MCS strengthens procedures - but will it kill the cowboys?
Posted by Cathy Debenham on 17 November 2014 at 12:10 pm
Knowing that your installer (and the product they are installing) is going to do a good job is always important. In a new industry, with unfamiliar products and taxpayers money available to support it, it's even more important.
This is exactly what the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) was set up to ensure. Its aims are 1) to give the buying public confidence in emerging renewable energy technologies, and 2) to ensure public funds are used to support good quality installations.
All well and good, but is it working? In the six years I've been in the renewables industry there has been a constant rumbling of discontent. When I ask people who are thinking of buying renewable energy what they want from an accreditation scheme they are keen for the quality of work to be checked and audited, for complaints to be dealt with and for protection against cowboy companies.
My impression of MCS has been that its focus is on ensuring a quality management system is in place in each business (this deals mostly with the administration) with only cursory auditing of installations. We know from what readers tell us that some of the certification bodies are less than efficient in dealing with complaints. And there are still solar cowboys operating under MCS accreditation who are getting away with less than quality installations.
It's not only on the consumer side that there are concerns. Installers are also concerned. Solar manufacturer and blogger Stuart Elmes recently asked what has the MCS ever done for us?. He vividly illustrated the unlevel playing field caused because the installers who don't meet the MCS standards are regularly allowed to get away with it.
Straw polls of installers taken at SustainableEnergyUK earlier this year found that (lack of) enforcement is the main problem that installers have with the MCS. However, it also found that if that was sorted out, the majority would support it.
So it's good news that MCS is pulling its socks up and taking action. It has announced an organisational restructuring and four key projects which it hopes to have up and running by the end of March 2016 (hopefully sooner!):
1. Audit and verification
Currently when installers are audited they can pick which installation is visited for checking and verification. MCS has recently been running a pilot to test the idea of doing more random visits to see if there is a case for introducing more. They found that it would worthwhile and so this is expected to be part of the new regime.
2. Certification body requirements
MCS aims to "ensure increased consistency and a robust approach to certification processes and procedures".
3. Alternative dispute resolution
Where complaints are unable to be resolved through the standard procedures, MCS plans to develop and alternative dispute resolution system to protect both installers and consumers. It intends to use a number of independent providers, and is planning a consultation on how it will work.
4. Insurance backed warranty and guarantee
This will cover all installations registered under the scheme to add protection when an installer has gone into administration
Is this enough? I think it's a good start. But unless there is strong enforcement, nothing will change.
Chris Roberts, solar specialist at the Solar Trade Association, agrees. His worries are about the structure of MCS as well as the processes (click here to read in detail). "It's great that we've got audit and verification," he says. "But it's important how those inspections are dealt with by certification bodies. The jury is out. We will wait and see what happens. Its one thing having agreements, but it needs someone behind it to push it and make it happen." Let's hope the new MCS will have the teeth to do just that.
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