Solar installers concerned with ‘complex, costly, and bureaucratic’ MCS assessment proposal

Over 200 solar companies have written to the administrators of the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) to voice concerns over proposals to increase the paperwork, introduce oral assessments and enforce more training requirements.

The appointed administrator of the MCS scheme, Germserv, is currently consulting on the ‘Competence Criteria’ necessary for installers to become accredited. The consultation sets out plans for every solar PV installation company to have accredited staff members fulfilling between seven and ten different roles. For each of those roles, companies will have to demonstrate ‘competence’ by training course attendance or demonstrating a specified number of years’ experience in the role.

The 200 solar companies have joined together to stop what they believe is an unnecessary, unworkable and overly bureaucratic overhaul of the scheme. The companies believe that instead of focusing on paperwork, the scheme should be turning its attention to inspecting the level of workmanship shown by installers.

"Gemserv's own research showed that holding sheaves of certificates from training courses, or having many years experience, were not good indicators of competence" explains Andy Rankin, of Cambridge-based solar wholesaler Midsummer Energy.

"Sadly, there are companies in the industry who don't do a good job, and it is in everyone's interests that they are stopped from trading. But putting someone through a training course won't stop them cutting corners, or ripping a customer off. The system that Gemserv have come up with is incredibly complex, costly, and bureaucratic. And it just won't achieve its stated purpose. Instead, it will create enormous barriers to entry to the MCS scheme for new installers, and many existing companies have told us they will also struggle to meet the new requirements'.

Midsummer Energy has been extremely pro-active in efforts to encourage installers to respond to the consultation, setting up an online form on the company website. "We couldn't believe the response" said Andy. "The deadline for responses to the consultation was Monday evening, and we only got the webpage live on Friday afternoon. But despite it being one of the busiest weeks of the year for solar companies as the next cut in the feed-in tariff is taking place at the end of the week, well over 200 companies used our form to email Gemserv before the deadline. We haven't found a single company that supports Gemserv's proposals."

One such company who is concerned over Germserv’s proposals is Derbyshire-based C-Changes. Jeremy Fisk, from C-Changes, explained: "Although we are quite a small company, we pride ourselves on the quality and thoroughness of our work and the majority of the orders we receive are from customers that have been recommended to us by their friends, neighbours and colleagues."

"We wholeheartedly disagree with the approach that is proposed for proving competency. It is highly bureaucratic, complicated to manage and the timescales involved in its implementation will create an almost impossible challenge for a small company like ours."

"The proposals in the consultation will involve significant additional investment to send employees and sub-contractors on pointless additional training courses which will not actually improve their current knowledge or competency levels. The training will simply enable us to “tick a box” to demonstrate what we already know  – i.e. that the current knowledge of individuals involved in our installations is of the highest standard and we are all working to deliver high quality installations every time."

"I also cannot understand why I, who has lived and breathed solar PV for the past two years, should not be able to gain accreditation through the experienced worker route (it states that I need four years) and yet, by attending a course for a few days, a new entrant is suddenly seen as more able than I am."

The 200 concerned solar companies are hoping that Germserv takes notice of their concerns. However, Rankin is also pragmatic about pursuing other options, stating: "If Gemserv tries to bring in these proposals now, it will be clear to everyone that they are going straight against the wishes of the industry. If they persist, then we will look to see if there are any other ways to challenge the introduction of the changes. But we're hoping that further action won't be needed."