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Why is the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme important to the Australian solar industry?

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's recent recommendation to abolish the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES) overlooks some of the key reasons why the scheme is so important to the Australian solar industry. This article takes a closer look at some of those reasons and outlines why abolishing the SRES would be detrimental to solar in Australia.

Why is the Clean Energy Council standing firm against changes to the SRES?

The CEC has sent a strong message to our politicians that we will not accept any proposals to abolish or change the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES).

The solar industry is regulated through an accreditation scheme that is linked to the SRES through legislation. The accreditation scheme has been instrumental in maintaining high safety and quality standards during a decade of massive growth.

Rooftop solar is also one of the few direct ways that households and businesses can reduce their power bills.

The SRES encourages the installation of small-scale renewable energy systems by providing small-scale technology certificates (STCs) to the consumer when the system is installed. This modest support – which continues to reduce every year – has encouraged the installation of rooftop solar power on almost two million homes.

How is the SRES linked to safety?

For a small-scale solar PV system to be eligible for STCs, it must be designed and installed by a CEC Accredited Installer.

Australia does not have a national authority, department or agency responsible for electrical safety. In the absence of a national electrical safety framework, the SRES and CEC Accreditation have been instrumental in ensuring high levels of safety in Australia’s solar industry.

The tragedy of the ‘pink batts’ program is a poignant reminder of the price that people can pay when politicians overlook the importance of regulating for safety.

Who has suggested the abolition of the SRES?

The final report of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) enquiry into electricity prices recommended prematurely ending support for rooftop solar.

Is the SRES already being wound down?

Yes. The value of STCs decreases every year. At the end of 2018, the value of STCs will fall by approximately 8 per cent. This will continue to scale down each year until the scheme ends in 2030.

How much is the SRES worth to consumers?

The SRES covers about $2000 to $3000 for a 5 kW system, which is approximately 30 per cent of a system’s total cost.

Are there any particular safety risks relating to solar systems?

Yes. Except for solar, all electricity cables in a house are protected by circuit breakers and safety switches. These are designed to trip before damage is done to life or property. With solar cables, a fault will remain for as long as the sun is out. Good installation practices are the safety net for solar in Australia.

Can we rely on state and territory regulations to ensure solar systems are safe?

No. There is no regulatory requirement for electricians to hold any extra qualifications for solar. The SRES requires solar installers to prove their competence before being eligible to claim STCs.

What does the CEC’s installer accreditation scheme do?

Accreditation with the CEC means that competent people are installing solar. Before obtaining accreditation, all solar installers are required to complete solar training units through a registered training organisation, prove their competence to install solar PV and demonstrate that they are up-to-date with all relevant Australian Standards.

All solar systems registered with the SRES are subject to national inspections carried out by the Clean Energy Regulator. Based on these inspections, the CEC is able to issue demerit points, suspend or cancel the accreditation of installers whose work is non-compliant.

CEC guidelines change far more quickly than Australian Standards, meaning that the CEC is able to react to safety concerns as they arise.

What does the CEC product accreditation scheme do?

To have a solar panel or inverter included on the CEC’s Approved Products list, manufacturers/importers are obliged to:

  • prove compliance with relevant Australian and international standards
  • maintain a publically available website providing all required customer documentation
  • have warranty documentation which meets the requirements of Australian consumer law
  • honour warranty obligations
  • maintain a list of importers operating in Australia
  • clearly label the country of manufacture
  • maintain a record of serial numbers for PV panels supplied to the Australian market
  • be subjected to the CEC’s testing program, whereby a selected product is purchased by a ‘mystery shopper’ and tested at an independent testing laboratory.

If a product is removed from the CEC’s Approved Products list, it is no longer eligible for government incentives, which makes it unable to compete on price with better-quality products. Without STCs, non-compliant products would be able to compete with compliant ones.

The SRES has allowed the CEC to quickly address quality concerns and remove a number of lower-quality products from the Australian market. This has helped to ensure that products being sold in Australia are living up to marketing claims and meeting relevant safety standards.