But how do you play a role in Australia’s energy transformation? How to become a solar installer in Australia?
There is a lot more to the solar industry than simply putting panels on a roof. That’s why we’ve rounded up the core information to get you up and running and ready to install your first solar panel.
The Clean Energy Council (or CEC) is an industry body for the renewable energy sector in Australia. As a non-government body, they do not write laws but set guidelines and best practices for the industry and their members. They also do a lot in terms of advocacy for the industry.
Although there is no legislation in place requiring adherence to the rules set by the CEC, many of the government incentives are aligned to rules set by the CEC, so it almost becomes almost a necessity from a financial perspective for an Australian solar business to follow CEC procedures.
As the CEC is an industry body, it is funded mainly by fees paid by its members. Membership is open to any organisation with different types of memberships and qualifying criteria. Check out the CEC membership page to understand what type of memberships there are and their benefits.
What is particularly important for people designing and installing solar systems is the CEC Solar Accreditation. This is a qualification provided by the CEC when you’ve met their accreditation requirements. It just shows you’ve demonstrated that you can design and/or install solar to the standard that they’ve set.
Note that CEC solar accreditation is different to CEC membership as it is only offered to individuals and is not aligned with any business or organisation. You keep it even if you change jobs and work for another business.
Now you’ll likely be asking yourself, “Why do I need CEC Accreditation?” - and good question! The most important reason involves government incentives - primarily Small-scale Technology Certificates (STCs).
STCs get complicated fast; so to best understand it in layman terms, your best bet would be to read our blog on STCs. For a more in depth overview, you can head over to the Clean Energy Regulator’s (CER) website. In short, STCs certificates are created when installing solar which can then be sold. This drastically lowers the cost of the solar system. Thus, there are huge financial benefits for claiming STCs and doing so is the only way to remain competitive from a solar business perspective (and isn’t this what we all want?).
One of the criterion to create STCs is that the solar system must be designed and installed by a CEC accredited designer and installer.
RENEWABLE ENERGY (ELECTRICITY) REGULATIONS 2001 - REG 20AC
(2) The unit was designed and installed by a person or persons:
(a) if the unit is a stand-alone power system–accredited for stand-alone power systems under the Australian Business Council for Sustainable Energy accreditation scheme (the ABCSE accreditation scheme ) or the Clean Energy Council accreditation scheme (the CEC accreditation scheme );
(b) if the unit is a grid-connected power system–accredited for grid-connected power systems under the ABCSE accreditation scheme or the CEC accreditation scheme
This means that you must be CEC accredited in order to acquire STCs for the solar systems you install.
There are also state government incentives aligned towards CEC accreditation. The recently introduced Solar Victoria “Solar Homes Program” also requires “Solar PV installer: Holds a current Clean Energy Council accreditation”(Solar Victoria Notice to Market 18 June 2019) to claim the rebate.
Besides the government rebates, CEC Accreditation shows your customers that the work you’re doing is being held to CEC guidelines and relevant Australian standards.
Head over to the CEC website for a full list of benefits that they provide.
As CEC accreditation is pretty much a necessity to remain competitive, let’s take a look at how you can become accredited.
Here are the required steps as listed by the CEC:
The biggest hurdle here is training. What sort of training do you need, and where do you find it? The answers to both of these questions vary by the type of accreditation, so let’s take a look at the various accreditation options.
There are two categories of accreditation - Grid-connect and Stand-alone.
Grid-connect is the most common form of accreditation and has solar connected to the utility grid. Excess electricity generated is fed back into the grid. Most training centres require you to either be CEC accredited for grid-connect or to have completed their grid-connect courses before being able to take part in their stand-alone or battery courses. This is the accreditation you’d be most likely looking to do to become a player in the solar game.
Stand-alone power system (SAPS) accreditation is designed for systems independent of the utility grid, where you’d be designing/installing systems that may use solar panels in conjunction with other generators or batteries.
For each of these categories, there is accreditation to a) design only, b) install only or c) design and install. E.g. CEC Accreditation of Grid-connect Install is accreditation that enables only installation of solar systems that are connected to the grid; the design of the system must be done by someone else with accreditation to design.
Most solar accredited professionals have both design and install accreditation. It’s the best bang for your buck and time when it comes to training. There is only a unit of competency difference between them and it will probably only cost you an extra $400 and a day or two in training.
The CEC also provides Battery Storage Endorsement for grid-connected accredited designers and installers to work with batteries.
