Although solar power provides end users with the freedom to generate a clean, renewable source of energy from their own property, there are some guidelines and rules that must be followed. These rules are designed to provide a basis for maintaining a safe and effective solar system. With a variety of solar panels, installation types and financing projects, as well as other normal industry practices, such as advertising, sales and marketing interactions, and contracts, any set of rules governing the entire solar sector would have to be expansive and all-encompassing.
Although some companies in the solar sector insist that the industry would be best left to self-regulate since consumer protections would be in their best interests, a formal set of guidelines has been established covering best practices for solar companies.
The SEIA's Solar Business Code
One such organization that has undertaken the task of establishing industry-wide standards for further transparency and understanding in solar power transactions is the Solar Energy Information Association. Released in September 2015, the SEIA Solar Business Code provides a template for organizations operating in the solar sector. In discussing the launch of this first national guidance document covering interactions between solar companies and consumers, former SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch lauded the role this code will take in ensuring the safety and transparency in this sector.
"We are leading by example," Resch said. "Solar has long been known as the right energy choice for many reasons. We've had a Code of Ethics for years, but wanted to push further in consumer protection. SEIA and the solar industry are taking the right path in helping to make sure both solar companies and consumers fully understand each and every transaction."
The SEIA's codes cover a wide range of issues surrounding the sale of solar products to consumers. One of the initial areas the rules tackles includes how solar panels, equipment, and services are pitched and sold to consumers. This includes unfair, deceptive or abusive business practices or acts, whether during the advertising, marketing or sales phase. The code requires all promotional material from any solar company to be accurate, easily understandable and based on facts. Further, the guideline also delineates best practices for protecting consumers during the contract phase, by mandating all terms be clear and understandable.
The SEIA has taken a key leadership role in developing tools and self-regulation practices to govern advertising, marketing, consumer interactions and contracts in the solar industry. Nat Kreamer, chairman of the board of SEIA, explained why it was important for the SEIA to formalize these industry guidelines.
"The solar industry is committed to helping people and businesses access clean, affordable energy, and providing consumers with a positive experience," Kreamer said. "SEIA has proactively championed best practices in consumer protection, and we are proud to be part of an association and an industry that puts the consumer first."
Re-assuring and protecting customers
Since solar energy is still fairly new compared to more mature sectors such as the coal and gas industry, enough time has yet to pass for traditions and precedents to take hold and guide transactions. The relative short time solar has been on the market might make some customers - who are long familiar with the status quo – a bit uncertain about transitioning to a new utility model or energy source.
These individuals might not be aware of the robust regulatory framework and codes governing the solar sector. By establishing the Solar Business Code and requiring adherence to the guidelines set forth, SEIA helps protect both the customer and the companies from any sort of conflicts or problems that might arise, thereby ensuring the best possible level of quality for everyone.
Further, the code helps protect consumers against any types of unprofessional or predatory practices. Knowing these guidelines are in place will help assuage customers' concerns about how the industry conducts business and provides the peace of mind that comes with knowing the solar company they're dealing with isn't falsely advertising or engaging in other deceptive practices.
As a member of the Solar Energy Information Administration, Trina Solar abides by the organization's Business Code and are strong advocates of them.
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