Random Solar System Inspections Are Effective And Low Cost

Random solar power system inspections

On Monday John Inglis from Positronic1 Solar had a guest post published on our blog where he called for 100% of new rooftop solar installations to be inspected by the state or territory’s electrical regulator.  You can read it here.

I agree with John 100% on this.  We need consistent, reliable, and independent inspections of solar power systems combined with effective disincentives for shoddy and dangerous work.  The only thing I disagree on is the 100% part.2  Done right, random inspections will be almost indistinguishable in effectiveness at ridding the industry of shoddy installers compared to checking every system, while keeping the overall cost of solar inspections low.

A Trade Off:  Solar Inspection Frequency Vs. Cost

John touched on how often inspections should be carried out and wrote:

“Frequency is another consideration with some installers and regulators preferring 100% inspections until the particular installer proves to be quality and inspections reducing in frequency as a consequence.”

I’m certain those who have shown they do quality work don’t need every system inspected and it’s not even necessary for new installers.  Determining the best trade-off between inspection frequency and cost is a complex task I’m not going to attempt.  I’d have to dust off some very old statistics books to do that.  What I will do is give some simple examples to show random inspections will be effective and save money.

While I don’t believe it’s necessary, I do think that — if done right — an independent inspection of every new solar system would be better than the current situation in most of Australia.  If it was the only alternative, I would support it.

Inspections Need Teeth

Australia already has a limited number of random inspections  of rooftop solar power systems by the Clean Energy Regulator.  I wrote about them here.  The drawbacks of these are:

  • They only inspect a few percent of systems (I’ve seen a figure of 3-5% reported).
  • Solar installers and not trained inspectors are used, so there is wide variation in how they assess systems.
  • Not enough action is taken against installers who do sub-standard or dangerous work.

The Clean Energy Regulator has the power to suspend installers but, as far as I am aware, the only action they have taken so far is to send some sternly worded letters.  The Clean Energy Council is the body that accredits solar installers and they have taken some action on the results of these inspections, and some installers have been suspended or unaccredited.  But the number of inspections has been too small and actions taken insufficient to rid the industry of shonks.

An independent solar inspection regime run by state and territory electricity regulators will need to be backed up with fines, suspensions, and — in serious cases where a shoddy solar installer has had a clear chance to improve but failed — outright bans from the industry.  Punishments need not be draconian unless safety is involved.  We want to give corner-cutting installers a chance to improve.  But punishments need to be consistently applied by an independent and corruption-resistant body.

Why Random Inspections Are Sufficient

The drawback of inspecting every new solar system is cost.  In his article John wrote it may add $250 to a new solar power system’s price.  The advantage is it would eliminate substandard installations.  After all, who would do shoddy work if they knew there was a 100% chance they would be found out and fined, suspended, or possibly banned?  They would have to be nuttier than a lumpy chocolate bar to try it.

But if we only inspected 90% of new systems would there be anyone who would try to get away with shoddy work?  They’d still have to be nuts and if they did try these shonks would certainly soon be caught.  So we’d get basically the same benefit but the cost of inspections per new system installed would drop from $250 to $225.

Now let’s say only 50% of new PV systems are inspected.  A solar installer could do a lousy job and hope it wouldn’t be noticed but it’s still even odds they would be caught.  It would be almost impossible to do more than a few bad jobs before getting nabbed and inspectors could always go back and check systems they’d skipped.  So a 50% inspection rate would provide almost the same level of protection as checking every system, but at half the cost.

If we inspected around half the work of new solar installers but only checked around 1 in 10 by companies with proven track records of high quality work, then the average number of inspections might be 1 in 5.  This would still be extremely effective at eliminating shonksters but lowers the cost down to $50 per new system.

If it’s found that inspecting an average of just 1 in 10 is sufficient to eliminate shoddy installers, then the cost would only be $25.  That would be one hell of a bargain for homeowners.

cost of solar power system inspections

Reducing The Cost Of Solar Inspections

In addition to making inspections random, there are a number of other ways to reduce inspection costs.  These can range from requiring solar installers who have been dodgy in the past to submit photographs of their work, to using drones and selfie snakes.3  Suitable monitoring systems that can diagnose faults could reduce the need to inspect solar systems that have them.

Random Inspections — A Definite Win

I’m not going to try to guess what the best percentage of systems to inspect is but I will say that, when done right, the number of random solar inspections that need to be carried out to ensure compliance with standards is likely to be much lower than most people would expect.  If we can stop shoddy installations while keeping the costs low it will be a huge benefit to families buying solar.  It will result in more reliable and long lasting solar power systems being installed, which will benefit the world as a whole.

