CEC gets ruthless on solar panel quality

RoofJuice

RoofJuice
RoofJuice

This week, the rules of the solar game in Australia changed substantially with the publication of an updated list of approved solar panels which saw an incredible 76% of solar brands no longer listed as approved for use in Australia.
This slashes the number of approved solar panel brands available from more than 400 in 2012, to 217, as of this week.Notably, in 2012 409 brands were listed and 310 of those have been removed. However, 118 new brands have been listed during that time, bringing the new total to 217.
Be warned – if you buy, sell, install or use non approved solar modules you will NOT be eligible for any rebates or STC discounts and you are probably placing yourself at huge risk of not being covered by warranties or insurance in the event of a problem.
You can see the full list of removed, non approved brands to avoid here.
You can see the full list of removed, non approved products to avoid here.
Controlling a commodity market isn’t easy and the market for imported solar panels into Australia is no exception. There is a natural and usually healthy tension between the need for competition (to help keep pricing down and consumer choice up) and not leaving the flood-gates open for  swathes of poor quality product.
The Clean Energy Council is the solar industry’s peak industry representative and amongst other things, they have maintained and published the list of solar panels that are approved for use in Australia for many years, and recently made these changes.
Mind blowingly, over the years this list had grown to include more than 400 brands and a staggering 20,000 plus, individually approved products (now 14,527 products). For a long time, the CEC has been grappling with this issue and setting the wheels in motion to lift the bar further and this weeks new list is the evidence that they have not only made a massive step forwards in protecting solar consumers, but also, that Australia should not be seen as an easy target for the world’s cheap solar panels.
This is great news for solar buyers and should go a long way towards avoiding the sad cases of fraudulent behaviour by some solar companies, which we wrote about recently here.
Ante – upped
Now it’s true that part of “cleaning up” the list of approved solar panels was simply about getting rid of old and obsolete products that were simply superseded or re-branded. But equally, some manufacturers just couldn’t meet the grade, some were tested and found to be doing the wrong thing, some have gone bust and some just don’t care about Australia anymore, preferring delisting to an increasingly complicated and expensive process.
But perhaps more importantly, it’s also fantastic to see that the CEC have not only “cleaned up”, but after a more than year long process they have now applied a new set of terms of conditions for solar module approvals in Australia.
These new approval rules enforce a wide range of tougher standards, physical (and anonymous) product testing, invoke the very latest International standards and pay particular attention to validating that manufacturers are shipping genuine products that haven’t “changed their recipe”. They also go deep into consumer territory enforcing warranty and post sales support requirements, serial number registries and a tougher delisting and suspension clause. The ante just got upped.
Now, it’s worth noting that for solar brands that remain on the list they are not mandatorily required to meet these new terms and conditions yet, if they are already approved under the old terms and conditions. However, any new approvals do have to meet them.
The good news is that more than 20% of brands on the new list have volunteered to meet the new terms and conditions even though they weren’t required to and more are working their way through the process.
Now to be fair, there was at least one very good solar brand that I noticed was not approved under the new terms and conditions yet. I called them and asked “Why not?” and the simple answer was they have a new product coming and were simply waiting until that is ready to re-list all their products under the new Terms and Conditions. So there may be a very small number of exceptions where good products are not there quite yet but will be shortly.
The simple good news for solar customers
The simple news for solar consumers is this:
1)Instead of trying to choose from more than 400 brands the full list of now just over 200. Plenty of choice, but much easier.
2)If you are looking for the best of the best, you can now jump straight to an even shorter list of (currently) 37 brands that meet the new, tougher terms and conditions.
Why take the risk? – choose these brands first.
Every solar consumer should think very hard before buying outside this list of the best products that have gone the extra mile to get listed and meet the most rigorous standards for quality and support.
FAQ’s on solar module listing

  1. If a solar panel is on the current CEC list but is not compliant with the new Terms and Conditions is it eligible for STC rebates?
    • YesCompliance with the T&C’s is not currently mandatory.
  2. Is a solar panel that is compliant with the new Terms and Conditions a guarantee of quality?
    • Not absolutely, but it is far more likely to be higher quality. Manufacturers who demonstrate extra compliance are showing a strong commitment and their claims are more rigorously tested.
  3. Is this just a revenue raising exercise by the CEC?
    • No. Australia has become the number one market in the world for cheap, poor quality solar panels and this makes it tougher and more expensive which will ensure only 100% committed and viable brands invest in getting listed.
  4. Is it safe to buy solar panels which aren’t listed?
    • No. You are unlikely to get any warranty or after sales support and STC rebates will not apply. In the event of an issue (eg a fire or building damage) insurers are unlikely to honour claims where non approved products have been used.
  5. Does listing and compliance with the new Terms and Conditions mean the brand is “Tier 1”?
    • No. Tier rankings are not related to this listing or compliance. Consumers should still do their own due diligence and research before choosing a brand. 
  6. Once a product is listed, does this last forever?
    • No. Products can be de-listed or suspended for breaches and new products appear from time to time. Refer to the live listing for the most up to date listing.

You can see the current list of approved solar brands that meet the new Terms and Conditions here.
Remember, the list is dynamic, so if you are reading this in the future, go directly to the live list on the CEC website here.
Lastly, a massive and very well deserved shout out to the CEC for undertaking this huge and difficult task.
Disclosure: Nigel Morris is a currently the Solar Industry Representative on the Clean Energy Council Solar Module Approval Panel. His role is as an advisor to the committee and subject to strict measures to avoid any conflicts of interest. The analysis of listed, de-listed and approved solar panels was conducted independently by Nigel Morris based on historical and current publically available data published on the CEC web site.
Source: RoofJuice. Reproduced with permission.

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