s the workshop training’s. Participants are welcomed to go and there they will see all the dates, we just have a platform to facilitate all the interaction of participants and training centers. So when you go on there and you click on any of those training that you’re interested in you will be diverted directly to the training institution and they will give you the pricing of training, the duration of training and the requirements for training, all the information you will require to undertake that training. So the website is up and running, the dates are updated very frequently, so everyone has access to that.

The Africa’s component is a difficult question. The training was developed for the South African conditions. And as you would understand, every country has their own nuances and conditions that are applicable to their electrical systems, the energy planners, the municipalities, distributors. The energy systems are different. So connecting to those energy systems are different. So the technical components have to be tailored to the country for the training to work. So we are now working with other African Industry Associations to try and move the skills development learning’s that we’ve heard in South Africa to other African countries. We would like to partner with the Associations to be able to localize it for those countries. And I think that’s important to us. We do also have trainers or training centers on our data base that are doing training’s in Africa. So there is Green Academy that we have that has training centers in 7 countries in Africa, and their data is also available on our website.

RiA: Excellent! That’s great! Thank you very much for having a go. I know it wasn’t an easy question bit you have answered that very well. So Niveshen that was a brilliant conversation we’ve heard with you. We’ve learnt a lot. We are very pleased to know about these PV Green Cards program that you’ve launched and also the digital solar training that we believe will clearly shift the skill implementations here in the continent. So thank you very much for doing that. That you also for the fantastic work that SAPVIA is doing with you at the helm of it, managing it or sought of steering the effort, collective effort, because I know that collective is very important for you. All that is left for me to say is that, Thank you very much as Renewables in Africa we are here to support you as well, and if there is anything you know you can count on us. So thank you for today.

NG: Thank you for having me.

RiA: Pleasure!

Click HERE to watch the Podcast Interview


Niveshen Govinder is the COO at South African photovoltaic Association (SAPVIA) which facilitates over 400 companies in South Africa in policy ad-vocation and lobbing government in the renewable energy sector.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here