Protecting consumers in the Australian solar market

Installing PV panels on the roof at the Research Support Facility, RSF

Australians love solar power on their roof more than any other country – data from the Clean Energy Regulator shows that Australia hosts more than 1.5 million solar power systems, the highest number of installations per inhabitant in the world. Despite this, solar contributes to only 2.5% of Australia’s electricity generation. Many more Australians will be considering a solar system in the years to come.

To improve standards of consumer protection in the industry, the Clean Energy Council (CEC) developed a voluntary Solar Retail Code of Conduct in 2013. Authorised by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the Code requires signatories to abide by some important standards, including:

  • A standard minimum warranty period of five years on the whole system;
  • Clear and fair contracts, including specification of a site-specific full system design and the system’s site-specific energy yield; and
  • Accountability around the process between system installation and network connection.

Even in the short time that the Code has been in operation, the solar market has developed. Not only are retailers marketing grid-connected solar systems, but also systems with battery back-up and longer-term financing arrangements or power purchase agreements. In 2015, the Code was amended to deal with this by adding specific protections relating to finance and alternative purchasing arrangements.

As at August 2016, 35 solar retail businesses have become signatories. Demonstrating the robustness of the application process, 30 businesses have had their applications rejected for failing to demonstrate an ability to abide by the Code. The code administrator, the CEC, has also instituted a process of auditing signatories, to ensure compliance is maintained.

The Code is overseen by an independent Code Review Panel, made up of an industry representative, a consumer representative and a chair with relevant expertise. The Panel meets regularly to look at revisions to the Code, policy changes, how the Code operates, and complaints data. It can also hear cases and appeals from the administrator of the Code.

The Code and the Panel is currently being independently reviewed by Cameron Ralph Navigator, and the outcomes of the review will feed into the code’s administration and development.

More information about the code can be found here:

Gerard Brody is chair of the Solar Code of Conduct Code Review Panel. Gerard is also CEO of Consumer Action Law Centre and chair of the Consumers’ Federation or Australia.