Energy safety report on solar panels raises concerns about EnergySafety WA
A recent report on ‘Electrical safety of grid-connected solar installations in Western Australia’ by EnergySafety WA that raises questions about a high proportion of non-compliant solar panel installations in Western Australia has been welcomed and also strongly criticised by the Sustainable Energy Association of Australia (SEA).
EnergySafety WA is a Western Australian government agency responsible for the technical and safety regulation of the entire 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.
While welcoming scrutiny of solar panel installations and all renewable energy projects to ensure their safety and reliability, Professor Ray Wills, SEA Chief Executive comments that reports such as these must be well-informed, well considered and carefully delivered, avoiding inaccuracies and alarmist statements.
He points out that the report summarises the review of 260 inspection checklists prepared by electrical inspectors working for network operators and reviewed by EnergySafety WA. Of the 260 installations reviewed, 131 (50%) were defect-free while 129 (50%) contained at least one defect. Thirty-one (12%) installations had a Category 1 defect, or ‘incorrect wiring of the DC isolating device’, which the report noted may present a potential fire hazard.
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 in fact that only about 18% of systems are probably defective (according to the EnergySafety definition), not 50%, and fewer than 2.1% are likely to be suffering a Category 1 defect, reported at 12% by EnergySafety.
Professor Wills adds that the report is unhelpful in determining the urgency of the issue and how soon a consumer might need to respond.
He also says that there is no need to be concerned if the solar installation is operating correctly. Concerns over the workmanship of a solar system can always be addressed by contacting the installer.
As a business chamber representing the sustainable energy industries in Australia, SEA is open to working with EnergySafety WA to improve safety standards for renewables in Western Australia.
Professor Ray Wills encourages home owners to install solar power systems to deliver cheaper electricity that would generate savings equivalent to cutting off as many as four years from a 25-year $100,000 mortgage.
He also advises homeowners to purchase wisely by selecting a reputable supplier, preferably an installer that belongs to the Sustainable Energy Association or a similar reputable industry body.