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Following its pilot phase last year, the Clean Energy Regulator (CER) and the solar industry have come together to roll out a co-designed Solar Panel Validation Initiative to address the installation of unapproved solar panels under the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES).
Under the program, the validation of solar panels is done through smart phone apps, which scan serial numbers and check against a database to ensure the panels are approved. This provides consumers with evidence they are getting a genuine brand that meets Australian standards and comes with the stated warranty.
“We found some solar panels were not meeting the requirements for Commonwealth incentives under the SRES. We found an innovative solution that aligned with consumer, industry and government interests,” CER Executive General Manager Mark Williamson, adding that the benefit of this approach is the industry can self-regulate.
As a taxpayer-funded incentives for sub-100kW, the SRES program has helped Australia approach the landmark of two million solar PV rooftop systems installed. This year alone is expected to see more than 200,000 sub-100 kW systems installed.
However, while it played a pivotal role in driving installations, and gained a wide popularity with Australian households looking to cope with soaring electricity prices, the SRES scheme was identified by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) as putting upward pressure on electricity bills.
Earlier this year, the ACCC recommended to prematurely wind down or abolish the SRES scheme by 2021, instead of 2030, as envisaged by the current policy, sending a shockwave through Australia’s solar industry and community.
There has been some debate as to whether the SRES, which is paid on the the capacity of the PV system rather than power output – kWp rather than kWh – incentivized volume rather than quality of PV systems. Others counter that through accreditation for the program, and programs such as the Solar Validation Program, as an important tool in maintaining component quality.
Since the substandard installations are acting as a tailwind to the movement to scrap the SRES, the Solar Panel Initiative will be instrumental in strengthening the integrity of industry and the scheme, and protecting consumers by making the identification of unapproved panels easier.
Now, the Australian solar industry can start using solar panel validation for the following manufacturers: Canadian Solar, Hanwha Q Cells, Jinko Solar, LG Electronics, Opal Solar, ReneSola, Risen Energy, Trina Solar, Winaico, and Yingli Solar.
According to the CER, these manufacturers cover more than half the six million solar panels expected to be installed on Australian rooftops this year.
The Initiative has the support of industry and consumer bodies including the Clean Energy Council, Smart Energy Council and Choice, which have welcomed the scheme moving from pilot to full-scale roll out.
“This is a fantastic example of a partnership between the industry and government to make sure that consumers are protected. It is also about protecting the majority of legitimate businesses from those who are trying to undermine the quality of the system for their own gain,” said Kane Thornton, Chief Executive of the Clean Energy Council.
“This Solar Panel Validation Initiative is where we can lift the bar and improve the integrity of the solar industry, ultimately delivering better outcomes for consumers,” said John Grimes, Chief Executive Officer of the Smart Energy Council.