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Solar safety risk

Monday, 30th May, 2011

Provider warns of dodgy installation

By Gina Wilson

A local solar panel provider has warned residents could put their safety at risk if they rush to have the panels installed before government incentives run out.

Ethical Energy's David Phillips echoed calls from consumer group, Choice, which last week warned householders that stop-start programs had created a "fly-by-night" environment and that some operators could cut corners in an effort to install solar panels before financial incentives were changed.

"There is a greater chance that the system gets hastily installed and may not be installed safely or to industry standards," Mr Phillips said.

The NSW Government wants to cut the payment for solar electricity fed into the grid by domestic systems from 60 cents per kilowatt hour to 40 cents.

The proposed reduction, which is due to come into effect on July 1, has been criticised by the solar industry and residents who took up the original offer.

The Coalition government, which has blamed a blow-out in the cost of the scheme for the changes, has also closed the Solar Bonus Scheme to new applicants.

The federal government, meanwhile, has also said it will cut subsidies for installation of solar panels on homes.

Choice said it had uncovered evidence of widespread problems with solar panel installation, including the use of incorrect wiring and circuit breakers which could lead to fire.

Last week NSW Fair Trading began a check of solar panels after a small number of safety concerns were revealed during a February audit of homes in Port Macquarie.

Mr Phillips said locals may have already been dealt dodgy deals and they should check their systems carefully.

"There are many installers from interstate especially from Victoria and SA operating in Broken Hill, very hard to chase up sub-contractors after they have left town," he said.

"At a non-tradesman level customers should look for loose cables flapping in the wind or exposed to direct sunlight, also cables ties are not allowed to be the primary fixing support."

Incorrect installation or poor workmanship could lead to electric shock, Mr Phillips said.

"Some 'transformer-less' inverters which are becoming more common can exhibit high leakage currents on the DC side and if earthing is not done correctly there is the risk that roof workers could get a tingle from power and you could fall from the roof," he said.

"For correct system performance (householders) should also check that no direct shading of the panels, such as TV antennas, chimneys, stink pipes, air conditioners and trees, as this can significantly reduce the output of the system.

"The inverter should be located away from direct sunlight. The support framing should be also compliant."

Mr Phillips said those buying solar panels for the first time should ask for their installer to present them with an identification card and hold a current NSW Licence.

"All trained installers should present to the householder a Clean Energy Council Accredited ID card that has a photo, the installers name and endorsement," he said.

"They should also have a sound understanding of the current guidelines and standards and must be a licenced electrical worker NSW to conduct any electrical works, as well as insurances etc."

Mr Phillips said any suspicious activity or safety concerns should be directed to the NSW Department of Fair trading.

He said locals could look at the Clean Energy Council's Consumer Guide, available online, to help them understand the process and make better informed decisions.

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