100% Solar and Battery installation inspections are a must!

More and more articles are appearing on TV and in newspapers about shoddy solar systems.
Although I’m disappointed, I’m not surprised.
Too many people buy on price, unsurprisingly they get exactly what they pay for.
Here’s a letter I sent to all the state energy ministers earlier this week:

Dear Minister,

Last week I held training seminars in Brisbane, Tweed, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth attended by a number of solar installers.
After the completion of training we discussed issues confronting our industry in 2019.

None of us are happy with the standard of installations.
We don’t believe we need more regulation and guidelines, only that the existing regulations are enforced.

In most States, there is no or very little inspection of electrical work.
Around 1% of solar installations are inspected by the Clean Energy Regulator. These inspections have revealed a high level of non-compliance with regulations and guidelines.

The consensus of the training groups was that 100% inspection of all solar and battery installations should be mandatory.
Feedback from Tasmania is that their model has been successful in raising the standard of installations and ‘cleaning out the shonks’.
The Tasmanian model has Techsafe subcontracting to the Department of Justice to carry out 100% inspections.
We would prefer inspections to be carried out by inspectors directly employed by the Electrical Safety Office in each state.
We recognise that this could be a costly exercise and agree that a $250 fee per inspection is reasonable.

There are no barriers to entry in this industry.
Anyone can set up a Facebook page or a webpage, advertise and sell solar systems.
Most of these sales companies have no license to trade as an electrical contractor. Most of them do not display their license on advertising because they don’t have one.
Typically these sales companies sell cheap, shoddy systems with a high failure rate. When the warranty pressure becomes overwhelming they disappear or phoenix to continue under a new name.
We ask that the regulations around unlicensed electrical contracting be strictly enforced.

We agree with the need for an industry code of conduct.
However the consensus view is that a voluntary code of conduct will only be observed by reputable installers who are probably already observing at least the spirit of the proposed codes. The proposed COAG Behind The Meter code is voluntary. There is no obligation for a sales company or installer to sign up.
Observing the BTM code will add operating costs giving the less reputable companies not observing the code a price advantage.
Most reputable installers are members of either NECA, MEA or the Smart Energy Council and have therefore signed up to their codes of conduct.

The Clean Energy Council’s Approved Retailer Scheme is seen as a money grab. Accredited designers and installers already agree to a CEC code of conduct, which is unenforced. We’re sceptical that the CEC has the ability to improve retailer behaviour considering their failure to maintain the installation quality standards of the industry over the past ten or more years. The inclusion of sales companies with history of substandard work and poor ethics calls the integrity of the ARS into question. Subsidised battery installations are already being subcontracted to questionable companies.
CEC’s successful lobbying of state governments to restrict access to tenders and subsidy schemes to ARS’ is seen as anticompetitive, particularly as NECA, MEA and SEC have similar codes of conduct.
We ask that you revisit the decision to restrict access to government tenders and subsidy schemes to CEC Approved Retailers.

From our perspective it appears that the state regulators assumed the CEC had control of the industry and derogated responsibility to the CEC.
The oversight of the industry by the Clean Energy Council has allowed a plethora of unlicensed sales companies to install poor quality, dangerous solar systems. These sales companies use poorly trained, underpaid subcontractors who, in turn use utterly unqualified staff to carry out electrical work.
The CEC has allowed both the solar and battery accreditation courses to be reduced to three day tick and flick, everyone wins a prize events.
Installation of solar panels usually includes running up to 1000 volts DC circuits, capable of creating unquenchable arcs. Batteries store large amounts of energy in chemical form which can be rapidly released (ie explode) in fault conditions.
Unlicensed sales companies sell these systems and poorly trained, skilled and paid workers install them. Very few of these systems are inspected. We already see large numbers of fires caused by poorly installed and designed solar systems. There is no reason to think battery failures will be any less prevalent. Unfortunately battery failures will involve explosions and toxic chemical fires.

Responsibility for electrical safety enforcement is held by state governments.
Subsidies for battery systems expose state governments to reputational damage if and when problems start.

In the interests of consumer safety and the reputation of the renewable industry, we request as a matter of urgency that enforcement of existing electrical rules and regulations by state inspectors be applied.

Yours faithfully
John Inglis
21 January 2019

I have also started a petition on Change.org. If you agree that electrical safety should be enforced, please sign the petition.

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