Footnotes

  1. I’m guessing he’s a fan of Isaac Asimov.
  2. If you are wondering how I can completely agree with John while disagreeing with him, it’s my Dutch heritage rising unbidden to the surface.  This is only single Dutch.  If I ever go double Dutch, mourn me and then go on with your lives.
  3. A selfie snake is like a selfie stick except it is a camera on the end of a metal tentacle that allows what’s on the roof to be inspected without anyone going up there.  I won’t describe them in detail as it may disturb and/or excite some people.
About Ronald Brakels

Ronald was born more years ago than he can remember. He first became interested in environmental matters when he was four years old after the environment tried to kill him by smashing fist sized hailstones through the roof of his parents’ Toowoomba home. Swearing revenge, he began his lifelong quest to reduce the harm the environment could cause. By the time he was eight, he was already focused on using the power of the sun to stop fossil fuel emissions destabilizing the climate. But it took him about another ten years to focus on it in a way that wasn’t really stupid

Comments

  1. Ronald,
    as an end-user I totally agree. I am a retired Tech, & have some knowledge of AS3000. In my 2 installations, the first had serious installation problems (such as unbushed earth cable penetrating steel roof, & unsecured conduit on roof. I picked this up but the average user would not. The second install only had minor issues that the installer rectified easily.
    I am an Energy coach for Enova energy, so have reasonable knowledge of solar systems. The average user would not know where to start.

    My feeling re inspections is it should be similar to Class 3 electricians. Fines for the installer for severe safety issues (but not for minor breaches), & 100% inspections to start, then after the installer or Electrician has error free installations, the inspections can be reduced. This could be covered by increasing the cost by say $40 for a system, then the Inspection agency can amortise the amount over the inspections.

  2. The problem with random tests in my experience tends to be the tests aren’t really random.

    In Victoria the plumbing industry inspects a %age of plumbing installations but if the job is within an hours drive of the Melbourne CBD it might get inspected.

    If it was 1.5 hours outside the CBD there was no chance it would be inspected.

    The other thing I noticed last time I checked In 2016 is that more than 20% had failed.
    For more see
    http://anewhouse.com.au/2016/07/plumbing-industry-problems/

    • Ronald Brakels says

      This is why having independent inspectors is vital.

      • The plumbing board that carry out the inspections are fully independent. . . and as my link shows totally ineffective.

        So called independent inspections by an inspector who gets most if not all their income through one or two installers is not really independent as they know that more than the occasional fail will mean no more work!

        Self certification with occasional inspections has saved lots of money for governments, but been a disaster for Australian house owners.

  3. Des Scahill says

    The last thing the solar industry needs at the moment is a ‘boom’ in rooftop solar PV that lasts a year or two, followed 2 years later by a ‘bust’ due to a flood of system failures due to shonky operators and installers, poor quality ‘budget’ systems etc, and inadequate inspection procedures.

    Given that, it seems to me that it would be best to ‘over-inspect’ to some degree in the beginning until its clear that the shonks have been largely weeded out, and there’s some real-world data available on which to base an inspection regime.

    Ideally, that could also provide some input in the overall decision-making process eg. to what extent did the system failure or fix-up arise from shonky installation versus brand and type of inverters and panels.

    But apart from that general and somewhat obvious aspect, its not at all clear to me what the best way to go about introducing any needed regime is, and what the relative roles of government and industry should be within that.

    As well, even if there’s change at the Federal level in the up-coming election, the current climate and energy policy wars still won’t be fully over for quite some time yet I suspect.

    At best, we’ve moved from a ‘Complete Chaos’ to ‘Mini Chaos’ state, which is at least some improvement I guess.

    .

  4. I’d definitely agree that some sort of inspection system is needed to remove the shonks and make sure everyone has a fully functioning safe system for the next 25+ years. My concern is that inspections by industry bodies may just be a rubber stamp job and open to abuse or bribery. My system was never wired as per the wiring diagram I was given. The electrical inspection post installation didn’t detect this and it was only through forums, was I able to ascertain something wasn’t right with the performance. My installer said they monitored the system performance, but I had to draw their attention to it’s lower than expected performance before anything was done. The installers conducted themselves professionally but the wiring change was directed by the chief electrician over the phone apparently.

  5. With respect to the new installers, 100% inspection and immediate inspection is essential. In the current arrangement, or a potential enhanced random inspection arrangement, the problems come when inspections happen too far down the track and the burden of rectification becomes too much (100s of systems installed before first CEC inspection – going back to inspect all the others or rectify defects is too onerous).

    It would be far better for installers to learn early the errors in their work so that such errors and replicated 100s of times before it is picked up.

    Having the inspectors independently assigned – rather than directly contracted – is essential. Look at the success in New Zealand where there are regular inspections.

  6. Yeah, i might be a bit late on giving my answer here, ok…
    Due to the current system that’s in place, so many ( Inter-State & fly by night type of cowboys out there ) simply pick up a load of work in another state like W,A. Come over from South Australia ! They do whatever, it takes & are NOT EVER INSPECTED .. that’s the northwest of W.A. Is now causing a lot of our serious issues now, and also have changed their business name/dumped the contact mobile phone, they once used to be contacted on .. Sadly, leaving the owners is deep shit & no warranty at all !
    Thus, seeking us local [ Electrical Contractors ] and please note;- NOT CEC certified to rectify the mess, out… funny is it not 🤷‍♂️ To how, they are constantly claiming those who are ’ CEC ‘ accepted do not give anyone a chance of to be able to find them, afterwards ?

Speak Your Mind

Please keep the SolarQuotes blog constructive and useful with these 4 rules:

1. Real names are preferred - you should be happy to put your name to your comments.
2. Put down your weapons.
3. Assume positive intention.
4. If you are in the solar industry - try to get to the truth, not the sale.
5. Please stay on topic.

GET THE SOLARQUOTES WEEKLY NEWSLETTER
%d bloggers like this: