S&SL Speaker Spotlight: Virginia Graham, chief executive Renewable Energy Assurance

Virginia Graham, chief executive Renewable Energy Assurance which administers the Renewable Energy Consumer Code, will discuss the IET Code of Practice for energy storage at next month's Solar & Storage Live.

With less than three weeks to go until the doors open for Solar & Storage Live, taking place at Birmingham’s NEC between 3-5 October, Solar Power Portal is speaking to a selection of our guests who will be taking to the various stages across the event.

Virginia Graham, chief executive Renewable Energy Assurance which administers the Renewable Energy Consumer Code, will be speaking alongside Martin Cotterell and Graham Kenyon who have co-authored the IET’s Code of Practice for Electrical Energy Storage Systems.

Speaking to SSP ahead of the show, Virginia began by explaining the significance of the new code.

In terms of having a code of practice in place, in addition to RECC's Code of Practice which was only recently extended to storage, how significant is the IET standards guide for energy storage?

We understand that installers don't want too much regulation and why that is but we do think that this is a new technology and it isn't necessarily going to be the right thing for everybody. So it's absolutely critical that installers are able to understand what the benefits are going to be in a particular situation, how to install energy storage and where to install it, what the risks are, and what the downsides are.

We welcome the IET code as we think it favours responsible installation and installers working with manufacturers to ensure that these products are used to their best advantage. That way we think energy storage has a good future.

What we don't want is what we started to see which is mis-selling and stories when energy storage starts to get a bad reputation and that doesn't benefit anybody. So I think the work that's gone into the IET code is very much to be welcomed and we would certainly favour it being pushed as far as possible.

Has the pattern of complaints noted over 2016 and the start of 2017 continued?

I'm going to give the updated figures in the presentation at Solar & Storage Live (S&SL) but it is roughly along those lines, in fact a little more than it was but not as much as double.

Why do you think these poor practices are increasing?

I think it’s possibly down to some of the people involved. There are responsible installers out there who are working closely with manufacturers and are doing their best to go a good job, and I certainly salute them for that. But there are some companies that are used to the fast sell.

There are companies out there that are pushing them very hard. I don't think the IET code on its own will stop that but I think it does at least make it easy to sort out the difference between the really responsible installers and those that really don't know an awful lot about the technology but are just using it to get money.

Are there any checks and balances in place to ensure installers have this code of practice and have understood it?

Not at the moment but I know there are some proposals that there should be a Publicly Available Specification (PAS) for example but at the moment there isn't anyone out there asking for it. So it’s really a question of getting the information well known and that's where we can help to make sure that people are complying with it because there isn't any regulatory obligation at this stage as there is no government or financial incentive. 

There could be grants from local authorities and I know at S&SL there are going to be some talks from local authorities who have done schemes of fitting en masse in an area by area basis. It could be that those local authorities require compliance with the IET standard for example and that's a good example of where there can be some obligation where there isn't a national one.

Now that this code is there for installers, what is next on the agenda in terms of further measures to protect consumers?

Once you've got a set of standards then training against them is a good thing. We see the manufacturers as being very important in this sector and have a big role to play. They've got products that they are proud of that they want to be properly installed to give them a good reputation and I think on the whole they do try to control their installer group. This is one way they can do that by imposing minimum requirements and carrying out training.

I think manufacturers can have an important role to play because one has to look around and see who is in an ideal place. You have certification bodies that could be involved but equally there's no obligation at the moment to be certified but if you had a PAS you could be certified against it. This has to be thought out but you just have to look at who has agency and certainly I think the manufacturers are one group.

Virginia Graham will be speaking in the Energy Storage Feature Area in three sessions entitled “IET/RECC Standards – What do you need to know?” on Tuesday 3 October between 14:00-15:00; Wednesday 4 October between 12:30-14:00; and Thursday 5 October between 14:00-15:00.

Visitors can still register for free to attend Solar & Storage Live to attend these sessions and many more. To view the full agenda, click here.