I’m Mike Andrews, Chief Executive of NAPIT, and I’d like to welcome you to a new series of blogs in which our experts discuss the industry’s big issues. To kick things off, David Cowburn examines the proposed changes to the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) and what they mean for those installing renewable energy technologies.
Believe it or not, the MCS is now six years old and over that time it has played an important role in the widespread adoption of renewable technologies. Created to protect consumers and certify small scale renewable energy and low carbon products and their installers in accordance with industry agreed standards, installation companies who carry out this work must be MCS certified if the property owner is to be eligible for Feed in Tariffs (FITs) for electrical generation or Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) payments for heat generation. Up until the end of April 2015, there were just under 800,000 installations completed and over 20,000 products certified.
To gain MCS certification a company must demonstrate that it meets the requirements set out in the MCS Standard document (MCS001) to show that it has an effective quality management system in place. After completing an installation, installers are then able to register the job on the MCS Installation Database, where a certificate is generated that can be used by the customer to obtain FITs or RHI.
Like all certification schemes, the MCS must evolve in order to maintain its relevance and a number of amendments are currently being worked on that will improve how it achieves its stated aims and objectives. These changes can be categorised into four key projects.
The first two concern how the MCS goes about setting and delivering standards. Moves are underway to document a set of certification body requirement that will ensure consistency across all scheme providers and create a truly level playing field. In addition, a proposal to carry out independent audits of installations to ensure compliance and offer consumers an increased level of confidence is also planned.
The other two projects address the way that consumers are protected and complaints are resolved. Although the requirements already try to protect consumers and prevent mis-selling, it has been necessary to consider what happens if a dispute isn’t resolved and what to do if the installer isn’t in business anymore, or is no longer a member of the MCS. In order to meet the requirements of the forthcoming European Directive on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), an arbitration scheme will be introduced – a consultation has just been completed and we are awaiting the results. The second project in this area concerns the development of an insurance backed warranty for consumers that would apply in the event that the installer was no longer available to rectify problems.
While this is all positive news, the scheme also faces a number of other challenges as it moves into the next phase of its existence. The government is looking to step away and leave industry to develop and maintain the MCS in the future, and therefore it is necessary to change its legal structure. At the moment, it looks likely that this will result in charitable status alongside a trading division.
Perhaps more importantly, we need to address the declining membership of the scheme. Since it was launched, more companies have left the MCS than are currently in it – there are currently 3,000 certified installers, a number that has fallen considerably since the 2011 peak of around 4,500. This cannot be attributed to a lack of work either, as installation volume grew by 30 per cent from 2013 to 2014.
Although the UK claims to be on track to meet its 2020 target for renewable energy, the pool of people that can do this type of work appears to be shrinking. Therefore, more must be done to attract and retain installers and I am pleased to be part of a working group that is looking at whether we can provide greater simplicity and less bureaucracy, without dropping standards. Our ability to achieve this objective will play a significant factor in the long-term success of the MCS.