Introduction

The P4 platform is a quality assurance platform created to identify the “risk” of solar PV stakeholders and is hosted by The Association for Renewable Energy Practitioners (AREP). The P4 platform was created in conjunction with guidance from a number of organizations and stakeholders involved in the sector and measures 5 disparate performance metrics promoting good practice in the solar PV Rooftop sector. Stakeholder transparency is key and it is the intention to apply existing rules and standards as a means to promote best practice.

How P4 works

The P4 Platform scores contractors involved in the PV sector on performance, knowledge and best practice. A total of five metrics are used to produce a score, which in turn, predicts risk associated with a specific contractor. The lower the score the higher the risk.

Only two steps are required in order to become a participant on this platform and a total of 5 steps for earning the highest accolade.

All the steps

  1. Step 1: Agreeing to the Terms and Conditions of the platform is the first step in the 5 step process and is the qualifying criteria to continue with the other 4 steps. Agreeing to the terms and conditions awards a contractor with a certain number of points. With the terms and conditions contractors agree to being tested against, and do installations by applying certain standards. These standards are covered in more detail in the ‘Standards’ section.
  2. Step 2: Take the online P4 PV test. This individual may be a full time employee (direct involvement with the firm) or a sub contracted individual (indirect involvement with the firm). Passing the online test awards a contractor with a certain number of points. Should the candidate taking the test fail the first three attempts he/she will have to attend a solar PV course before being given the go-ahead for attempting the test again. Fail the second round of three attempts and evidence will have to be provided of experience in at least three PV installations before being given the go-ahead for attempting the test again. The pass rate is 80% and will remain 80% throughout all the attempts. 

    An image showing a flowchart or the processes involved with applying for and writing the P4 online testAn image of a flowchart showing the steps involved with, applying for, and writing the P4 online test[/caption]

  3. Step 3: By agreeing to the standards, at least one random installation in a 12 month cycle will be evaluated using a visual evaluation form, which can be seen in the “visual evaluation parameters” section of this page and for which the criteria is fairly straight forward.The online version of the form can be seen here. The visual evaluation form will score the installation being evaluated and the score in turn will award the contractor with a certain number of points.
  4. Step 4: Have the solar PV installations that have been done by the organisation, listed on the AREP directory.
  5. Step 5: Have the end user or client review the service received from the contractor on the P4 platform

Standards

There are literary dozens of standards that apply to electrical and solar PV installations. Based on standards that deserve direct recognition for this platform, only 4 main standards will be focused on. These four standards cover electrical design, PV design, electrical testing and electrical commissioning and inspection guidelines.

  1. Electrical Wiring to be done according to the electrical wiring code.
    1. SANS 10142-1
  2. Requirements for special installation or locations – Solar PV power supply systems
    1. SANS (IEC) 60364-7-712
  3. Testing of Low voltage electrical installations
    1. IEC 60364-6
  4. Minimum requirements for system documentation, commissioning tests and inspection
    1. IEC 62446

Which risks are reflected or covered in the Score?

The solar PV industry is complex and diverse. In South Africa for example a diverse range of occupations are flooding the PV sector doing installations and claiming to be specialists or experts in the field of PV. With each installation there are numerous stakeholders including:

  • Manufacturers (modules, inverters, mounting structures and others)
  • Suppliers
  • End users
  • Financiers
  • Municipalities / Utilities
  • Any contractors / sub contractors also involved in the project.

Both during and after a PV installation all of the above mentioned stakeholders are exposed to risk in one way or the other. The P4 Performer Score reduces risk for all the stakeholders mentioned above by ensuring that proper procedures and control can be executed or maintained and that activities by contractors are transparent.

How the PV P4 Score is calculated?

PV Performer Score = A + B + C + D + E (+ F) and is a Score out of 100.

  1. Test Score X 0,375
  2. Standards Agreement X 20
  3. Latest Inspection Score X 0,55
  4. Listing of data on AREP directory 1 X 5
  5. Customer Review Score Stars X 2
  6. (Green Card Bonus Points = 5) This score will be activated once the Green Card system has been implemented

How is the AREP P4 Score interpreted?

The AREP P4 score is categorized into four zones being NV Zone, Active Zone, Grey Zone and Safe Zone. It is important for new PV contractors to be in the Grey zone as a minimum criteria, and for existing contractors to be in the safe zone.

Image showing 4 rows and 4 tables with the scoring categories indicated for the P4 quality assurance platform.

AREP P4 quality assurance category table

Are EPC’s and installers scored differently?

Contractors are not scored against their status as an installer or EPC but rather against their activities in the energy sector. This is due to the broad range of business models in the sector.

Can new businesses be scored?

Yes. A single business owner can therefore sub-contract the services of an electrician to do the installation and the services of another external engineer to do the design and still qualify for the P4 score as the electrician might be identified as the individual responsible for writing the knowledge test. The P4 score will therefor ensure that at least one of the members on the team will be knowledgeable on the subject of PV. The business owner however will still be held accountable for the complete project based on the expertise of the complete team.

