Solar still works at Christmas

A report released today on ‘Electrical safety of grid-connected solar installations in Western Australia’ suggests reasons for concern about a high proportion of non-compliant solar panel installations in Western Australia has both been welcomed but also strongly criticised by the Sustainable Energy Association of Australia (SEA - www.seaaus.com.au).

EnergySafety WA is a Western Australian government instrumentality responsible is responsible for the technical and safety regulation of all the electrical industry and most of the gas industry in Western Australia. EnergySafety WA has a statutory role in setting and enforcing minimum safety standards for consumers’ electrical installations and appliances and promoting electricity and gas safety in industry and the community.

‘SEA welcomes scrutiny of solar panel installations and indeed all renewable energy projects to ensure that sustainable energy is safe and reliable,’ says Professor Ray Wills, SEA Chief Executive.

‘However, reports like this must be well-informed, well considered, and carefully delivered, and unfortunately this report falls short on those attributes,’ says Prof Wills.

‘For example, the report inaccurately reports on the rate of installation of solar in Western Australia - around 41,000 solar panel systems were electrical contractors this year – but these matters are less important here.’

More important is that the report is only about a tiny number of cases  - the report summarises the review of 260 inspection checklists prepared by electrical inspectors working for network operators and reviewed by Energy Safety WA. The report found that of 260 systems reviewed, 131 (50%) of the installations reviewed were defect-free. While the report stated 129 (50%) of the installations inspected contained at least one defect.

Thirty-one (12%) installations had what was a Category 1 defect. Category 1 defect amounts to “incorrect wiring of the DC isolating device” and the report notes that incorrect wiring may present a potential fire hazard. However, the report also notes that this may only be triggered if “manually turning off an incorrectly installed DC circuit breaker while the inverter is still operating at full power.”

‘EnergySafety WA must be involved in reviewing the safety of solar installations, and must act to ensure regulations are met. But for a report that was based on work commenced in June 2011 to be issued on the day before the Christmas break to offer advice that has alarmed customers about a potential but low probability risk to contact their supplier is alarmist and irresponsible.’

‘The report lacks any informative analysis for the consumer: What was the nature of the 31 installations that were faulty? Was every one of these installations done by different installers, or was there a cluster of faults with one or several particular business?

As inspection checklists are completed in response to “the confidence that the network operators have in the electrician carrying out the work” the sample reported by EnergySafety is biased to contractors that inspectors feel need more scrutiny.

Information available to the SEA based on a far larger sample of around 5000 systems would suggest that in fact that far less - 18% of systems are probably defective (according to the EnergySafety definition), not 50%, and so fewer than 2.1% are likely to be suffering a Category 1 defect reported at 12% by EnergySafety.

‘Most importantly, the report is unhelpful in determining how serious or otherwise the issue is; is the issue urgent, and how soon a consumer might need to respond,’ says Prof Wills.

‘What does this mean to someone at home? In effect, the only reason for concern is if you are planning to undertake electrical work on your house. However, if this is happening, it must by law only be done with the services of a licensed electrical contractor, and a licensed electrical contractor should have the knowledge to deal with this matter,’ explains Prof Wills.

‘If your solar installation is operating correctly, there is no need to be concerned, and no need to switch it off. Indeed, quite the reverse is true – manually switch off the connection may trigger the fault described in the report.’

‘If you have concerns over the workmanship of you solar system, you have rights as a customer, and you should contact your installer over the course of the next few months - but don’t stop Christmas because of it,’ says Prof Wills.

‘But if your experience with your supplier was positive, and you had confidence in the team that turned up to install your solar panels, then it is unlikely there will be a problem with the panels on your home. Nevertheless, if you have any concerns, contact your installer in the New Year.’

As a business chamber representing the sustainable energy industries in Australia, SEA would welcome contact from EnergySafety WA to improve safety standards for renewables in Western Australia and would be pleased to be consulted on matters such as this to ensure a sustainable energy future.

Finally, installing solar continues to make a difference - installation of renewable energy on homes is delivering cheaper electricity to your home, and using the savings of energy generated panels installed by solar on your home could allow you to cut as much as four years off a 25 year $100 000 mortgage.

‘Purchase wisely – an important piece of advice if you are looking to install a solar panel: choose a reputable supplier. One way to be more certain of this is to look for an installer that belongs to the Sustainable Energy Association or a similar reputable industry body’, says Prof Wills.

‘And as with any significant investment, get a second quote – but ensure the quotes are delivering comparable systems so that you can truly find the best value for your investment,’ says Prof Wills.

‘One way to be more certain of the reliability of the business you are dealing with your is to look for an installer that belongs to the Sustainable Energy Association or a similar reputable industry body’, says Prof Wills.

More information on solar panels can be obtained from SEA’s www.factsonsolar.com.au, or about SEA and its members from SEA’s website www.seaaus.com.au.

A copy of the ‘Electrical safety of grid-connected solar installations in Western Australia’ by EnergySafety WA is available here:

http://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/EnergySafety/

http://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/EnergySafety/PDF/Reports_and_discussion_papers/Report_on_the_safety.pdf

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