Australian solar bodies react angrily to 'politicization' of quality issues

Australia’s Clean Energy Council (CEC) and the Australian Solar Council (ASC) have rejected the implication of the Australian Federal Government that solar arrays are unsafe. The implication was made on the back of reporting into quality issues in the Australian solar market.

“The reason the government is doing this is that is political,” said John Grimes ASC CEO, “we are completely unsurprised. This is cynical, gutter politics.” The CEC’s Kane Thornton also rejected the government’s insinuations.

“The industry strongly rejects any notion of lax safety standards in the sector, including those based on isolated accounts that ignore the industry’s strong track record,” Thornton said. Both Grimes’ and Thornton’s comments were made to leading Australian renewable energy news portal RenewEconomy.

Origins of dispute

Earlier this week, the Australian Fairfax media group published a report in which it said that solar professionals in four states had reported that an influx of PV modules from China are causing the billions of dollars in support of solar are being “wasted on cheap and dodgy panels”. The report spoke to installers in four Australian states who reported that some solar arrays are lasting as little as 12 months before encountering technical difficulties.

One installer, John Alberti from Melbourne was reported as saying that poor quality components were “destroying the industry” Down Under.

“You find corrosion, rust, they’re flimsy,” Alberti was quoted as saying in the Fairfax reports. “The lamination on the back of the panel has come away and water gets in. But most of the time they’re not generating the kind of wattage that was promised.”

Australia’s Environment Minister Greg Hunt entered the fray on Tuesday, ordering the Clean Energy Council (CEC) to conduct an immediate review of the industry to ensure householder safety.

“The poor installation of solar PV or installation of substandard solar PV has the potential to lead to fires with risks to property and human life. I’m sure you would agree that it is absolutely imperative that all panels installed must be of high quality and pose absolutely no threat to safety,” wrote Hunt in his letter to the CEC.

“I consider safety to be a matter of paramount importance and I am seeking your assurance of a review of this matter. I ask for an urgent and immediate investigation and preliminary response on safety matters by the end of this week, including outlining what steps you propose to take to rectify the matter.”

Hunt indicated that he is considering a wider inquiry into the issue.

The CEC indicated to RenewEconomy that it was in the process of responding to Minister Hunt’s letter.

Australia is a world leader in rooftop residential solar, with over 1.4 million households sporting a solar array. Last year Australia installed around 800 MW of rooftop PV.