Catching the Cowboys - What needs to be done by Terry Skee, commercial director of Cleaner Air Solutions - Admiral PR Admiral PR

Catching the Cowboys – What needs to be done by Terry Skee, commercial director of Cleaner Air Solutions

The UK solar industry is booming and is set to expand even more in the coming years. With the cost of energy continuing to rise, domestic and commercial users are looking at alternative forms of savings, generating energy themselves, and with Government incentives enabling owners to earn money by feeding their electricity back into the national grid, renewable energy technologies are proving to be a popular choice.

Whilst this growth spurt is hugely welcomed by the solar industry, there is growing concern around the policing of the industry itself. Recent reports from the national media highlighting ‘cowboy’ tradesmen cashing in on the solar industry prove that action needs to be taken before the reputation of the industry is seriously tarnished.

What’s already in place? The Microgeneration Certification Scheme is an internationally recognised quality assurance scheme which demonstrates to customers that a company is committed to meeting rigorous and tested standards. To become an MCS installation company installers have to be a member of the REAL Assurance Scheme or an equivalent Office of Fair Trading (OFT) approved consumer code scheme, costing more money. Whilst this is followed and adhered to by the genuine quality companies, it can be circumvented – how?

Essentially any ‘cowboy’ can simply pay the fee and become MCS accredited. They can even pay a company to ‘handhold’ them through the process and ensure that their documents are filled in correctly and meeting the standard to gain certification. Even after they receive certification, the installer can decide on what installation they want MCS to inspect and will obviously pick their best job.

To be eligible for Feed-in Tariffs (FiTs), the installation job must be MCS certified. This does not necessarily mean that the solar PV installer has to have an MCS certificate. They could do all the installation work, securing it onto the roof, etc, non-certified but could have an electrician who is MCS certified do the final connections, therefore technically making it safe and eligible for FiTs.
All of this can be carried out legitimately under the current MCS rules and because of the lack of legislative authority within the solar industry, activity like this will continue to tarnish the industries reputation. In the meantime, reputable businesses, including Cleaner Air Solutions, that have vast industry experience in installing and maintaining solar PV systems, as well as a catalogue of satisfied customers, risk being tarred with the same brush.

There are disciplinary procedures within the MCS contract but are these put into practise and are they harsh enough? Probably not, independents are largely self-policed. How can MCS show impartiality if money is exchanging hands?

What the solar industry needs is a similar body as the Financial Services Authority (FSA) where experts and experience industry leaders provide a professional forum to share ideas and best practise and decide on disciplinary action. Not only would this provide the quality assurance system that is necessary but a legal infrastructure would help reduce the number of potential ‘cowboys’ out there.

A system is needed to provide transparency not only within the industry but for the consumers who are being caught out by the rogue traders.

The solar PV market is a lucrative and rapidly expanding sector, and the financial gains are such that people from many different disciplines are trying to move into the market. Consumers and businesses should be aware of the limitations of the MCS accreditation and ensure they further research the company’s background and experience, as well as how in-depth the accreditation is.

If this was put into practise, the following questions need to be asked: who pays for it, who will operate it and what powers would it have to do what? A benchmark needs to be established and used by the industry but this will need the Government’s support.

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