CHOICE membership

Solar Panel Systems Quality and Safety in Australia

Regulation plays catch-up with Australia’s residential solar industry:

8 Likes

Rooftop solar… what a good idea!
Best to buy the best, n’est pas? Purchasing a cheaper system is false economy they say… So, I gathered my pennies and bought the system advertised ad nauseam with letter box pamphlets. Cost was $14,000. The best, German designed and made, guarantied for 25 years.
Took these people over six months to get around to inspecting the roof and another month to get around to installing it. Pamphlets continued unabated…
Great, everything was working well… for about 18 months. Then nothing!
Found that the original installer (A) had gone bust. Eventually tracked down the company (B) who had bought out A. Contacted them and waited over 12 months for them to come and inspect/fix the system.
They had the records and were aware that it was a BlueLine system, so very expensive…
Finally arrived, removed the BlueLine larger of the two boxes on the wall down from the rooftop system, replaced it with a box without promotional labels on the outer cardboard container, so a much cheaper version. First box did not work so replaced that one with another which also did not work.
It was dark by the so the young chap said that it would all work in the morning when the sun was out again. This did not happen.
Second chap was eventually sent after many phone calls. He took the larger box out, then inspected the smaller of the two boxes on the wall and found that it was all rusty inside so replaced that ($150).
Still nothing was happening. He turned off the system on the roof mounted part, drove off and never came back despite numerous call to his employers.
Five years have gone by with a small fortune spent on trying to get these people who in fact actually stole the larger BlueLine box which quite possibly was still working well, to (1) answer my calls and (2) finish the repairs.
BlueLine have also gone bust and according to the sheath of papers sent by their lawyers, owe numerous people lots of money, most of which no one will receive from them.
Company B appears to have vanished into thin air.

Is there nothing we, the trusting customers who have been robbed, can do about these companies who promise great service, give nothing and take everything?
Why are companies who set themselves up at the beginnings of boom times for various products like solar, not made to take out enough insurance to cover the people they rip off, before they can actually start trading? Are these people ever jailed for their fraudulent and dishonest behaviour or do they just wait a while and the start up a new money making/thieving enterprise?
Who can be trusted to repair my $14,000 guarantied for 25 years system? Will it cost more to fix it than get a whole new system?
There must be a better answer than just ‘nothing can be done’!

3 Likes

Stories like these make me glad I havent got solar… well… I’d like it, but I have lacked the trust needed to get someone to do the job.

3 Likes

Five years is a long time to not have a working system?

Your experience leaves a hollow feeling, given your commentary.

I noticed that the Web takes me to Cairns when I seek out BlueLine and suggests it went out of business in 2015? Receivership according to Solarquotes of the Australian Inverter Manufacturer in 2016.

There is also a note about BlueLine and the DC isolators used in the system being compulsorily recalled due to fire risk? Further:

There is a company Solargain now offering service to ex BlueLine customers? Is this company B? They claim full CEC accreditation.

Are you Seeking a reputable solar PV businesses able to assess and quote you for the work needed to get your PV back up and running?

Depending on the brand/manufacturer of the solar panels supplied there may still be a fallback on warranty to the OEM for the panels if they have an Australian supplier? And were not direct imported by BlueLine?

The separate concern of accessing any compensation from the original installer and or inverter manufacturer, from your information appears very unlikely.

Do you have a report currently on what is missing or faulty with your system?

4 Likes

Are you in or near Cairns?

If so, I would highly recommend G Solar & Electrical to repair your system if they will do so.

They did a fantastic job of installing our solar and battery system which the QRIDA appointed inspector found to be perfect.

3 Likes

Thank you for that information. Unfortunately, I am right down the other end of the country.
I had the name of two companies who repaired systems but when I called the first one I was confronted by a high powered sales woman who advised me that it would be cheaper to put in a whole new system… Then sent me a demand for money with someone else’s name on the invoice. Sent another invoice with my name on it which was almost double the original quote and charged extra for all of the ‘included’ benefits. Quite apart from anything else, who else was getting all of my details?
The sales woman’s tenuous grasp of the English language could have been a problem.
I declined the offer and had weeks of pressure to change my mind. Have not as yet wanted to tackle the second service.

