The small wind market has needed a standard benchmark for quality for sometime. The reasons are simple; turbines are placed on schools and business sites, as well as at residential properties so safety and reliability is paramount; rigorous testing improves product standards and gives consumers security
For a while, the small wind industry was a crowded market without any real clarity for buyers. The UK Government's Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS), was launched in April last year, to give consumers the guarantee that certified microgeneration products and the installers of those products have conformed to a rigorous set of standards and hence eligible for Feed in Tariffs. The scheme ran a transition list for too long which caused confusion as to which products were accredited and which suppliers had simply applied for the testing procedure. So on December 31st 2010 the transition list was abolished.
In its place is a concise list of accredited small wind turbines which brings a measure of clarity to the market, and more importantly a level of assurance and dependability. Also the end of the transition list highlighted that close to 100 products were listed but only seven have actually achieved certification so far. This brings into question the commitment from some companies to ensure their products were fully tested before going on sale.
Of course we all want a competitive market and I am sure that by June 30th, we will see more turbines passing the testing standards set by the MCS. However, there are those that are grumbling at the level of process involved in order to achieve certification. While I accept plenty needs to be done to meet the criteria, this can only be a good thing for the industry and for consumers (who are, after all, buying a product to last over 10 years). The complaining should raise concerns about the commitment to quality of some organisations.
However there are certain gripes about the current accreditation system that I sympathise with. For example, while small and medium wind turbines are expected to gain certification in order to be eligible for Feed-in Tariffs, turbines above 50kW don't have to undergo any accreditation at all. This seems like a bizarre gap in the certification, especially as the larger a turbine, the more significant investment a consumer has to make.
Steps need to be taken in order to bring the large wind turbines into some form of accreditation scheme. While MCS may not be appropriate for this, there are other certifications out there that will help, for example IEC61400-2. Again, the quality suppliers are engaged in this drive.
Britain is actually a trailblazer in terms of putting in place a scheme that provides consumers with an accreditation safety net. There are other countries currently looking at setting up certification and looking at Britain's scheme for guidance. So while Britain is making the right steps to ensuring a credible small wind industry, more needs to be done to ensure that all renewable energy products are of the highest quality. Having robust accreditation schemes not only sets standards for quality and safety, but will also help to reassure local councils, government bodies and concerned communities during planning applications.
Of course, having certification in the market is just one part of the jigsaw and more needs to be done to safeguard Feed-in Tariffs including bringing a measure of common sense to the planning application process - but that's a topic for another time.
If Britain is to continue to lead the way in the design, manufacture and adoption of small wind turbines, it needs the support of a robust certification scheme, therefore MCS is undoubtedly a good thing for the industry.
Kevin Parslow is chief executive of Evance Wind