Solar accreditation requires you to have the appropriate training. This takes the form of completing the correct Units of Competency from a Registered Training Organisation (RTO)
Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) are training providers registered by Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA). They’re basically the providers of vocational education and training in Australia.
There are numerous RTOs around Australia that offer solar courses with all of the appropriate learning units. When and where these courses are offered generally changes throughout the year and their availability depends on the number of students that enroll. The courses also differ in terms of price, training duration and structure - don’t worry, we’ll cover all of that.
Every RTO has an RTO Code. To check if your training provider has a current registration, search the RTO code or organisation name on the government training website.
Although most RTOs provide courses designed to meet the different accreditation types, it is also important to understand the training units (or Units of Competency) that you’re completing. Units of Competency are essentially knowledge/skill standards that have been met when you’ve completed them. For example, UEENEEK125, which is a necessary Unit of Competency for all accreditation, provides you with the knowledge to ‘Solve basic problems in photovoltaic energy apparatus’.
Each CEC accreditation has its own set of required units of competency. Let’s take a look at the Grid-connect install accreditation requirements.
You’ll need an unrestricted electrical license and will also need to have completed units of competency UEENEEK125A and UEENEEK148. There is generally some overlap between Units of Competencies and different accreditations. For the Grid-connect design and install accreditation, an extra unit of competency, UEENEEK135A ‘Design grid connected photovoltaic power supply systems’, is required along side UEENEEK125 and UEENEEK148.
See section ‘Training Requirements for Accreditation’ for what is required to apply for each accreditation as prescribed by the CEC.
Solar training courses provided by RTOs are typically designed to meet an accreditation. E.g. GSES offers a “Install Only Grid Connect PV Systems” course that covers all necessary requirements to apply for Grid-connect Install accreditation on completion.
Solar training courses differ in terms of how, when and where they’re run. Generally, most courses have an online component as well as face-to-face training. The training takes place at a training facility designated by the operator and typically takes place over a few consecutive days (generally 3 to 5 days). Prices range from ~$1500 to $2500 depending on the accreditation you’re after and the provider.
Solar installation courses that are designed for electricians will most likely require an unrestricted electrical license. These are specific solar courses for electricians.
See section ‘Solar Courses’ for solar training courses being offered in your state and a summary of where, when and how they’re run.
Training requirements as outlined by the CEC differ for each accreditation. Click on the accreditation type to see what you need to become solar accredited.
Or (for Victorians)
OR (for Victorians only)
VU22123 - Undertake site assessment for installation of a grid-connected renewable energy generation system
VU22124 - Design a grid connected photovoltaic energy generation system to meet client requirements
UEENEEK148A - Install, configure and commission LV grid connected photovoltaic power systems
CEC accreditation courses are held throughout the year and vary with the number of enrollments they receive. Below is a list of solar training courses being offered this year in each state.
After you’ve completed your solar accreditation training, you will be eligible to apply for a Provisionary Accreditation with the CEC through their website.
You’ll need to fill in the online form as well as submit the necessary documentation. The application will cost $120 and, according to the CEC, take approximately 3-5 days to process on their end.
Once the application has been approved, you’ll receive a provisionary accreditation, but you won’t be able to design or install as a CEC accredited professional immediately. You’ll need to first complete an online assessment with the CEC within the first month of receiving your provisionary accreditation. Once you complete this, you’ll receive an accreditation number. This means you’re good to go - designing or installing - with your provisionary accreditation.
Provisional accreditation lasts three months, so you’ll need to submit all of your assessments and apply for full accreditation within those three months.
For Design only provisional accreditation, once you’ve completed the online assessment you can submit your upgrade application and payment for full accreditation.
The process behind full accreditations for installs is slightly more complicated. Alongside the online assessment, you must also complete a practical installation assessment. This is a submission of documentation for one of your first solar installations and provides evidence of your competency in installing.
CEC Accreditations only last for one year, so you’ll need to renew annually. This requires you to keep up with continuous professional development (CPD), and to ensure you have enough eligible points. The CPD is intended to keep CEC accredited installers and designers up-to-date with changes in the industry.
CPD points come from eligible webinars, installer nights and training courses. The CEC members portal provides you with a list of eligible courses.
Alan Lam is a solar specialist with over 5 years of experience supporting solar businesses in Australia. Alan understands the nuances of government incentive schemes for solar in Australia and beyond in detail and has a wealth of knowledge to give solar installers.
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