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Shoddy solar power work poses risk of another subsidy debacle

1 June 2010


SUBSIDISED solar power risks becoming a new insulation-type debacle, with industry leaders claiming shoddy work and poor safety standards are rife.

Top companies have warned that:

• Shonky operators are flooding the solar power industry on the back of government subsidies.

• Dangerous non-tempered glass and inferior imported panels are being used to cut costs.

• There is evidence of installations in Queensland so poor that panels could fall off the roof.

• So-called "free" 1.5kW units are insufficient.

Fearing a repeat of the ceiling insulation disaster, which led to house fires and the death of four installers, they have told the Federal Government it must change the way subsidies are allocated to safeguard homeowners and encourage a sustainable industry.

Householders are currently eligible for up to $6000 in federal rebates for roof-mounted solar power systems installed by an accredited operator.

There have been about 20,000 such systems installed in Queensland in the past three years. But industry figures warn some operators are cutting overheads to drum up business.

Solar Shop Australia managing director Adrian Ferraretto said some operators were offering 1.5kW installations "free", allowing government subsidies to cover the full cost.

"When things are for free, every man and his dog gets accreditation and starts installing," he said.

"We do not want a repeat of the ceiling insulation situation."

Mr Ferraretto said a quality 3kW solar system to power a family home should cost $16,000 to $17,000.

"A 1.5kW system is really only enough to power your shed," he said, adding that only householders willing to contribute their own money should get subsidies.

"If you had a 3kW system you would have mums and dads taking a lot more interest in what they are paying for. You would also have a worthwhile solar power system and we could ensure we continue to have a credible industry."

Greenbank Australia, the nation's largest independent trader of renewable energy certificates, revealed the dangers to a Senate Estimates hearing in Canberra.

"You actually have electricity generation on your roof and if you start putting in cheap panels that are made with just plain glass, not tempered glass, it is dangerous," Greenbank chief Fiona O'Hehir said.

Connergy Australia general manager David McCallum said some substandard installations could simply fall off the roof.

"You could have . . . 5kg or 20kg modules falling from the roof line," he said.

Mr Ferraretto said he had photographic evidence in Queensland of wood being used to secure solar installations.

"That could simply rot and the installation fall off," he said.

Industry insiders said some operators were also installing low-grade solar panels.

Queensland National Party Senator Ron Boswell, who has been investigating the issue for several months, said the safety concerns were real but he did not believe they were life threatening at this stage.

"It is frankly cold comfort to be told by the department that safeguards are in place," Senator Boswell said. "The danger may be more of rorting and defrauding householders." Clean Energy Council Australia said there were credible concerns about the methods used by some solar panel installers.


Owner of Springers, Brian Springer said today that the comments in the Courier Mail are a concern for the responsible companies in the industry. Maintaining Australian Standards and quality systems is a hard ‘sell’ to the customer while these shonky operators are offering cheap systems. It is understandable that customers are confused when most of the world supply of solar panels come out of China. In fact excellent ‘world standard panels’ are made in China but along with these are very poor quality panels from other factories. How these panels are put on the roof by sub contractors is also very questionable from some of these cheaper companies.

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