Regulator finds 20 percent of solar installations are dangerous

The National Electrical and Communications Association (NECA), continued calls for governments at all levels to work together to stamp out dodgy solar installers and protect consumers following official government figures that show many installations are dangerous.

The Office of the Renewable Energy Regulator recently confirmed that after they conducted safety inspections, four per cent were deemed unsafe and 20 percent found to be dangerous.

About 205,000 solar systems were installed to the end of September this year. About 95,000 were installed last year.

Deputy regulator Amarjot Singh Rathore is quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald as saying that roof-top solar panels could be unsafe because of water getting into the system or wires being exposed.

"The ones that had an overall finding of unsafe would have been subject to a shutdown by the inspector … and referred to the state regulator," said acting renewable energy regulator Christopher Branson.

NECA’s chief executive officer, James Tinslay, said these figures are the latest in a long line that demonstrate the current regulatory framework for solar installations is not working and it is time for an overhaul.

“These latest figures that show 20 percent of installations were dangerous contributes to the ever increasing pile of evidence that demonstrates the current solar framework is not working and it is time governments at all levels stepped up to the plate to get this sorted out,” Tinslay said.

“Solar installations are classified as an electrical installation under existing regulations so therefore only licensed electricians can install or supervise the installations. However, the boom in the industry created by government subsidies and generous feed-in tariffs has attracted unlicensed and inexperienced installers to the industry.”

“Although there was an accreditation process established by the Clean Energy Council to help ensure only qualified installers did the work, it is clear from the latest inspection figures that this accreditation and framework is not working. The accreditation process needs to be reviewed.”

Earlier this year, NSW Fair Trading conducted inspections after receiving complaints. Following initial audits in Port Macquarie early this year that revealed problems with 16 installations out of 55 homes in relation to the Electricity (Consumer Safety) Act 2004, the NSW government conducted a further 658 safety audits on homes in western Sydney.

Of the 658 homes inspected in the second audit 122 (18.5 percent) were found to have major defects, 418 (63.5 percent) were found to have minor defects and 118 (18 percent) were found to have no defects. Other state inspections have found similar results.

NECA is the peak industry body representing the interests of electrical and communications contractors Australia-wide. It represents over 5,000 electrical contracting businesses and believes there is a strong future in Australia for renewable energy.

“NECA is very supportive of renewable energy, especially solar energy. However, to ensure the long term viability of the industry and the safety of consumers, it is time dialogue began between all the interested parties to develop a framework that is best for industry, best for consumer, best for government and importantly best for the environment,” Tinslay said.

“There are many installers who are doing the right thing but we need a framework that achieves the government’s renewable energy goals while ensuring the industry is adequately trained and prepared for the ongoing use of this technology.”