There’s a big problem in Australia’s solar world. Despite ACT, TAS, and VIC inspecting all new rooftop solar power system installations, NSW, SA, WA and QLD don’t – and that’s playing with fire.
In this post, I’m zooming in on NSW – explaining why electrical inspections for solar installations should be non-negotiable. For the safety of Australians and the industry’s reputation, we can’t delay action.
The Dangerous Lack Of Solar Inspections In NSW
Shockingly, NSW Fair Trading lacks a mandatory solar inspection system. This regulatory blind spot fosters an environment where the rate of non-compliant solar installations is now much higher in NSW than across the border in Victoria.
In NSW, while local DNSPs (Distribution Network Service Providers) conduct sporadic inspections, sources familiar with the situation have indicated a shift in focus. Since the advent of the “Power of Choice” initiative a few years back, DNSPs have prioritised network connections over customer installations. Consequently, DNSP inspectors are reducing their behind-the-meter inspections.
When NSW DNSPs find a problem with a residential solar install, they tell NSW Fair Trading, expecting them to act. NSW Fair Trading looks after customer installations and will act if DNSPs report bad work. Fair Trading are the regulators here, not the DNSPs.
In my opinion, Victoria – dubbed the “Nanny State” – has set the gold standard for solar installations.
The Electricity Safety Act of 1998 legislated mandatory inspections for all Prescribed Work – solar power systems fall into this category, and each installation must be signed off by a Licenced Electrical Inspector (LEI), a move that has had a profound impact on the industry’s safety standards.
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On top of this, Solar Victoria (an entity within the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action) was introduced to the industry in 2018. Despite a rocky start, an audit program was introduced. Since then, the changes to the industry have been remarkable. Solar installers in Victoria are well aware that they are being closely monitored, and this awareness has led to a significant improvement in compliance and safety. Unsafe installations are at an all-time low.
Random inspections can come from Solar Victoria, Energy Safe Victoria (ESV) or the federal Clean Energy Regulator (CER). With these watchdogs in place, Victorians can trust their solar installations.
NSW is in the dark about the number of unsafe solar installations without regular inspections and audits.
The safety of the public should always be a priority. Incorrect solar installations pose serious risks. Even in Victoria, where inspections are mandatory, I see room for improvement. Do we need a major incident, or even a fatality, before we address this in NSW?
The CER inspects many solar installations across all states under the Federal Government’s Small-Scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES) program. But no formal training for NSW’s CER solar inspectors raises questions about inspection quality. As a formally trained and qualified LEI, I shudder to think what I might uncover if I were to inspect solar installations in NSW using the same standards upheld in Victoria.
NSW’s regulatory scene seems resistant to change. My chats with those in regulatory roles reveal a shift: instead of tackling poor solar systems, they’re chasing unlicensed workers across the entire electrical industry. But there are too many examples of properly licenced installers doing substandard work.
Some say NSW Fair Trading lacks funds to inspect due to tight budgets. Yet, in Victoria, the system pays for itself. Electrical contractors cover the costs of safety checks, passing them on to customers. The overall feeling from NSW? Making changes is just too difficult.
The Pressing Need For Reform In NSW
NSW authorities, take heed. The absence of inspections is a catastrophe in the making. The model of the Licensed Electrical Inspector (LEI) in Victoria, who checks all prescribed electrical work before it is energised – including solar installations – is a template NSW should follow. The best NSW installers are itching for such a system.
Recommendations For A Safer Solar Powered Future
- Mandatory Electrical Inspections: NSW, follow Victoria’s lead. Make electrical inspections compulsory for new solar installations.
- Transparency and Accountability: Regular audits keep solar installers sharp, driving safety and compliance.
- Safety Training: Solar installers need top-notch training. Experienced LEIs are vital mentors.
- Public Awareness: Customers must know the risks of shoddy solar systems, ensuring they demand top-tier installations.
- Collaboration: Open dialogue between the solar industry, regulatory bodies, and LEIs.
NSW’s solar installation scene is on shaky ground. We can’t wait for disaster to strike. Adopting mandatory inspections, taking a leaf out of Victoria’s book, and boosting transparency are non-negotiables. The time to act is yesterday. Let’s keep Australians safe and uphold our solar industry’s integrity across Australia. If NSW joins the mandatory inspection party, SA, QLD and WA should soon follow.