According to solar industry experts and veterans, Australia’s craving for cheap (and not always cheerful) solar power has led to the country’s rooftops becoming a dumping ground for low-quality and sometimes dangerous products. There isn’t, it seems, enough regulatory supervision of the industry.
Not enough inspections
Only around 1.2% of Australian rooftop installations have been inspected by the Clean Energy Regulator (CER) and of these, just under 17% were deemed “substandard”, with a worrying 3% found to be “unsafe”.
Extrapolating from this small audit sample (carried out by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), there are potentially thousands of unsafe installations all over the country. One in five Australian homes has rooftop solar.
Unsafe and inefficient
To add insult to potential injury, it’s likely that poorly-installed and unsafe arrays aren’t producing the power that the homeowners and Australia’s energy targets are hoping for.
Even worse, when the substandard panels fail (usually way earlier than expected), they end up in landfill because there aren’t enough recycling facilities to deal with them.
This leaves homeowners out of pocket and panels degrading further on a tip.
It’s not just cheap panels at fault
Dr McCann said even new panels from high-end brands may not perform as well as expected, and often manufacturing faults are not visible to the naked eye.
Occasionally, even tier one panels have manufacturing flaws that lead to early failure or poor performance. Customers and even installers can’t always tell just by looking at the panels or the brand name. While tier one manufacturers have robust warranties that will compensate the homeowner, the early failure of a panel still means it’s destined for landfill several years earlier than is ideal.
A lack of QC
With demand for reasonably-priced solar products growing, the market is being not exactly flooded, but certainly dampened, by inferior overseas panels. Australia, say the solar experts, isn’t carrying out enough checking and due diligence to head these cheaper goods off at the ports.
Many overseas providers and manufacturers know this and will sometimes send less-than-optimal products over, knowing they’ll probably pass through.
The Clean Energy Council is doing its best
In response to these issues, the CEC has removed the accreditation of 12 Aussie installers and suspended 160 others. It’s also removed more than 5,000 models of panel and 88 models of inverter from its approved list.
The CEC also said that most rooftop solar installations are safe and that it imposes and minimum standard of quality for all rooftop solar in Australia. The CER’s rating of “unsafe” for some arrays might not be as disastrous as it sounds, with the danger only being “potential”, says the CEC.
The ANAO backs this view up by saying it found the percentage of “unsafe” systems has fallen from 4.2% in 2015 to 2.7% in 2018. This, believes the ANAO, is proof that the existing regulatory framework is effective. Although, it says, more work needs to be done to bring the numbers down further.