Australia’s obsession with cheap solar is derailing market

Australian Conservatives Release

Rooftop solar industry veterans say Australia has become a dumping ground for poor-quality solar products and some are questioning the regulatory oversight of household rooftop solar installers and products.

The Conservative Party has long called for the removal of all subsidies for renewables because they have distorted the energy market and are ultimately responsible for the skyrocketing price of power.

The ABC reports, an audit of the Clean Energy Regulator (CER) by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) late last year found it is likely there are potentially tens of thousands of badly installed and even unsafe systems on rooftops.

Not only are these systems risky, it is likely they are not producing the clean energy that Australia’s renewable energy target relies on.

About one in five Australian homes has installed rooftop solar.

The ANAO found 1.2 per cent of rooftop solar installations have been inspected by the regulator.

The regulator’s inspections found that about one in six solar installations was “substandard”, and about one in 30 was “unsafe”.

Based on the sample, the audit found there would be hundreds of thousands of substandard installations and tens of thousands of unsafe solar systems across the country.

Wollongong resident Rex Leighton spent $8,000 installing a rooftop solar system in 2015, which he expected would last for at least 25 years.

It only lasted four and a half years.

He said a manufacturing fault meant the 20-panel system had been gradually damaged by water.

Mr Leighton said it was “incredibly disappointing, to say the least”.

“And we were expecting a substantially longer time than that.”

On the day the ABC visited Mr Leighton’s property, Johann Fleury’s company Thirroul Solar was removing the panels and replacing them.

“These can’t be fixed. There’s no way of reversing the issue that they have with them,” Mr Fleury said.

It is not a job he likes doing.

The panels he was taking down will most likely end up at the tip, as there was nowhere nearby to recycle them.

Mr Fleury was just one of dozens of solar installers 7.30 spoke to who said poor-quality rooftop solar was all too common.

“A large amount of those earlier panels, since I’d say 2008 all the way till 2014, a lot of those panels have come back down off roofs,” he said.

He is worried about the reputation of the rooftop solar industry, with poor-quality systems that may only last a couple of years leaving customers disappointed and out of pocket.

“There’s a lot of things that are wrong or negative within the solar industry,” he said.

In Canberra, Dr Michelle McCann runs one of the few laboratories in Australia that conducts commercial testing for solar panels.

“We’re in a pretty good position to assess how panels are performing across the whole of Australia, simply because we are one of the few options in Australia,” she said.

“We have found that the performance is really variable across Australia. Some are fine, great, and some are really poor.”

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.

One of the worst-performing panels she had tested from the Australian market was a panel that produced 12 per cent less electricity than its advertised rating.

“[That] raises questions then about what that panel’s going to do after one year, or three or five years, let alone 25 years in the field,” she said.

Dr McCann said some overseas manufacturers were sending poor-quality solar products to Australia, knowing they would not be checked.

“What we can conclude is that in some cases, unfortunately they know that we are not really checking the quality of what is coming into Australia always, and there are a lot of companies out there … some of them are cutting corners where they can to make extra money.”

She said Australia does not have a rigorous culture of testing imported solar products.

“Australian consumers are notorious, and known overseas, for caring a lot about price and not caring about quality, and when that happens you get the cheaper product. And the cheaper product is not the better-performing product.”

Some of the problems emerging in rooftop solar are the result of a massive growth in demand, fuelled by government subsidies.

But there is a chance Australia could repeat some of the same mistakes with the next boom in home energy – household batteries.

The National Audit Office found some of the risks of batteries include electric shock, gas explosion, fire, and chemical exposure.

About 60,000 home batteries have already been installed, but there is still no agreed Australian Standard setting out the minimum safety requirements for their installation.

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