Interview: Three million modules covered by new validation scheme

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Whats the latest development with the Solar Panel Validation scheme?

We’re excited to announce that the Solar Panel Validation Initiative is transitioning to full-scale roll out across the wider Australian solar industry. Over the past two years, in partnership with industry, we have co-designed and implemented this initiative across the supply chain to protect the integrity of industry and the Small Scale Renewable Energy Scheme.

It was announced yesterday which modules were covered. But with only 10 manufacturers covered, is it enough?

The ten manufacturers cover more than half the six million solar panels expected to be installed on Australian rooftops this year. We are expecting a big uptake from industry, firstly because of demand from consumers seeking confirmation they have bought genuine panels. Secondly, applications to create small-scale technology certificates submitted with validated solar panels are likely to be processed more quickly – typically within 48 hours, and over time we expect this will reduce even further.

But then how serious is the problem of unapproved panels being installed on Australian homes and businesses in 2018?

We believe the vast majority of panels sold are genuine. We’ve found a relatively small number of unapproved panels in cases we’ve investigated. These include panels that were not authorized for sale by the manufacturer in Australia and may not meet Australian standards or be covered by a performance warranty.  We have also identified some panels that have been relabelled after entering the country to appear as panels on the CEC approved list, where in fact they are not.

Can you put a capacity figure on it?

It’s not possible to put a capacity on these products, however it is important to note that we haven’t identified any safety issues from the panels we have inspected.  For the integrity and sustainability of the solar industry, it’s important for all operators be on a level playing field, and for consumers to get the performance, longevity and warranty that they have been offered. Any systems with unapproved panels are ineligible for government incentives.

The awareness of solar panel validation across the solar industry deters those seeking to undermine legitimate business, Australian consumers and our Commonwealth scheme.

How does the situation compare to the times of the previous rooftop boom in 2012?

We’ve been running the Small Scale Renewable Energy Scheme since April 2012. We now have highly sophisticated systems and approaches to detect non-compliance that were not available to the agency during the 2012 solar boom, so we cannot compare the situation today to then.

What are the inspection and enforcement tools and methods that you currently use?

We have a comprehensive suite of compliance tools to detect non-compliance under the Small-scale Renewable energy Scheme.  These include automated data exchange with the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) to determine the likelihood that a system is installed, sophisticated checks by our REC Registry, a capability and competency program for Registered Agents, an annual PV inspections program and a strong and active compliance program.

With the addition of the full scale roll out of the Solar Panel Validation Initiative, we now have a full suite of compliance tools to manage the range of non-compliance activities seen across the industry.

Validating solar panels prior to installation also has a range of compliance checks in addition to confirming panel authenticity. This includes the ability to lock in the geo-coordinates of a system, time stamped photos, systems logs and additional security measures to confirm installers CEC accreditation.

On top of this, we’ll be applying extra scrutiny to those who are not participating in solar panel validation. These extra levels of compliance checks will delay the processing and approval of applications to create small-scale technology certificates.

When there are complaints from end customers about failed, faulty, and faked modules, is there a process do you get involved?

Consumers with concerns about failed or faulty panels should firstly contact their solar retailer. If the retailer cannot be contacted, a CEC accredited installer should be engaged to inspect the solar system. Solar panels are electrical products and should only be inspected by a licensed electrician. Homeowners shouldn’t attempt to inspect the system themselves.

If unapproved panels are found, state consumer and fair trading bodies and electrical authorities should be contacted. You should also contact us if you suspect there has been fraud under the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme. We take all reports of fraud and non-compliance seriously and consider the actions necessary to maintain the integrity of the market.

The Clean Energy Regulator’s compliance monitoring is focussed on ensuring the integrity of small-scale technology certificates claimsA solar system is not eligible for Commonwealth incentives if it does not meet state and territory electrical safety laws.

Our role relates to the integrity of certificate claims under the scheme. This has collateral benefits for consumers in relation to component quality and installer accreditation; however, we do not have explicit consumer protection powers. Where we can, we work to seek remediation for the customer in dealing with non-compliance in the scheme.

Michelle Guthrie is speaking at the first pv magazine Quality Roundtable today at the All Energy Australia trade show. Register here