Australia: PV posing fire risks

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As the mercury rises in much of Western Australia, with temperatures approaching 50C (122F) being recorded in parts of the state over the past week, hundreds of thousands of energy-sapping air conditions will be switched on. This causes very large peaks in electricity consumption. However, the hot days have also delivered a fire warning from the state’s electricity safety watchdog – related to photovoltaic installations.

EnergySafety WA has released an audit of 260 residential solar installations. 12 percent of the installations were incorrectly wired, posing a "potential fire hazard". A further 11 percent of installations had wires which were not properly protected and could eventually become a fire risk. 27 percent of the installations had missing labels or other minor defects.

In response to the report, the Sustainable Energy Association (SEA) has said that while such instpections are welcomed, the report was biased towards inspecting installations that network operators thought were suspect. As such, the results were not a true reflection of installations in the state.

By contrast, the SEA’s own reports, of around 5,000 systems, suggest that far lower numbers of installations are potentially faulty. In fact, only 2.1 percent featured the incorrect wiring that is most troubling.

The SEA’s Chief Executive Ray Wills was also critical of the timing of the report’s release, only days before Christmas.

"If you have concerns over the workmanship of you solar system, you have rights as a customer, and you should contact your installer over the course of the next few months – but don’t stop Christmas because of it," said Wills.

This is not the first time safety authorities have launched public inspection campaigns of photovoltaic installations in Australia, with New South Wales’ Government raising similar concerns earlier in the year.

Safety solutions have also been emerging from the Australian photovoltaic industry. Electrical engineer Joe Hudson took safety concerns into his own hands, designing a safety system that allows for solar arrays to be isolated. Hudson has seen his Remote Solar Isolator installed to a number of larger solar systems on public buildings such as council offices (pictured).