Solar installations checked for faults – see original article here
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Eleanor Bell reported this story on Monday, February 13, 2012 18:34:00
MARK COLVIN: The peak body representing firefighters says faulty solar panel installations are putting emergency services workers at risk. The Fire Brigade Employees Union is calling for new legislation to regulate the fitting of photovoltaic systems.
The union joins a chorus who say the current level of sub-standard and even dangerous installation is unacceptable. The Federal Government recently released figures showing that 4 per cent of solar panels posed an imminent risk to safety.
And as Eleanor Bell reports, it’s almost double that in New South Wales.
ELEANOR BELL: The New South Wales solar industry is booming on the back of the State Government’s generous bonus scheme which gives rebates to people who install photovoltaic systems on their rooves. Tens of thousands of systems were installed, before the rebate was cut from 60 cents per kilowatt hour to 20 cents.
But with the boom came increasing concern over shoddy installation and safety risks. Significant numbers of systems have been found with incorrectly wired circuit breakers.
James Tinslay is the chief executive of the National Electrical and Communications Association.
JAMES TINSLAY: A DC circuit breaker, if it’s not installed the right way and it’s polarised, can be a significant safety factor if somebody turns that breaker off to isolate whilst there is electricity being generated from the grid. It can potentially blow up or arc and significantly frighten, if not burn, the person turning it off.
ELEANOR BELL: The Fire Brigade Employees Union says firefighters attending house fires aren’t confident they’ll be safe if they have to turn off a solar system. So instead they’re disabling the panels by using blankets and tarpaulins to block out the sun.
JIM CASEY: Look I’m hearing of near misses.
ELEANOR BELL: Jim Casey is the general secretary for the Fire Brigade Employees Union.
JIM CASEY: Look I’ve heard of situations where firefighters have, you know, taken jerry-rigged approaches to try and deal with this, you know, working around tarpaulins and blankets and so forth. Now look, you know, we’re a relatively ingenious bunch, I’m sure there’s solutions being worked out as we speak. But really that’s not good enough.
ELEANOR BELL: Last June the New South Wales Government commissioned an audit of solar panel installations in Port Macquarie on the state’s mid-north coast. It found problems with around one in three installations. In 5 per cent of cases there was a serious safety risk.
Now AusGrid, which operates half the electricity network in New South Wales, is checking its entire network.
AusGrid spokesman, Anthony O’Brien.
ANTHONY O’BRIEN: So far over the last year or two, we’ve inspected around 30,000 installations. We’ve found that in the case of around about 7 per cent of those, that there are major defects. And these are defects that are important enough that we are having to disconnect those installations from the electricity network and issue an order.
ELEANOR BELL: Endeavour Energy is a smaller operator. It’s audited 16,000 installation since mid-July 2010, and has disconnected 8 per cent of customers for major defects.
The national body representing electrical contractors says while most installers are accredited, it’s easy for inexperienced electricians to get it wrong.
National Electrical and Communications Association’s, James Tinslay.
JAMES TINSLAY: DC circuit breakers are only used very rarely in normal electrical work as we use AC for our houses, our buildings, etcetera. However, it should be installed correctly.
ELEANOR BELL: It’s renewed its call for a national review of all solar panel installations and a consistent regulatory system across the country.
JAMES TINSLAY: The problem here is that electricity is a state-regulated area, it’s not federal. So we’ve got a mismatch of inspections and, I guess, understanding between what the federal department is doing with subsidies etcetera, and what is happening at a state level.
ELEANOR BELL: The Fire Brigade Employees Union’s, Jim Casey.
JIM CASEY: I think a national review would be a good thing. Firefighting is a dangerous enough job as it is and anything that we can do to lessen our exposure on the fire ground it’s something that the union’s obviously going to welcome.
But I think that the first, immediate thing that we should be looking at is coming to some understanding about how these systems are going to be fitted in the future. And having some kind of, you know, national standard on that, so the firefighters have a little bit more certainty when they’re turning up and dealing with a solar system in the event of a house fire.
ELEANOR BELL: A report released two weeks ago by the Federal Government, found 4 per cent of installs were unsafe and a further 22 per cent were faulty.
MARK COLVIN: Eleanor Bell.