3 Likes

Thank you for your information.
Oh, what good news about the fire risk, especially in this rural fire danger zone! Perhaps it was a good thing that someone swiped it! Good luck to whomever was the recipient.

Company A was Combined Solar, company B was Solar Solutions.
As far as I can tell from the limited information that was provided by Combined, they just used BlueLine products. Not sure about the panels. Probably turn out to be made guess where!
I was studying on line at the time and my poor brain seemed more concerned about whether it should demand time out for a senior’s moment than having to deal with these people (A) and try to wade through their promotional blurb. One would have thought that after a few disasters in other areas , govt. regulations re selling these important but potentially dangerous products would be stricter.

I think that Combined were also from Queensland though at that time were based here in SA.
Did not know about the problems with BlueLine until I received the lawyer’s tome. They estimated that they owed me about $300 from memory… slight difference from $14000, even removing installation cost.
Yes, I would like to have the system fixed… surely should not be difficult for anyone who has been trained in that area. It is small by comparison with what is available today. Repairers need to be in SA and not inclined to charge enormous sums for visiting country areas within commuting range of Adelaide. See reply to Fred 123 below.

Finally, no report on the problems with my system, just a mumbled assurance that B would fix it next time. No idea when ‘next time’ is…Next millennia, next decade, next life…?
Judging from my current luck, one would be of the opinion that compensation on or for any of this fiasco would be just a dream.

4 Likes

Yes, I am considering candles. This site seems brilliant for providing REAL information about products and services. Just ask who in your area has a reliable system, provided at a reasonable cost, and avails themselves to answer questions and fix problems.
Solar is great when it works. I had over $900 in credit before the system stopped working. Used it all and now have to pay so much more. Perhaps I could set up a tourist attraction… Come and see this white elephant sitting on my roof…!

4 Likes

‘White Elephant’ as you suggest or in your instance perhaps a rarer ‘Blue’ one might be a great draw card?

We live outside Brisbane, a good hour plus traffic delays to Brisbane. When we used the Solarquotes web site to source quotes for a new system all but one option was from Brisbane. None were local. However in reality there are a number of local electrical contractors who so solar repairs and subcontract to CEC registered suppliers to install new systems.

Out local rag lists a number of local electrical contractors, several of whom advertise that they do solar work. We have been able to get positive feedback on several from locals we know. We have had minimal delays in getting the contractors to come to out rural property to assess general electrical work and provide a list of the work to be done and quote.

You have an option of dealing with a specialist solar system retailer/installer, although as you note some may not be interested in sorting your issues on good terms to you. Surprisingly for the two separate solar systems we have had installed recently, both of the CEC registered suppliers used local electrical contractors to do the site installs. The local contractors seemed to know more about the systems than the sales teams! Which is why I suggest you may actually have an everyday electrical contractor close to you who is experienced, able and willing to assist at a fair price.

With the exception of the two main components in a typical solar PV system all else is very much standard and common practice. All the bits and pieces (to keep it simple) can be purchased from any major electrical wholesaler. The two core and expensive items are your panels and the power inverter. The second may be the big blue box you mentioned previously?

If your rooftop PV is small, a replacement inverter can be from any reputable brand. The inverter model needs to match your system. Any original documentation from your original supplier may assist your chosen repairer. Many of us are not into technical stuff. There is a great guide on the Solarquotes web site re inverters, quality and cost that may be useful.

Hope this provides some alternatives to consider.

3 Likes

Thank you again for your information.
When watching the two chaps sent here by B, it did not seem all that complicated to change the larger of the two (wall) boxes. One assumes that this is the converter. The whole system has been switched off on the roof, at the side of the last panel. How difficult could it be to reinstall a new correct (big, formerly BlueLine), box and simply switch it on again. Not rocket science judging by the two chaps from B. Possibly a speck illegal though…
Information from the sites you quote can probably help there.

