Special Report

Clause 5.8: has Octopus really removed the solar certification requirement

In response to our website article ‘Clause 5.8 – how a paragraph from Octopus is opening up the solar PV market’ Dave Stubbs, a consumer with twelve solar panels professionally installed under a Flexi-Orb certified installation, got in touch to share his own experience of trying to take advantage of Octopus’ export tariff through the new clause.

Clause 5.8: has Octopus really removed the solar certification requirement and expanded access to the Smart Export Guarantee?

The original article covered the thoughts of Griff Thomas, MD for GTEC on the ‘small but, potentially, significant change to its terms for the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG)’ that ‘could mark a significant shift for consumers and, potentially, installers’.

Griff said: “Under Clause 5.8, it now states that installations can be self-declared as being compliant by an installer or the consumer meaning that there are options other than an MCS Certificate to allow consumers access to Octopus Energy’s SEG.

“Any savvy, electricity-generating end user will recognise that, at the moment, Octopus is the energy provider of choice. And now, by simplifying access to its attractive tariffs, the average electrical contractor can potentially get going with solar PV without spending time and money on MCS certification.”

Nothing has changed

Speaking with Renewable Energy Installer Dave Stubbs said: “In practice they aren’t accepting anything different. When I’ve applied with my Flexi-Orb certificate they sent me this:

We’ve received your application, however there’s no MCS certificate attached. We need this to verify that your solar installation has been completed safely and that it meets industry standards. We only accept MCS certificates and can’t accept comparable certificates such as Flexi-Orb.”

“I queried it as their new T&Cs state that they accept equivalents:

‘Clause 5.5 For solar, wind and micro-CHP generation assets, you should be able to demonstrate that the generation asset is suitably certified via:

  • the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) certification; or
  • an equivalent certification scheme recognised by Octopus Energy (an equivalent scheme is a scheme accredited in accordance with EN 45011 or EN ISO/IEC’

“And Flexi-Orb is an equivalent that meets that requirement.

“Then they came back to me with a new option,” Dave continues. “Where I can join a list and pay £250 if I want to in order to finally get accepted.”

The response from Octopus read: I can confirm that we are currently trialling a new way to get on the export tariff without the need for an MCS certificate. This means that you may still be eligible to join our export tariff even if you do not have an MCS certificate. Please follow the link to register your interest.

Clicking the link took Dave through to a registration form with a landing page message: Having an MCS certified installation with DNO approval is the quickest and most certain way of getting access to our export tariffs. If you do not have an MCS certified installation, we are trialling a new review process and may decide not to accept you (there is also a £250 charge). You can register your interest here.”

“So good luck with getting on it without an MCS certificate or via clause 5.8 as they don’t stand by their change in policy at the moment,” Dave concludes.

Concern for consumers

The recent policy change is intended to alleviate the bottleneck for solar installs.

Energy providers need to use consumers’ homes as virtual power plants, in order to balance the grid which will ultimately leading to cheaper electricity for all. Since it takes around 6-9 months to gain MCS certification, those installers for whom the time and cost involved, as well as some of its requirements, are off- putting, suggest that MCS is currently stalling this process.

With Octopus wanting as many installers as possible fitting solar PV, the new clause is seen as an incentive for electricians.

However, there are concerns it may have a negative impact on consumers.

Instead of demanding MCS certification, Octopus Energy now only requires applicants to provide confirmation of DNO (Distribution Network Operator) notification under EREC G98 or the necessary permissions under EREC G99.

Furthermore, applicants are expected to confirm their satisfaction with the competence of the professional who installed the solar generation asset.

Rebecca Dibb-Simkin, Chief Product Officer at Octopus Energy commented: “MCS is an important assurance scheme which encourages consumer protection – and we strongly recommend anyone getting solar panels installed go through the MCS process.

 “However, there are a small minority of customers who have had solar panels installed through a reputable but non-MCS accredited installer – and we don’t believe they should just automatically be denied access to export payments.

“As we’re constantly considering how we can best look after customers and best respond to their needs, we recently decided to start offering export payments to those with Flexi-Orb certification as well as MCS.

“We also launched a carefully limited trial to see how we could potentially provide customers access to export payments for solar panels installed without an MCS or Flexi-Orb certificate. For customers applying via this trial, we still require lots of detailed documentation about their installation.

“Based on this information, we then analyse each application to see if they’re eligible.

We also charge an administration fee as this requires some additional manual processing work.”

Industry concerns

Nevertheless, the move has sparked concerns within the industry and among consumers, particularly with regard to quality and safety standards.

Ben Price, Co-Founder of Heatable Solar, shared his concerns about the changes:

“Octopus Energy has introduced a one-time fee of £250 for this service, while traditional MCS-certified installers may typically charge between £400-£600 more.

“Consequently, customers who opt for unregulated installers while still desiring SEG payments may find Octopus Energy as their sole provider, as no other providers have followed suit in eliminating the MCS requirement.

“It’s important to note that MCS certification not only encompasses installation standards and assessments but also includes a range of consumer protections, covering aspects like selling, designing, and the mandatory requirement to house deposit or staged payment funds through third-party intermediaries. These consumer benefits may be compromised with the removal of the MCS accreditation.”

Balancing accessibility and safety

While there is currently no legal mandate requiring installers to be MCS registered, the previous industry practice of SEG providers demanding MCS certification acted as a barrier against potentially hazardous installations and unskilled installers entering the market.

Despite its intention to open the market the £250 fee was enough to put Dave off: “I haven’t applied as, even at £0.15 / kw which is what I would get, it would take me around 12 months before I have made that amount back in SEG payments.”

In conclusion, while Octopus Energy’s policy change aims to accelerate uptake of solar PV and streamline access to SEG tariffs, concerns have arisen. The decision has sparked a debate within the industry and among consumers about the balance between accessibility and safety in the solar installation sector.

That’s assuming installs carried out by contractors without MCS accreditation can even get through the Octopus approvals process of course.v