Australian solar retailers and installers may have to spend the summer boning up on strict new rules around the sale and installation of rooftop panels, after a series of recommended reforms to regulations governing the federal small-scale solar rebate were written into law.
In a statement on Monday, the Clean Energy Regulator said the new rules – recommended following the federal government’s “Integrity Review” of the rooftop solar sector – would come into play for the industry starting in April of 2022.
The Integrity Review of the Rooftop Solar PV Sector was commissioned by federal energy minister Angus Taylor in mid-2020, in such a rush that he set a strict timeframe of six to eight weeks. It finally published its findings in September this year.
The 63-page report made 13 recommendations, including giving the CER full responsibility for determining and regulating which retailers, installers and component manufacturers were eligible to participate in the federal Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme – the federal government’s nationwide rooftop solar subsidy that will end in 2030.
Similarly, the CER recommended it should also take over the responsibility for setting the rules for listing key solar PV components – including panels, batteries and inverters – as eligible for Commonwealth entitlements in the form of small-scale technology certificates, or STCs.
As part of this role, it proposed a number of measures to tighten eligibility criteria for accredited installers, including a new obligation for installers to prove they were onsite during the installation and for retailers to vouch for the promises made to customers.
The result of all this was the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment (Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme and Other Measures) Regulations 2021, which was previewed to the industry in draft form last month. And the CER confirmed this week that the new rules would commence in various stages throughout 2022, with the first tranche commencing on April 01.
This first tranche includes the requirement of written statements from all parties involved in the sale and installation of a new rooftop solar system – essentially, retailers and installers – detailing and accounting for its cost, components, installation, as well as its future performance.
On that last point, the written statement from a retailer is – somewhat controversially – required to include estimates of either the expected payback period of the solar system sold to the consumer, or the expected energy or other cost savings it might deliver.
That particular rule is clearly intended to boost accountability for the promises sales people make to customers about rooftop solar savings and performance – and as the CER team noted last month, many retailers are already supplying this information as a matter of course.
Nevertheless, a number of questions and concerns raised around this particular rule – including the difficulties of accurately forecasting certain outcomes with changing inputs, such as tariffs – helped to secure a later implementation date of April, rather than January.
Another key rule change is for installers, who will be required to be on site during the installation, and provide evidence of this, such as as photographic evidence with time and date metadata or geo-location data.
“It is intended that the accredited installer responsible for the installation is on site for the majority of the time that the installation takes place,” the CER said in its draft recommendations.
Ultimately, the new rules are – as the regulator put it this week – meant to improve the integrity and accountability of those businesses and individuals participating in the SRES; a goal that the vast majority of the industry is more than happy to sign up to.
To wade through the amended regulations, click here. To help, the CER has promised to conduct webinars and provide guidance material in the new year to prepare industry for the changes.