SOLTRAIN 4, Newsletter #3

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on SOLTRAIN

Werner Weiss

At SOLTRAIN's training courses, which were held in the SOLTRAIN partner countries in early 2020, no one would have thought it possible that the COVID-19 global pandemic would lead to a complete lockdown and significant travel restrictions worldwide. Of course, this situation had a significant impact on our work relating to the SOLTRAIN project.

At the monthly online Steering Committee Meetings since March it became clear that we need to convert all training courses and policy workshops planned for 2020 to online formats.

In April we had assumed that we would be able to return to "normal operation" from October, but reality has taught us otherwise. While the situation in Europe has stabilized in July again to some extent, we had to realize that the first COVID-19 wave in southern Africa was just beginning.

That made it clear that we have to convert all training courses and policy workshops to online formats.

The online concept is based on the idea that the participants from the respective countries or region meet physically in a meeting room in compliance with the applicable COVID-19 regulations. The “external” speakers are connected via conferencing software.

This is to ensure that an intensive exchange continues in the countries and a discussion is possible. At the same time, speakers from other countries from southern Africa or from Austria (AEE INTEC) are able to be engaged remotely.

In this format, seven policy workshops for the implementation of the Solar Thermal Roadmaps, as well as four technical “Train the Trainer” courses and six private and public-sector information workshops will be held.

The Specialized Course will be held this year in November on the main topic: “Solar thermal systems for apartment buildings, hotels and hospitals”, and we will publish the exact dates in good time.

We are aware that this new format is an organizational challenge for everyone involved, nevertheless, we are convinced that we can continue to maintain the excellent SOLTRAIN team spirit and we can successfully continue phase 4 of the project by adapting to the new situation.

As some other articles in this newsletter on the demonstration systems, the dual training program and the support program for students show, numerous activities have continued in the past months despite all the COVID-19 restrictions.

Werner Weiss, from AEE INTEC and coordinator of the SOLTRAIN project, is optimistic about the future of SOLTRAIN despite all COVID-19 restrictions.

Solar water heating dissemination workshop in Botswana

Ditiro Setlhaolo

A dissemination workshop on solar water heaters was conducted by the Clean Energy Research Centre at the University of Botswana in conjunction with the Solar Industries Association of Botswana (SIAB). The workshop, which was held in early March, attracted 33 experts and professionals drawn from government departments, tertiary institutions, parastatals and the private sector. 

The opening of the event was done by the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Technology of University of Botswana, Dr O. B. Molwane, with a note of encouragement to all participants to ensure they participated actively and pass the course examination.

Director of the Clean Energy Research Centre and the project leader, Dr Setlhaolo, welcomed all participants and outlined the objectives of the SOLTRAIN project and the benefits of the training towards meeting the objectives of the project. Highlights of the opening ceremony were published on the University of Botswana website.

Speaking during the closing ceremony and awarding of certificates, Botswana's Technical Coordinator of SOLTRAIN, Dr Kevin N. Nwaigwe, commended the participants for the dedication and commitment throughout the 3-day course. A total of 26 participants passed the competency exam, notable among them being Dr Mmule Magama and Ms Gagoangwe Bogopa, who both do not have technical/engineering background but are enthusiastic lovers of solar technology.

In her speech, Dr Ditiro Setlhaolo commended the participants for the time invested in improving their knowledge and skills in the area of solar water heaters. She accorded special mention to participants who came all the way from other cities such as Francistown and stayed throughout the duration of the training. Dr Setlhaolo also thanked the following individuals:

  • Dr Kevin N. Nwaigwe, Mr Okatoseng T.Masoso and Mr John Wilson for the impactful transfer of knowledge
  • Ms Karen Gifford for efforts in mobilizing members of SIAB. 
  • Ms Tawha Peter who served as the secretariat of the course
  • Mr Mike Lethapa who led the solar trailer demonstrations

The best graduating participant, Mr Tumisang Ruda from the Department of Energy, thanked the facilitators and SOLTRAIN for the well-organized training and the depth of teaching on behalf of all participants. He undertook that the acquired knowledge be put to good use for the benefit of Batswana.

