The solar industry is worldwide and we at SolarTown report solar news from around the globe because what happens in one country can affect what happens in another country. That brings us to the latest news from down under, where the news is not good both because reduced incentives are depressing growth and, possibly more importantly, because low quality installations of solar energy systems has raised the specter of safety hazards.
Following the government's decision in April to suspend the Solar Bonus Scheme, a per kilowatt rebate system in New South Wales (NSW), residents of NSW with solar PV systems were recently hit with even more bad news. Audit figures released last week have shed light on what many had been suspecting for months - that there are widespread snags in NSW residential solar installations. Of the 658 surveyed solar energy systems in Western Sydney, just 20 percent were correctly installed and approximately 18.5 percent had major defects.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that many of the system faults involve incorrect wiring of the DC circuit breaker, an error which does not affect the efficiency of the solar system, but does pose various safety hazards. At SolarTown, where many of our customers, are do-it-yourselfers, we tell our customers that a master electrician for the electrical work on a solar energy system is essential. It is puzzling why so many PV systems in Australia seem to be incorrectly wired, and the report does not give us any insight into this issue.
The federal government in Australia has seen immediate backlash regarding the issue, including claims that they have kept the problem quiet to avoid bad publicity, the same kind of publicity that was sparked by the failure of the Solar Bonus Scheme and their now-defunct Green Loan scheme, which was slashed in 2010.
Kane Thornton, Strategy Director of the Clean Energy Council, the agency responsible for accrediting solar panel installers, rushed to the federal government's defense, saying that "our concern was that there was a greater risk in alerting people of a potential issue that they couldn't do anything to solve themselves."
But perhaps the bigger question in NSW is how the government will resolve the state-wide solar dilemma. Australia's solar industry has warned it faces ruin due to the state government's inaction in NSW. In this ABC Lateline video clip, John Grimes of the Australian Solar Energy Society asks "how long will [the NSW government] allow 73 jobs a day to be lost?" Grimes poses a legitimate question, as the current solar standstill has dramatically reduced demand for solar panels, putting over 5,000 jobs and 830 businesses on the line. Grimes instead advocated for a ‘Fair & Equal Price for Solar Solution' at last week's Solar Energy Summit in NSW. This scheme is based on solar households being paid the same price as it costs to generate fossil fuels by electricity companies. Additional information on this can be viewed in this International Business Times article.
Barry O'Farrell, current Premier of NSW, has urged concerned residents to be patient with their solar PV systems. He stressed that despite the audit's results, of the 120,000 solar homes in NSW only two have reported major fires in their fuse boxes. An article in the Bellingen Shire Courier-Sun applauds the audit for its transparency but suggests that NSW residents pressure the government to adopt a fair and equal price for a solar feed in tariff.
Time is running out on Australia's solar industry: a shame considering the widespread acceptance of solar from NSW residents. While it is difficult for government to enact long-term solar energy policies due the emergent nature of the industry, it is time that federal authorities worked side by side with companies and residents to come up with a scheme that encourages solar growth without depleting government coffers.