Being caught out with non-compliant modules and inverters can mean a serious loss of revenue, writes Clean Energy Council accreditation manager Sandy Atkins.

Imagine this. You quoted on a commercial solar install (about 90kW) and you’ve been awarded the job. While you’re waiting for the connection approval, you receive an email about some solar modules on offer for a really good price. They work out to be a few cents per watt less than you had budgeted for, so you buy them. Terrific – an extra couple of grand in your pocket, right?

Then, for some reason the installation is delayed. When the day finally comes to start the job, all goes well and luckily you get the work done on time and within budget. The customer signs all the STC paperwork and finally pays the invoice. You lodge your paperwork for the STCs, but then it comes back rejected. Why? The modules are no longer on our Approved Products List, and haven’t been on the list for a while. Therefore, the system is not eligible for STCs. In effect this installation has been done at a loss.

We received a call on the CEC accreditation tech support line about a situation very similar to this recently. The company involved missed out on a lot of money and they were obviously anxious to get the module back on the approved list. The problem was, the manufacturer had stopped making that model, the test certificate had expired and it didn’t have all the new required tests on it anyway. The module needed to be re-tested, a new certificate issued, and a new application lodged for it to be re-listed. The cost to do all this could have worked out more expensive than what the STCs were worth.

New products get added to our approved inverter and modules list regularly, but products are also regularly removed. Products do not stay on the CEC Approved Products List indefinitely – modules are listed for two years, and inverters are listed for five years. In addition to the time limit expiring, products also need to have a valid certificate to stay on the list. From time to time certificates may be withdrawn for a range of reasons, like the product stops being made or is certified by a different certifying body – but it means the product must be removed from the CEC list.

As solar is still a relatively new technology, the product standards and requirements are updated from time to time. These changes mean that products that were approved to the old standard may be removed from our list of approved products.

Examples where this has happened recently include the requirement for inverters to meet IEC 62109, and modules needing to be fire tested. These increases in standards requirements increase the safety of the equipment, and we are about to go through the whole process again with both modules and inverters.

From November 1, the CEC will require that all modules on the approved list must be certified to IEC 61730-1 and -2 with the following amendments: IEC 61730-1 Amendment 1:2011 and Amendment 2:2013; IEC 61730-2 Amendment 1:2011.

Don’t let yourself fall into the situation I described. Make sure you know what products you’re buying and that they will still be on the CEC Approved Products List by the time you install it.

If you end up with stock that has been removed from the CEC list, you can’t try and cheat the system by writing a different model number on the STC form to what you’ve physically installed. This is fraud, and something the Clean Energy Regulator takes very seriously. This can have serious consequences for installers who sign off on different model numbers to what was actually installed.

Here are a few tips for how to avoid getting stuck with products you can’t install:

  • When in doubt, ask your wholesaler to send you a photo of the label on the back of the panel. You can then use the model number to check against our approved module list.
  • When checking the Approved Products List, always take note of the expiry date. If you don’t think you’ll install the products before the listing expires, ask your supplier whether they plan on re-listing the product – or don’t buy it.
  • Make sure you read Installer News each month and other important communications from the CEC to stay on top of product changes that may impact stock you’re holding. If you don’t receive these, you can login to the installer area at solaraccreditation.com.au to look at previous editions, or contact us on (03) 9929 4141.