Successful participants were awarded competency certificates by Prof Jacek Uziak, a senior professor from the faculty of Engineering and Technology (FET).

Other activities of the course included a tour of an installed solar water heating system at Maru-a-Pula School and a practical demonstration of solar water heating principles using both a thermosyphon system and a pumped system.


Participants of the workshop with their certificates

SOLTRAIN 4 bursaries awarded

Monika Spörk-Dür

SOLTRAIN provides financial support for masters theses or other student theses that deal with topics of solar thermal energy. In July 2020, eight students from five partner countries were awarded bursaries for the first round of bursary applications for SOLTRAIN 4.

A total twelve applications were received and two topics did not meet the tender criteria, resulting in ten applications being evaluated by the steering committee, of which eight projects, which contribute to the overall aims of the SOLTRAIN project, were approved.

Two bursaries each were awarded to students from Lesotho, Botswana and South Africa respectively and one each to a student from Namibia and Mozambique. The bursaries were awarded to two female and six male students.

Broadly, the topics awarded dealt with potential analyses on the transition of domestic hot water technology to solar thermal systems, as well as more technology-oriented topics. Three student projects focus on potential analysis for the health sector (Namibia, Lesotho and Botswana respectively).  One project analyses the domestic hot water technology transition to solar thermal systems and connected barriers and opportunities in Maputo, Mozambique and one project analyses the possibilities of using solar thermal energy in the industrial sector in Lesotho.

The technology-oriented topics deal with the techno-economic assessment of a solar thermal industrial-scale system using compound parabolic collectors in South Africa, the numerical and experimental investigation of the thermal performance of a solar absorber and nocturnal radiator (SAANR) hybrid panel for climatic conditions of Gaborone, Botswana and the development of a pilot-scale solar thermal dryer for the treatment of faecal sludge from on-site sanitation facilities.

The SOLTRAIN bursaries are meant to encourage students to work on solar thermal topics, to build up knowledge and capacity in the partner countries, to promote solar thermal topics within the scientific community in the SOLTRAIN-participating countries and to strengthen the regional co-operation on solar thermal issues. This is also important to further improve the visibility of SOLTRAIN and to foster the implementation of the Roadmap Implementation Plans that were defined for each partner country in the area of comprehensive stakeholder workshops in former phases of the SOLTRAIN project.

During the course of the SOLTRAIN 4 project, there will be a second application round for bursaries launched in 2021.

Two of the successful SOLTRAIN bursary applicants Celia Artur (left) and Malillane Lillane (right)

SOLTRAIN supports the installation of another 100 solar thermal demonstration systems

Werner Weiss

The support of the installation of solar thermal demonstration systems in so called “Flag-ship districts” continues in Phase IV, with the goal to co-fund the installation of another 100 solar water heating systems for different applications.

The “Flagship Districts” were established in all six partner countries in the previous phases of the project after consultation with policy, local authorities, training and research institutions, industry and NGOs. The aim of “Flagship Districts” is to have several systems for different applications at different eligible institutions installed relatively close together (small region). This also helps to increase the visibility and impact of the SOLTRAIN demonstration systems.

As in the previous phases, it is intended to motivate all institutions, direct project partners as well as local authorities and the solar thermal companies that were trained, to propose institutions for the installation of solar thermal systems.

If possible, applications for demonstration systems shall have a special focus on institutions that support women and marginalised groups. Social institutions, hospitals, clinics, communities as well as small enterprises are also eligible to directly apply for co-funded demonstration systems.

The subsidy from SOLTRAIN is limited to a maximum of 50% of the overall system cost for the beneficiary.

By end of August 2020, applications for a total of 31 systems had been received. 29 of these have already been approved by the Steering Committee. The majority of the approved plants are under construction or already in operation.

Further applications for support for the installation of solar thermal demonstration systems can be submitted directly to all project partners. The project partners will provide a special application form for this purpose.

