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Does MCS certification deliver the protection consumers expect?

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 22 August 2011 at 9:54 am

What do you think of when you hear that a company has received its sector's accreditation? Call me naive, but I'd assumed that it meant that there was a thorough check on its ability to do the job it is there to do. That it means I'll get a high quality service. That the staff are trained to a certain standard. That a consumer can feel safe using this company.

Silly me. That's not quite how it works for renewable energy. MCS (the Microgeneration Certification Scheme) is the accreditation that all companies installing renewable energy systems up to 50kW must have. Its primary aim is to offer protection to residential consumers, but it does it in a funny sort of way.

Key to the MCS is a quality management scheme. This means that installers need to have a system for everything from taking a message when the phone rings; to how they predict and explain the performance of the system they are proposing; to doing all the paperwork around registering your system for the feed-in tariff.

Now obviously those things are important, and the REAL Assurance Consumer Code, which all MCS accredited installers must sign up to, is highly prescriptive about every step of the process.

But are they as important as being thoroughly skilled at designing and specifying a system correctly, installing it to a high standard, and telling the householder how to get the best out of it? As a consumer, I'd say not.

I can tolerate them being a bit rubbish at passing on messages. If, like a surprising number of companies we've rung recently, they don't answer the phone and don't have an answer machine, that's their loss - they'll miss out on potential jobs. If they do a sub-standard installation, that's a serious problem.

A small business has to have one installation examined to be accredited, and anecdotal evidence indicates that it's not always very thorough. For bigger companies "sampling is appropriate to the size of the company". But, judging by discussion at the the Micropower conference, earlier this year people in the industry don't think it's often enough.

Competency of the workforce (more on this in tomorrow's blog) isn't currently part of MCS, although there is an intention in the Microgeneration Strategy to make it one.The sooner the better I say (rumour has it that it might be November). And let's see more installations examined as a matter of course too. 

While MCS isn't perfect, it does acknowledge that there is room for improvement. The Microgeneration Strategy states: "The MCS will be made more effective, through simplified processes, improved governance and better alignment with existing certification schemes and testing requirements at the European and international level." However, the only one of six action points outlined for its improvement in the Strategy document that addresses my points above is number six: the MCS to incorporate national competencies for microgeneration technologies into the MCS standards (read more tomorrow).

While it could be better, the MCS is definitely better than nothing, and it is vital that you use an MCS accredited installer and product if you want to receive the feed-in tariff or the renewable heat incentive.

So the basic rules of making a good investment apply. Choose your installer carefully. Get at least three quotes. You can search for local installers who have been recommended by previous customers in our database. And while the companies are quoting, make sure you quiz them about their experience, how long they've been in business and what training their installers have. For technology-specific questions to ask, and tips for choosing an installer, check out our information pages.

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Comments

1 comments - read them below or add one

outsidewrecker4

outsidewrecker4Comment left on: 22 August 2011 at 7:51 pm

As a sole trader MCS member said to me recently; "they ensure I hold a board meeting regularly but don't concern themselves with the competence of my installations."

The MCS / REAL are layers of bureaucracy that are symptomatic of a tick box culture and offer consumers little or no guarantee that their installation will meet specification and payback as forecast.  The recent "Which" survey  showed widespread miss selling and REAL are currently investigating 100 complaints.  It is evident this is not providing consumer protection.

It is also widely ignored by many established M&E contractors because it is seen as a costly exercise  in duplicated accreditation.  What's more as a controlled service you also have to comply with Building Regs, so you need a 3rd requirement of a Competent Person Scheme.

In conclusion you have to be a member of 3 organisations with their fees to fit a solar thermal panel. Not exactly efficient. 

It would be better if consumers recognised that there is no such thing as a risk free investment  and that they need to do a bit of research into their installer.  If it sounds to good to be true it probably is.

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