In the early days of solar, a residential PV system would generally be sold by the same small electrical business that designed the system and installed it. The industry was young and, as far as the Clean Energy Council could figure, it made more sense to concentrate on the design and installation side of things rather than the selling.
The CEC was tied to federal incentives for PV, which stipulated that to be eligible for certificates a system would have to be designed and installed by CEC-accredited organisations.
So long as systems were being designed to meet customers’ needs, what could go wrong?
Then came the rise of high-volume sales companies that would subcontract the installation work. “They just wanted to sell as many panels as they could – they didn’t really care about the design side because they had palmed that responsibility off,” says Clean Energy Council general manager installation integrity Sandy Atkins. “There were some quite bad customer experiences.”
To overcome the problem, the CEC introduced its Approved Solar Retailer code of conduct, which states that any signed contract must reference sight-specific system performance (not just a generic performance estimate) and that systems must be covered by a five-year warranty on all components.
“We’ve set an industry benchmark of a five-year warranty, and that applies to storage as well,” Atkins says. “It’s keeping in line with consumer law.”
Things have changed very fast in the solar industry and Atkins says it’s becoming more the norm now that the retailer – the solar salesperson, as far as the consumer is concerned – is not the installer or designer. It comes down on the retailer to stick to contractual agreements through consumer law to make good on a salesperson’s promises, and that’s where the Approved Solar Retailer code of conduct comes in.
The CEC does background checks to weed out dodgy companies and managers who have a knack for closing shop one day and opening under a different name the next to avoid creditors and distraught customers. “If directors have been involved in that, that’s a reason for not accepting them,” Atkins says of the code, the only solar code authorised by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission.
Around Australia about 4,100 installers are accredited with the CEC, with 760 accredited for battery installation.