The solar water heating systems for the apartment houses in Melville Place in Cape Town are just some of the many systems installed within the scope of SOLTRAIN

Local Zimbabwean SMME exemplifies efficacy of SOLTRAIN's practical and theoretical training interventions

Samson Mhlanga

One of the key aims of the SOLTRAIN programme is to increase technical skills through training and local skills transfer, and Sunnex, a Zimbabwean solar SMME, presents a good example of some of SOLTRAIN's success in this regard.

Sunnex was established in 2000 under the directorship of Simba Rupiya and has been involved in the installation of solar geysers at most of the demonstration SOLTRAIN systems in Harare since the inception of the SOLTRAIN project in 2009. Simba Rupiya's experience in solar thermal systems dates back to 1993 when he worked for Domestic Solar Heating under the mentorship of local solar stalwart and one of the early SOLTRAIN pioneers, Dr Antony Schwarzlmueller.

A youthful addition to the company came recently with the formal engagement of 28-year-old David Rupiya in mid-2019 who, shortly after his engagement, embarked on his first solar thermal-theory training course in early 2020 when he attended the SOLTRAIN Train-the-Trainer course held at the Harare Institute of Technology, facilitated by Rudolf Moschik, Samson Mhlanga and Blessed Sarema.

This was then followed by a period of SOLTRAIN's “Dual Training for Artisans” which includes theoretical training under the leadership of AEE INTEC in co-operation with local partners and vocational training centres as well as hands-on courses in combination with a 3-6 month internship at a solar thermal company aimed at participants that had attended training courses in previous phases of SOLTRAIN. The cost of the internship is shared by SOLTRAIN and the solar thermal companies.

During the first half of 2020, Sunnex installed about 75m2 of solar thermal collector area, much of which was undertaken during the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to these new installations, David was involved in a lot of repair work on header tanks on old installations done by other companies dating back to 2010.

Sunnex is also in the process of applying for more demonstration systems under the SOLTRAIN project and is looking forward to a bright future in the local solar industry and David will remain employed by the company after the SOLTRAIN funded dual training period.

David at work on one of his installations (left) and David receiving his certificate after training from Rudi Moschik from AEE INTEC (right)

Solar drying innovations in Lesotho

Puleng Mosothoane

Solar dryers have been taken to new level in Lesotho as Solarsoft introduces dryers that are operated by both solar thermal heat and electricity.

Customers have shown great interest in Solarsoft's range of solar dryers which come in different sizes.

Fruit drying in Lesotho is an effective preservation strategy, ensuring that dried fruit is available out of season, and several deliveries of all types of the Solarsoft dryers have been made to satisfied customers.

Solarsoft is a legal trademark of Lesotho SOLTRAIN partner, the Bethal Business and Community Development Center, and is protected by law in Lesotho and South Africa. Solarsoft provides a full-service solar energy sales and service outlet in the town of Mohales Hoek, Lesotho.

Solarsoft's solar dryers

SOLTRAIN Hosts Zimbabwe’s first solar heat policy workshop

Samson Mhlanga and Blessed Sarema

Zimbabwe held its first-ever solar heat policy workshop in early February in Harare. The workshop was hosted by SOLTRAIN Zimbabwe and was held against the backdrop of the launch of the solar thermal roadmap and implementation plan in November 2018 and subsequent endorsement by the government in July 2019. It was aimed at informing policymakers on the future plans for the SOLTRAIN project and mapping the way forward in terms of implementation of solar heating systems guided by the national targets and the roadmap.

The guest of honour at the event was the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Energy and Power Development, Dr Eng Gloria Magombo, who reiterated the government’s commitment towards harnessing solar heat as an alternative source of energy for the country. She said that there was no doubt that solar heat has a role to play in easing the energy crisis the country is facing through solar water heating, industrial process heating, solar drying and solar cooling where appropriate.

