Solar policy support: A vote catcher or a corner turned?

As an industry installer representative body, Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) is pleased that some political parties have chosen to support renewable energy in a way that will assist consumers to be part of the transition to a renewable economy. If it actually happens, the way it is rolled out is crucial for maintaining a stable solar industry.
We flag a level of caution. In the past government programs, launched with the best of intentions, have ended with chaos for the industry as well as inviting ‘cowboys’ out of the woodwork to make a quick buck.
They have left behind a raft of shoddy installations and thousands of customers without promised warranties and without support. As an industry we are still dealing with this on a day-to-day basis.
It is crucial that the structure of any solar incentive program is well thought out with industry input and rolled out with industry liaison. We don’t want another insulation-type fiasco.
In an effort to avoid some of the mistakes of the past, government has tended to view large companies as the answer, and have mandated large companies to undertake the work.
History has shown that some of the worst ‘foot in the door’ sales tactics, poor quality installation work and poor customer service has come from some of the larger companies, and when the going gets tough they fold, leaving their customers ‘high and dry’ and then ‘phoenix’ as a new company and start over again minus their liabilities. No sign of ASIC.
The approach by government in the past to use large corporations as a preference, has disenfranchised many smaller businesses who are not only providing good advice and doing high quality installations, but are there at a local level to support the customer when needed. They are also employing local people in many parts of regional Australia where jobs are less available.
To ensure that work is undertaken at an appropriate level, all that is needed is accreditation from the Clean Energy Council for design and installation, that they have had the accreditation long enough to have had the necessary field experience, and the customer signs off as having sighted the accreditation card during the installation.
If the incentive scheme involves batteries, some evidence of prior experience should be required as battery installations are a far more complicated addition to a standard solar system connected to the grid.
Last but not least is the timing. If a scheme is rolled out with a future start time rather than an immediate start time, customers will put installations on hold until the scheme is underway. This will cause major cash flow problems for solar businesses, potentially result in employee layoffs and then having to gear up again when the scheme starts.
Another ‘solarcoaster’ all over again. As an industry we need sustainability, not poorly rolled out vote catching schemes.
If governments want to seriously support the solar industry, they need to work hand in glove with the industry to ensure the benefits are not just poling booth benefits.
Brian England is National Chairman of the Solar Energy Industries Association

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