In its review of the rooftop solar sector eligible for Scall-scale Technology Certificates, the Clean Energy Regulator has recommended it be handed the reins so that bad behaviour be stamped out.

Rooftop solar systems are great for the planet, wholesale energy prices and owners’ household budgets but the vast amount of government subsidies that support the adoption of PV have inevitably attracted cowboys. Among the 2.9 million households that have bought solar, a fair few have had a lousy experience.

The Clean Energy Regulator, which oversees the allocation of Small-scale Technology Certificates that count as an instant discount for buyers of residential systems, has had enough.

In its Integrity Review of the Rooftop Solar PV Sector released mid-September it has proposed to take control of the sector.

Installers, retailers and manufacturers should not be afraid to stand behind the work they do, the CER rightly thinks.

Among its 13 recommendations the CER especially wants retailers, the agile and delegating sales engines of the residential solar world, to be made accountable. Before a new solar system is eligible for certificates, it is recommending the retailer put in writing that the system will perform to the quote provided to the buyer and that the system is complete, connected and generating.

That information should then be passed along to consumer protection regulators.

“Unscrupulous practices, including illegal phoenixing activity, will continue to be monitored and actioned,” the CER says in the report.

Enough is enough

The report, which is the result of a request in August 2020 by Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor to review the PV industry, also recommends: a single regulator be empowered to monitor and enforce compliance, including the ability to suspend installers, disqualify retailers and de-list components; increased sampling and testing of solar PV technology, and; tightening eligibility criteria for accredited installers, including an obligation to prove they were onsite.

The CER also wants to see a campaign pitched at consumers that underlines in big black permanent marker the importance of conducting due diligence. And that means not just taking the first quote, a consumer habit picked up by the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment during its battery funding scheme.

The report puts the Clean Energy Council’s installation guidelines under a spotlight. The CEC guidelines, the CER acknowledges, assist with interpretation of Australian Standards, which are called up by state and territory electrical safety laws.

“This has the potential to create some confusion between the CEC’s role and that of state and territory electrical safety regulators,” the CER says.

It would be preferable, the CER says, “to be very clear that firstly state and territory laws must be complied with and consider whether a small number of matters in the CEC guidelines ought to be additional requirements for STC eligibility”.

Two become one?

The CEC relies on the CER to carry out some of its role (such as data analytics and investigative functions). If the CER spots dodgy declarations from CEC-accredited installers, it then has to ask the CEC to discipline the “inappropriate actors”.

GSES director of operations and engineering Chris Martell said the Clean Energy Council has the resources to continue to support accreditation and would be well-suited to advise the CER as it gains new regulatory responsibilities. “Between issuing accreditation, the CPD program, the technical support, enforcement of accreditation standards, etc, the CEC manages a huge amount of work,” Martell said.

Clean Energy Council CEO Kane Thornton said the solar industry has already begun acting on a number of the CER’s recommendations, including the requirement for installers to be on-site during installations, increased training and awareness about the expectations on installers.

“The CEC is committed to continually raising the bar, improving standards and driving the few dodgy players out of the industry,” Thornton said. “This includes advocating for further regulatory reform such as cracking down on phoenixing in the solar industry, creating a national electrical safety body and the introduction of nationally consistent inspection regimes.”

Inspect every system

Finn Peacock says the solution is simple … “the local state or territory electrical safety regulator should inspect every system.”

Finn Peacock puts consumers in touch with solar install companies via his company SolarQuotes, so he absolutely hates it when the industry is tarred by cowboys. “There are problems with the quality of solar installations,” he says, “but it’s no different to your classic bad tradie problem … and I don’t really see why this is being treated any different to any other type of electrical work.”

Any electrician can do bad work, and when they do consumers can go to state or territory electrical safety regulators. Repeat offenders will lose their electrical licences. Simple, Peacock says. Except for the problem that in some jurisdictions retailers do not have to have an electrical contractor’s licence to sell solar.

“Because of the politics of solar, they [the CER] are massively complicating it,” Peacock says. “Go to the root cause and don’t overcomplicate stuff.”

It’s easy to clean up the industry, he says: first, make it a requirement nationwide that you must have an electrical contractor’s licence to sell solar; two, the local state or territory electrical safety regulator should inspect every PV system.

“It’s what they do in Tasmania and they have solved the problem there,” he says.

Set the rules

Recommendations in the report state that the CER will set the rules and framework for an installer accreditation scheme, although it’s not known how it will differ from the CEC’s current scheme.

The CER would then conduct a government process to approve a scheme which allows an organisation to administer the installer accreditation scheme, the CER told EcoGeneration via email, and accreditation of installers would be through that organisation or organisations.

“The CER should have the power to suspend or cancel the accreditation of installers who make false written statements,” it said.