The workshop brought together various players in the solar thermal industry and unpacked the Solar Thermal Roadmap and implementation plan for the country. The vision for the roadmap is to achieve 0.1 m2 per capita collector area by 2030, up from current levels of around 0.003m2 per capita. In other words, the country will move to a situation where on average, 3 families share a solar geyser from the current level of where 100 families share a single solar geyser.

At the workshop, Mr Werner Weiss took the opportunity to outline the continuation of SOLTRAIN into Phase 4. He gave a brief of the milestones that the previous phases of SOLTRAIN had achieved in the different partner countries and also outlined the various work packages contained in Phase 4.

The delegates were briefed on the role of the SADC Centre of Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (SACREEE) in terms of supporting governments in the operationalisation of the Roadmaps by Mr Kuda Ndhlukula, the Executive Director of SACREEE. Thereafter, the standards for solar heating installations and the accompanying Statutory Instrument (SI 235 of 2019) were also unpacked,  demonstrating the government’s readiness to embrace solar heating as an alternative.

The workshop concluded that there was a need to transform the roadmap into a bankable document that would see solar thermal projects rolled out to meet the target for 2030. A steering committee was constituted to oversee the process of converting the Roadmap into a bankable project proposal. The subcommittee consisted of officials from the Ministry of Energy and Power Development, Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority, SOLTRAIN Zimbabwe, other Government Departments and the Private Sector. The steering committee has already set the ball rolling with online meetings amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Delegates at the solar heat policy workshop in Harare

Lesotho experience with dual training

Puleng Mosothoane

Solarsoft, the commercial entity of Lesotho SOLTRAIN partner, the Bethal Business and Community Development Center (BBCDC), recently partook in SOLTRAIN's “Dual Training for Artisans” programme which includes theoretical training under the leadership of AEE INTEC, as well as hands-on courses in combination with a 3-6 month internship. The cost of the internship is shared by SOLTRAIN and the local solar thermal companies.

Khotsofalang Sehlabo was given the opportunity to do his internship at Solarsoft under the programme for the first half of 2020, during which time he gained practical experience in the installation of both high and low pressure solar thermal systems for individual households in Quthing, Mohale's Hoek,  Mafeteng, Maseru, Thaba Tseka and Berea. He also received some hands-on experience in the installation of solar PV.

The training has strengthened Khotsofalang's prospects in the solar industry and he is a good potential candidate to represent Solarsoft in plans to extend their operation to Qacha's Nek in the mountainside area of Lesotho.

Khotsofalang shows off two of his installations

SACREEE joins the IEA Solar Heating and Cooling Technology Collaboration Programme

Kuda Ndhlukula

SOLTRAIN regional partner, SADC Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (SACREEE), has joined the IEA Solar Heating and Cooling Technology Collaboration Programme (SHC TCP). The SHC TCP, established in 1977, is one of the first programmes of the IEA to promote the use of all aspects of solar thermal energy.

The SHC TCP's work is unique in that it is accomplished through the international collaborative effort of experts from member countries. Accelerating the pace of technology development, promoting standardization, enhancing national research and development programmes, permitting national specialization as well as saving time and money are some of the benefits of collaboration.

Current topics of interest under the SHC TCP include PV-Thermal, Integrated Solutions for Daylight and Electric Lighting, Solar Energy in Industrial Water and Wastewater Management, and Solar Process Heat.

The relationship between SACREEE, as regional SOLTRAIN partner, and the SHC TCP will serve to strengthen the institutional ecosystem relating to solar thermal energy and bodes well for the advocacy, support and rollout of solar thermal energy in the region.

SOLTRAIN Zimbabwe exhibits at the Renewable Energy and Biofuels Policies launch

Samson Mhlanga

Just prior to restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, SOLTRAIN Zimbabwe managed to exhibit at the launch of the Renewable Energy and Biofuels Policies Launch at the Harare International Conference Centre under the theme “Unlocking Renewable Energy Potential in Zimbabwe”.