Who qualifies to be scored?

Any organization that has been registered as a formal business whether considered to be an NGO or For Profit organization.

Are scores made public?

Although the P4 score generally will not be made public, Grey and Safe zone contractors may be displayed / promoted on the AREP site as either “Grey” or “Safe”. Certificates displaying the score can be requested from AREP by subscribers, or may be published by organisations who subscribe to the P4 Program. It is at the discretion of an organisation to publish their own score. AREP will simply publish aggregated versions of the scores along with the category associated with each contractor.

Some examples of how the score is applied

Company A is a new company with only 1 salesman that owns the company and sells PV systems to residential end-users. Although the salesman is not an electrician or an engineer, he can register on the P4 platform by sending his electrician to write the AREP PV online test at no charge. During the test application process the electrician can identify Company A as the P4 registered entity. Should the electrician pass the test, he will be linked to Company A as the electrician and Company A will be credited with a test score value multiplied by the factor of 0,375. Next step is for Company A to agree that his installations can be inspected and evaluated according to an agreed inspection list / sheet which is aligned to IEC 62446. These two steps will allow Company A to operate in the Grey zone. Once Company A has successfully done their first successful installation and receive an even higher ranking; the following could be done:

  1. Have their system evaluated
  2. List the system on the AREP database or on the AREP directory
  3. Have the client review his installation on the AREP directory

The only cost to contractors for being part of the platform will be to have their system evaluated. They will only have to have one system evaluated in a 12 month cycle provided that they are doing installations.

What if the contractor is not happy with the evaluation?

Where contractors feel the platform has scored them incorrectly or have a complaint, or some form of query or concern, contractors agree to follow arbitration and mediation guidelines in order to resolve any pending issues.
An attempt should first be made internally between the contractor or plaintiff and the P4 platform; before any external resources are approached or appointed.
Suggested complaint process.
Step 1: Send an e-mail indicating the issue and receive a written response or reply to that specific e-mail. The subject of the e-mail should include “Complaint to be resolved”
Step 2: Should there be no response, the e-mail in question may have ended up in a junk mail or spam folder. Phone the recipient and enquire as to the response to the e-mail and enquiry.
Step 3: Should the complaint be severe enough to warrant elevating the complaint, a mediation or arbitration approach must be adopted in order to decrease the time during which the complaint or issue could be resolved. Contractors involved on the program agree that e-mail is an adequate and acceptable form of communication when used in conjunction with verbal / telephonic confirmation in order to ensure an e-mail response has either been received or submitted.

How do I see my score?

Contractors participating in the platform will receive an e-mail notifying them of any changes in the score. Scores can only be seen on Performance certificates. For the time being the scores are managed manually and this process will evolve to being more automated in future.

How many certificates are there?

There are 4 types of certificates. The only certificate that carries any weight is the Performance certificate as it is an expression or breakdown of a contractor’s activities in the sector.

  1. An membership certificate.
    1. Certificate nr.1 can be printed in the form of a membership card as soon as you or the authorised individual from your organisation has signed up as members of AREP. This is a confirmation certificate showing membership with AREP.
  2. A performance certificate
    1. The performance certificate is issued upon request and is not issued free of charge. The performance certificate is issued when financial institutions or clients request confirmation of an organisation’s involvement and standing with the P4 platform. The performance certificate is issued as many times as is requested. Theoretically the organisation against which the certificate is issued should be notified when a certificate is issued. It is the aim and intent of AREP to issue performance certificates within 24hrs of being requested. Performance certificates have a 12 month shelf life, is issued manually for the time being and is the only certificate that has a unique certificate number. Certificate numbers should be validated in order to ensure authenticity.
  3. An evaluation certificate
    1. Evaluation certificates are issued when you or someone else does an evaluation of a pv installation. Evaluation certificates are generated automatically, emailed when the submit button is entered and is issued free of charge. The actual evaluation might have a charge depending on where, when and who was involved in doing the evaluation.
  4. A test certificate
    1. Test certificates (see a sample of the test certificate) are issued only once a test has been passed. Test certificates;
      1. Are not linked to a formal qualification,
      2. Expire after a period of 12 months,
      3. Are issued subject to the terms and conditions of the P4 platform,
      4. Should not be used on their own as they form part of a set of performance criteria and the Performance certificate should be used as a margin of activities.

What do I do with the certificates?

  1. The agreement certificate is simply for your records and is a token that your agreement on the platform has been recognised.
  2. The performance certificate is used and submitted along with project proposals or requested by clients to ensure that the companies they are dealing with is up to date with standards and are committed to quality installations.
  3. Evaluation certificates are evidence that the specific installation has been done according to P4 guidelines which are aligned to IEC 62446 standards. We take the score from this evaluation and add it to the overall score of the organisation involved with this platform. The score from the evaluation certificate will affect the score on the performance certificate.