Unfortunately in life, there are always (a minority) of people and companies who just want to make a fast buck and don’t care about the legacy of selling poor quality products and services and the solar industry is no different.
It is therefore a great relief to see that after a long haul, the Clean Energy Council has received an official blessing from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in the form of a five year authorization for its Retailer Code of Conduct. The ACCC’s determination will come into force on 17 October 2013, provided no application for review of the determination is made to the Australian Competition Tribunal prior to this date, and Australian solar retailers are urged to contact the CEC for more information here.
I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that to my knowledge, we could well be the first country in the world to introduce such a code.
Although our industry growth rates are suffering because the majority of State and Federal Government support is gone, the good news is that the lack of Government money should help to make our industry less attractive to the get quick merchants and should be more stable. During a recent trip to Adelaide which is in the final lead up to an FIT cut, this reality left me shaking my head in no uncertain terms, as if to prove the point and the need.
The daily paper had 8 separate advertisements from solar companies. Not one of these ads showed the company ACN or ABN and the majority did not list these details on their web site and had scant details of who was involved. However a quick scan of the ACCC data base revealed some interesting statistics. Despite the fact that many SA solar companies have been in business for ten or twenty years, the oldest of the 8 companies advertising was 4 years old. The youngest had a mere 6 months of experience in solar. One of the companies listed has been the subject of a recent ACCC investigation. All up, more than 62% of the companies advertising had only been in the solar industry for 2 years of less.
Now I have nothing against new entrants to the industry, I welcome new thinking; fresh ideas and we need young entrepreneurial business people to take up the gauntlet as some of us age. However, you can’t help feeling just a little bit concerned for the welfare of solar consumers who select a (for example) a company who hasn’t even got twelve months of experience or already has an black mark from the ACCC. How likely are they to be around when the South Australian market contracts substantially, following the cut’s to its FIT?
The Code of Conduct will not stop bad behaviour but it can (if supported) lift the bar for industry as a whole and take some of the pressure off accredited installers who currently are the only industry participants subject to potential explicit action through the accreditation program.
I can recall discussions going back almost a decade around the legal complexities and difficulties of stripping businesses from the ability to sell, for perceived poor form or complaints and I commend the CEC for pushing ahead and getting this done. The solar industry has been asking for this for years and although its voluntary nature implies slightly less oomph, the key to its success is now with industry itself – the more that sign up, the more influential it will become and the more consumers will demand it.
I hate bureaucracy and regulation for its own sake, but it seems to me that every well intentioned solar retailer in Australia has everything to gain and little to lose by signing up to this new code.
Nigel Morris is head of Solar Business Services. Article was first published here and reproduced with permission.