The Government of Zimbabwe launched the two policies simultaneously in a bid to address energy access and access to cleaner energy. The Biofuels Policy framework is meant to address the production and use of biofuels in the transport sector while the Renewable Energy Policy is meant to regulate the use of other renewable energy sources like solar, hydro, wind, geothermal, biomass in a bid to decarbonise the energy sector.

As a stakeholder in the Zimbabwe Energy Sector, The SOLTRAIN team in Zimbabwe welcomed the launch of the Renewable Energy Policy as it acknowledges the important role played by solar heat in the energy mix. The Renewable Energy Policy supports the Solar Thermal Roadmap and Implementation Plan with a number of provisions.

Firstly, it emphasises the baseline installation of the 250 000 solar water heating systems used as the foundation for the roadmap. Secondly, it addresses the issue of incentives for promoting investment in renewable energy will be key in the transformation of the roadmap into bankable project proposals to attract funding for the roll-out of programs.

This is discussed further in the third provision of the policy that addresses procurement mechanisms for renewable energy. The other important aspect that the Renewable Energy Policy seeks to address includes the minimisation of risks in Renewable Energy projects by ensuring minimum approval times and licensing to enable quick turnaround times for projects.

The Renewable Energy Policy is in keeping with the SOLTRAIN objectives in terms of encouraging participation and empowerment of locals in the renewable energy market as it advocates for the promotion of local manufacturing of renewable energy technologies as well as skills development and technology transfer.

After the launch of the policies, delegates took time to visit the SOLTRAIN Mobile Training Unit that was being exhibited and got the chance to experience solar thermal renewable energy first hand.

Eng H Chongosho (extreme left), with Eng S Mhlanga (third from right), delegates and UZ students helping during the exhibition at the launch

Train the Trainers Workshop at Harare Institute of Technology

Samson Mhlanga and Blessed Sarema

The National University of Science and Technology (NUST), country partner in the SOLTRAIN 4 project in cooperation with AEE Intec, continued to support solar thermal uptake by conducting a Train-the-Trainer workshop at the Harare Institute of Technology in early February.

Among those trained were technicians, installers and artisans from the following organisations:

  • Sunnex
  • Impact Solar
  • Chinhoyi University of Technology (CUT),
  • Harare Institute of Technology (HIT)
  • Nhjizana investment
  • Lower Nooks Enterprises P/L
  • Standards Association of Zimbabwe (SAZ)
  • Hanseal Plumbering
  • University of Zimbabwe (UZ)
  • Ministry of Energy and Power Development
  • Msasa Industrial Training Centre

There were three female and thirteen male participants, comprising a total of sixteen altogether. The facilitators for the training were Rudi Moschoeck (AEE Intec, Austria), Samson Mhlanga (NUST) and Blessed Sarema (NUST).

The training session focused on the following topics:

  • Solar Heat Worldwide, an overview of the worldwide developments and applications
  • The solar resource
  • An overview of solar thermal collectors,
  • Solar thermal system designs for pumped and thermosyphon to water systems,
  • Performance of solar collectors
  • Collector field hydraulics
  • Flow conditions and pressure drop in parallel and serial collector connections,
  • Pumped solar thermal systems
  • System configuration
  • Components
  • Monitoring and energy savings based on systems monitored in SOLTRAIN 3
  • Simulation software
  • An introduction into Retscreen and TSOL

The training also included a 'how-to' on preparing an application for demonstration systems which are financially supported up to 50% by the SOLTRAIN project in two flagship districts within a 50km radius of Harare and Bulawayo, as well as a session where local companies could showcase their installations.

The training was concluded with a visit to the solar pumped system at the Harare Institute of Technology, and a visit to the solar trailer demonstrating a thermosyphon and pumped system at the University of Zimbabwe.

Delegates in front of the solar pumped system at the Harare Institute of Technology


The Southern African Solar Thermal Training & Demonstration Initiative is a regional initiative for capacity building & demonstration of solar thermal systems in the SADC region. It is funded by the Austrian Development Agency & co- funded by the Opec Fund for International Development. Please visit SOLTRAIN on the web at for more about the programme.


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