Ombudsman for solar water heating industry

With the appointment of an ombudsman, Colin Bain, one of the country’s fastest growing ‘green’ industries has taken a huge step forward in ensuring it delivers on consumer expectations while meeting stringent quality standards.

Bain, who represents the Sustainable Energy Society of Southern Africa’s Solar Water Heating division offices (SESSA SWH), is responsibility for investigating complaints against companies operating in the solar water heating sector as well as consumers.

SESSA SWH is a non-profit organisation dedicated to the creation and continued growth of an authoritative renewable energy hub. With about 500 solar water heating divisional members nation-wide, it strives to enhance and improve the growth of the renewable energy sector in Southern Africa, and entice sound investment opportunities for the benefit of all South Africans and the environment.

SESSA also works closely with Eskom to execute its rebate programme and all SESSA members are officially accredited to sign up end-users for rebates. In addition to other requirements, their equipment also needs to be SABS approved.

According to Bain, while his major role will be to mediate and arbitrate for the successful resolution of customer complaints, he intends spending as much time as possible assisting members interpret and understand their responsibilities in terms of SESSA SWH’s code of conduct, details of which are on

“SESSA SWH’s formal and documented code of conduct is intended to regulate the interactions of the various industry players with their customers, particularly in terms of Clause 1 of 16. This states that members shall enhance the honour, integrity and dignity of the solar industry and the SESSA SWH by maintaining high personal and business standards at all times,” he said.

“As Ombudsman, my role will be to ensure this code of conduct is strictly applied by the various parties involved with the solar water heating industry and, when difficulties or complaints arise, assist the parties find common ground. In that way, the Ombudsman function will contribute to ensuring the industry provides an acceptable service to its customers.

“This will entail verbal and documented communication with any complainant, ensuring that complaints are received in writing, records are maintained of all communications, and the resulting outcome is communicated to all parties involved.

“In addition, when the interaction results in a decision or ‘learning’ that could benefit the entire membership, this information is anonymously shared with all members in a bid to boost continuous industry improvement.”

Bain will also try and assist consumers who have complaints against non-SESSA members: “Often, the complaints we received are related to non-SESSA members. When this occurs, the Ombudsman attempts to assist these consumers and, in doing so, improves the non-members’ understanding of the many legislative requirements of the industry. Of course, the Ombudsman will try to convert the supplier into a SESSA member so as to be able to further assist in the future.”

Added SESSA SWH ambassador, Irvan Damon: “An ombudsman is usually the last resort to resolve a conflict between individuals and large establishments, and SESSA SWH is proud to have this method of recourse to its broad range of services.

“The process is already proving its worth. Last year, one of our members was suspended following complaints about service delivery. The ombudsman consulted with the complainants, worked through their problems with the suspended member and advised the company how it could best rectify the situation.

“The company embraced these suggestions and made good on the installations. The ombudsman confirmed the customers were satisfied, inspected the processes the suspended member had put in place to minimise future complaints, and recommended to the Appeal Committee that the suspension be lifted.

“I believe this resolution to be a win-win-win situation for all concerned: the customers received the service and relevant product, the supplier learnt valuable lessons and has changed its way of operating to provide customers with a better service going forward; and the SESSA SWH Code of Conduct was upheld.

In addition to maintaining industry norms and standards, the ombudsman is a platform for celebrating the outstanding work undertaking by SESSA members as well as sharing public compliments of work undertaking by the solar sector.

“Outcomes like these can only benefit the industry and consumers, and assist us in achieving our energy saving goals while maintaining industry norms and standards, to the benefit of all South Africans and the environment,” said Damon.

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