I would certainly not engage any of the local workers, having endured near disasters and incompetent work from them several times in the past. One left a stripped back, bare live wire dangling down in the lounge. Said when asked that it was a non live spare. When the wiring he had been engaged to provide did not actually work I realised what had happened and called him to fix it. Touch too much of the liquid refreshment!
This was > 40 years ago but a similar attitude still prevails here unfortunately… After all, it is the 1950s in this town… Might have more luck in the next town who thankfully live in the 21Centuary
I shall investigate the sites you have recommended. Thank you.

1 Like

This article outlines some of the ongoing problems with PV supply and installations in Australia.

The statement “Australian consumers are notorious, and known overseas, for caring a lot about price and not caring about quality, and when that happens you get the cheaper product. And the cheaper product is not the better-performing product.” This is very true and not only applies to the solar industry.

3 Likes

However, American consumers are mostly the same. The US consumer economy is about price, and price, but the protections that exist are not ‘industry self regulation’ and thus have some affect.

2 Likes

A report regarding the solar industry in Australia.

I believe that all systems should be inspected for safety and repaired as necessary by the solar industry, but in view of how many suppliers and installers are going bust, perhaps it would require setting up a fund, similar to the Nominal Defendant for vehicle registrations or builders insurance for construction work, into which a payment is made when each system is sold.

The current caveat emptor system does not cut it.

3 Likes

Regulatory oversight? In Australia? Has ABC news become a satire site?

Hear hear!

3 Likes

It may simply be reflecting the attitude of the government of the day to the same needs? :wink:

2 Likes

As a generalisation, is that because we are asked to pay a premium compared to the rest of the world (eg The Australia Tax, or multiple markups on inefficient distributorships) for even the most basic of everyday products?

For a small number it is Bose and Audi.
For the majority it is more likely Hisense and Hyundai.

Fortunately Choice is there to help sort out the Hisense from the RS!

Unfortunately the complexities of rooftop solar (design, site, install, component quality, warranty, large number of brands and installers) increase consumer risk beyond a simple list of recommended Choice suppliers and brands.

Agree re the inspection, providing it is not a rort like the current ‘builders certification’ solutions. The need suggests that all licensed electricians are shonky, which undermines much more than just solar PV?

Implementing what is effectively insurance against a bad outcome might have an adverse result through encouraging more shonky behaviour and products of poor quality. I’d prefer to have the household policy cover the systems installed against failure to meet warranties, combined with better management of the installers and reliable product QA certification.

2 Likes

We seem to have a battle of the experts here. The ANAO says too many systems are not up to scratch. The CER who has the legal responsibility and seems to accept the ANAO report but doesn’t do anything about it. Dr Michelle McCann (an independent) says the standard found is really variable but isn’t in any position to act regarding the bad ones. The industry through its CEC says there isn’t a problem but has taken some action; they have banned some products and cancelled or suspended some operators. Is it enough? Who knows.

We might think that the industry association would be the most lenient of the lot but they take action but not the CER!

That is a large expense, who will bear the cost? We don’t have 100% inspection of electricians or plumbers and the sky hasn’t fallen yet.

Instead of 100% testing how about:

  • we use tried and true statistical techniques and sample surveys (already in existence) to identify dodgy operators and products,
  • send the CER a missile from on high telling them to act,
  • ensure that the CER funding is adequate for them to act effectively.
1 Like

As a consumer how do you know you have a dodgy installation? It might be functional and dangerous. Re performance, are your panels degraded or has it just been cloudy? I think the point could be made that surveys are not a significant part of an answer.

1 Like

It depends on whether you want to put in place a process that will in time systematically reduce non compliance to an acceptable level or assure complete compliance right across an industry. We don’t do this with other industries for which there is an Australian Standard.

Is this the time to add several hundred dollars to the cost of each installation? Are there enough house fires and electrocutions to convince the public that they want to spend the money? TANSTAAFL

Yes, but that does not address the efficacy of consumer surveys. They are generally opinions, and many times uninformed opinions, are they not? PV systems are complex and most often opaque to the typical owner. If their power bills look right, it must be right, right?

1 Like