The dark side of Australia’s rooftop solar energy obsession | 7.30

[Music] [Applause] Rick Slaton spent $8,000 installing solar panels on his Wollongong home to look to have longer-term smaller electricity bills and secondly and the desire to try and move towards renewable energy and we wanted to be a part of that after just four and a half years they're headed for the tip let me feel a bit sick really because the warranty was for ten years on the product and we're expecting a substantially longer time than that the 20 panel system had been damaged by water these can't be fixed there's no way of reversing the issue that they have with them they're basically just dead powder your hand Flurry's company is taking down the panels and replacing them a large amount of those earlier panels in since I'd say 2008 or wait till probably about 2014 a lot of those panels that have gone up Andrews have come back down off roots your hand is just one of dozens of solar installers seven-thirty has spoken to we say poor quality rooftop solar is all too common you'll have bottom of the bottom of barrel sort of pliers going out there smashing it out and trying to get it in as best as possible and just fix possible for as little money as possible but there the systems that are likely the last two years and then I'll be there going there and replacing those systems and I don't want to be doing that one of the industry's peak bodies the Clean Energy Council has the power to accredit solar products and installers last year the council suspended a hundred and sixty solar installers and canceled the accreditations of twelve more it also struck more than five and a half thousand models of solar panel off its list of approved products so the solar industry does have its Dark Horse that there's a of things that are wrong or negative within the solar industry as a consumer it's very hard to tell what you've bought consumers are sometimes getting what I think they're getting and sometimes not in Canberra dr.

Michelle McCann runs one of the few laboratories in Australia that conducts commercial testing of solar panels she's measuring how much electricity a panel can produce from a single flash of light you can't tell by looking at the outside of a panel whether it's going to be good or bad and you can't tell by looking at the brand name of a panel whether it's going to be good or bad we've had same brands performing well and also poorly and they are brand names that you would expect to perform well in some tests new panels have produced about 10 percent less energy than they're advertised rating to my mind raises questions then about what that panel is going to do after one year or three or five let alone 25 years in the field she says manufacturers overseas are sending poor quality batches of solar panels to Australia believing they'll never get caught Australian consumers are notorious and they're known overseas for caring a lot about price and for not caring very much about quality and when that happens you get the cheaper product and the cheaper product isn't the better performing product do you think Australia has a problem with low-quality solar that has been installed in the past that he's still on people's roofs no I don't think Australia has a problem and I think I think what we've got here is a minimum standard that ensures safety and a minimum level of quality for solar systems about one in five homes has rooftop solar Australia's clean energy regulator has inspected just over 1% of them of those one in six installations was found to be substandard and one in 30 unsafe late last year the Australian National Audit Office found it's likely there would be hundreds of thousands of substandard installations and tens of thousands of unsafe solar systems across the country the Clean Energy Regulator declined an interview with 7:30 but the Clean Energy Council says the vast majority of solar systems are safe and an unsafe rating is not as bad as it sounds well we need be clear firstly that this categorization is about potentially unsafe systems and we're obviously very focused on continuing to reduce that number and the regulatory framework in place that applies to the product and also the way in which its installed we believe is working and that's because the number of unsafe systems is continuing to reduce over time state and territory authorities conduct their own checks on rooftop solar but some are more comprehensive than others in Victoria Tasmania and the ICT authorities inspect every system that's installed while in some other states there are regimes of targeted inspections but seven-thirty understands that some states have become increasingly dissatisfied with the National regulator's testing regime an explosion has destroyed a home in Allen Brooklyn he believes it was the homes solar power inverter that went off had the solar panels connected to lithium ion batteries in the garage for around a year and suspects that the fire began somewhere near the batteries my role is to determine cause an origin of fires at Melvin's metropolitan fire brigade fire investigators steve Itard is working in the evidence room he's sorting through the remains of a solar system that was responsible for a house fire late last year in the last five years we've had 25 fires approximately involving solar systems people losing their homes both the fire brigade and the regulator have pointed to problems with a safety measure that was introduced about 15 years ago it's a switch to shut off the flow of power from solar panels called a DC isolator this is a DC isolator that was up in the roof the units can be damaged by water and then catch fire spreading across the roof before anyone notices certain brands have been recalled but there's still a number a great number of the old Isolators still out there in service which at some point in time will pose a risk that the Clean Energy Council has been calling for a review of the requirement for rooftop DC Isolators because we think it is an appropriate point in time to reflect on their the intent of these devices and indeed the extent to which they're actually making the the system safer are they making solar systems less safe well I don't think there's any any evidence of that at this point in time [Music] attractive government subsidies have driven the massive growth in demand for rooftop solar now there are fears that Australia could repeat the same mistakes with the next big boom in household energy home batteries the National Audit Office has found the risks of batteries include a lek trick shot gas explosion and fire about 60,000 batteries have already been connected but Australia still doesn't have a grade minimum safety standards for the installation the Clean Energy Council has accredited almost a thousand people to install home batteries do you think the market then has got ahead of regulation home batteries are fundamentally very safe and we need to remember that these type of batteries have been used in cars for many many years electric vehicles they're also not too similar to the batteries that are in many people's homes in the in the form of their cordless power tools but the concerns about rooftop solar aren't just about safety industry veteran Marcus Lambert sells high-end systems and says poor quality solar doesn't help reduce Australia's carbon emissions the problem is in many cases it hasn't even gained its co2 back by the time it's failed so you've actually got the irony that we're paying a rebate for solar that hasn't helped with abatement he too has teams of installers removing failed and unsafe solar systems from rooftops right now in Australia for all those failed panels we don't even have a mandatory recycling scheme so when these panels fail they end up at the local tip and there's no scheme for recycling and we have the product failing that's a failure given these issues is Australia's market for renewable energy working as it should one of the big selling points of solar is the government incentives that reduce the cost of solar systems and form the basis for the national trade in carbon abatement when someone installs solar panels a renewable energy certificates is created which assumes the panel's will produce clean energy for 12 years but if the solar panels fail after just a few years the certificate can still be bought by a company to offset its emissions this market for certificates from rooftop solar as well as wind and solar farms is worth 1.5 billion dollars a year and rising we're drawing less from the grid so we're providing for ourselves a bit what to do stuff like I like it feels good I think the Taylors live in Melbourne West and run a business making signs for the city's galleries earlier this year they spent about four thousand dollars on a rooftop solar system most of the retails I spoke to warned of the cowboy approach the installers and some retailers so you kind of look at that and you just opt for the ones that are certified by the Clean Energy Council but when John Taylor went to apply for the Victorian Government's rebate to get half his money back he found the rebate program had suddenly closed just hours before and that was at nine o'clock so from a matter of two and a half hours they've either got up a bit earlier I've probably got a rebate it's disappointing that we're not going to get it but I imagine it would hurt other people more than us like the 2 million other homes and businesses that have invested in rooftop solar the Taylors are full of good intentions they can only hope they're getting what they paid for there's more work to be done or anything anyone disputes that but again we need to reflect on the actual outcomes for householders here the the audit data shows that systems are becoming safer and safer we've got over two men Australian households with rooftop solar and very very few actual incidents relating to safety within the industry when you put it from solar installation on your roof you're putting a little mini power station on your roof you would never ever build a coal-fired power plant without doing quality checks on it but we're doing that we saw the rooftops hi I'm Leigh sales thanks for watching this story if you'd like to watch more of 730 stories they are on the left of your screen and tap on the button below to subscribe and get the latest from ABC news

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