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Should I buy from a non-MCS installer?

Posted by Chris Roberts on 7 October 2014 at 8:55 am

There has been much debate between renewables industry representatives about the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) and whether it is worth the cost and effort. However discussion has been largely focussed on the benefits (or not) to the installer rather than customers. As it’s the customer that matters, lets take a look from customer’s perspective… 

Why do we have MCS? 

The Government established it because people were less familiar with these technologies than conventional alternatives. They can also cost more. So it was thought the reassurance of a quality assurance scheme would give customers more confidence to invest their money. Also, as the scheme would be linked to Government incentives there needed to be a way to protect public funds. 

How does MCS work?  

The scheme sets technical standards and also has a requirement that installers operate a simple quality management system (QMS). Installers have an audit of their QMS and an installation at the outset then each year.  

Why is MCS being criticised? 

It costs companies to join the scheme. It is also argued that, for small companies, the requirement for a QMS is unnecessarily bureaucratic. It is argued that both the direct cost (fees) and indirect cost (maintaining the QMS) are a burden, which increases the cost to the customer over and above the benefit they get. For installation companies that do few installations then the costs of the scheme can be high. Some suggest customers would be better off forgoing the Government incentives for a cheaper system installed by a non-MCS installer. 

The reason for the QMS is that it would be too costly to inspect every installation so the QMS makes sure that every installation follows a controlled process and meets the same high standard. As somebody that runs a small company but has also worked for a very large company (over 1500 employees) I can say from experience it is far easier to run a QMS in a small company. It’s not that much of a burden once the QMS is up and running. In large companies there are a great many more people involved so it can be a challenge making sure they are familiar with the QMS and follow it.  

MCS is also criticised for not doing enough to keep cowboy installers out of the industry. The scheme could certainly do more but things would be a whole lot worse without it. More could be done to raise standards but that would cost more so MCS needs to strike the right balance.  

What if I decide to buy from a non-MCS installer?

It has been suggested you could get an installation completed to the same high standards for less money by using a non-MCS certified installer. You could identify installers you can trust through recommendation and word of mouth.  

Firstly, these technologies are not currently installed in the same numbers as, say, a gas boiler. There are nearly 2 million new boilers installed in the UK each year so it’s easy to find a friend or neighbour who can recommend a company for you. With the renewable technologies you might find that a little harder.  

Secondly, even though the quality of workmanship may look good and products appear of a high quality how can you know for sure? How can you know the installation is working as efficiently as it should be? Unless you’re an engineer familiar with such things then you may well struggle. This is where MCS standards add real value.  

Thirdly, if an installer does few installations of a particular technology, so can’t justify the cost of MCS, will they develop the necessary experience to do the best job?  

It’s not the purpose of this blog to assess the difference in cost (other blogs have done that) but why not get quotations from an MCS certified installer and non-MCS so you can compare them taking into account the Government incentives. The choice is yours but I would personally want the reassurance of dealing with a company who was a member of a quality scheme even if it meant paying a little extra.  

Photo credit: gabriela talarico vai Compfight Cc

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About the author: Chris Roberts is a solar specialist at the Solar Trade Association

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