Energy Minister Angus Taylor Warns On Home Solar Power Safety
Summary: Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor and The Australian have created a stir, indicating that a large number of rooftop solar installations across the country may be unsafe.....
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The Australian (paywall) reports Minister Taylor has written to his state counterparts warning lives could be at risk from unsafe or sub-standard PV installations. His concerns are based on the findings of a national audit report that found up to one-quarter of all rooftop solar installations inspected since 2011 posed a “severe or high risk”.
Commenting on 6PR, Minister Taylor said:
“Up to 25% of the installations are faulty in some form and some of them in a very serious way….It’s crucial that the states put in place the right framework, to make sure that we deal with this issue appropriately and we avoid any kind of risk to people’s lives.”
In an interview on 2GB with Chris Smith, Minister Taylor invoked the spectre of the pink batts fiasco.
What The Audit Report States
“From 2011, when the inspection regime was established, to mid–August 2018, the annual distribution of inspection ratings has been generally consistent for the 24,371 inspections undertaken — noting that the standards have become more stringent over time, increasing the compliance ‘bar’.47 Between 21.7 and 25.7 per cent of inspected installations were rated as ‘unsafe’ or ‘sub–standard’ each year, with the exception of 2012 and 2013 when lesser proportions — 17.6 and 12.1 per cent, respectively — were so rated.”
“Over the period 2011 to 2015 inclusive, ‘unsafe’–rated installations averaged 4.2 per cent each year, before decreasing in 2016 and 2017, to 2.5 and 1.9 per cent, respectively, then increasing in 2018 to 2.7 per cent.”
While the term “unsafe” is self-explanatory, “sub-standard” is defined in the audit report as rectification work being required and is classified as “high risk” (but more on this below).
80 per cent of the ‘unsafe’ installations since the inspection program commenced were caused by water ingress in direct current (DC) isolator enclosures on rooftops. (Clean Energy Regulator 2015).
The report notes some inspectors rated installations overall according to the worst rating assigned to an individual finding, others assigned a rating worse than assigned to an individual finding based on collective factors.
The full audit report can be viewed here.
Clean Energy Council Responds
Australia’s Clean Energy Council (CEC) defended the industry’s overall good record over the past decade and the Council’s its role within it. The CEC is charged with the task of accreditation of solar installers and maintaining lists of approved solar panels, inverters and battery storage products.
While issues regarding solar energy system safety and quality should not be glossed over, Clean Energy Council Chief Executive Kane Thornton says the audit report noted that a single part of a solar power system that is not completely up to standard does not mean a system is unsafe.
“Obviously no industry is perfect, but the percentage of unsafe systems has declined this decade from 4.2 per cent to 2.7 per cent. This is better than the electrical industry as a whole,” Mr Thornton stated.
Acknowledging the figures are still too high and in its ongoing efforts of ensuring quality, the CEC says it will use the Regulator’s report to further improve standards and compliance across the industry.
Earlier this week the CEC summarised its activities this year relating to compliance, noting it had allocated 10,451 demerit points to 590 solar installers in 2018. Demerit points issued during the year led to 73 suspensions and five accreditation cancellations.
The Council says it’s important for Australians to ensure the solar installer working on their roof is a CEC accredited professional, which can be proven through a photo ID card that all installers have.
Mr. Thornton said electrical safety is overseen by state electrical safety bodies.
“The Clean Energy Council has lobbied for some time for a single national electricity body to ensure greater consistency of approach including improved resourcing and consistent inspection programs.”
What The Clean Energy Regulator Says:
Update: 22 December. Commenting on the report, the Clean Energy Regulator said in relation to “substandard” installations:
“The inspection standards we use are very high and the inspections are thorough. A substandard rating does not mean the whole system is substandard. Typically, such a rating is because one or two relatively minor defects are found in the installation that does not affect performance.”
The Regulator’s explanation of substandard makes the audit report defining substandard as “high-risk” puzzling.
The Regulator’s full statement can be found here.
System Inspections – How Often?
Those with existing systems who have concerns should contact an appropriately accredited party to conduct an inspection.
Issues can also occur during a solar panel system’s life that aren’t necessarily connected to the way it was installed or the quality of components (e.g., damage from birds and rodents). SolarQuotes’ Finn Peacock suggests having an inspection and system test performed every five years.
While there is no doubt shoddy work is still being carried out on Australian homes by some (as in any trade), there are many great solar installers out there. One of the ways Australians can help ensure they choose a quality solar power system and installer is by following the steps in The Good Solar Guide