Australian Solar Power System Fault Survey

PV Module and System Fault Reporting

Australian solar power system owners who’ve experienced a faulty, poorly installed or underperforming system have been invited to participate in a new national survey.

Close to 1.75 million solar panel systems are now installed across Australia and while it’s safe to say most owners would be pleased with their investment, not everyone has a trouble-free experience.

Solar power systems are often operating in harsh conditions, but environmental factors can’t be blamed for all failures, as systems installed here should be able to handle most of what nature is capable of throwing at them. Sometimes it’s unfortunately a case of poor design, shoddy installation or poor quality components – and in extreme cases, it can be a combination of all three.

But how widespread are component or system failures, or instances of shonky installation or sub-optimal production?  What are the most common problems and are they more prevalent in specific regions? There is very little current information available.

A new online survey is seeking to help answer these questions.

The survey is comprised of five different sections associated with module, inverter, other equipment, installation and general issues. While it does ask for personal information, this is optional – the survey can be submitted anonymously.

Solar owners aren’t the only ones who can participate – installers and inspectors are invited to share their experiences as well. Solar panel manufacturers are also being encouraged to provide data collected from warranty returns.

The survey will be running until March next year and a summary of results will be made available in report published on the APVI website.

A previous survey was started in 2014, when there were approximately 1.28 million systems installed in Australia. During the first five months of that survey, only 29 reports were submitted. The most common module issues reported were glass breakage and backsheet issues. The most common installation issues were water ingress into component enclosures and inadequate cable protection.

An update reported by the CEC in 2016 stated 86 reports were received in 15 months, with 35% of those submissions reporting a module problem, 37% an inverter problem and 31% an installation or BOS (balance of system) issue.

With hundreds of thousands of systems installed since the original survey started and systems installed prior having aged a few more years, it will be interesting to see what the results of this new survey reveal.

As well as providing more current information, the aim of the project is to help inform and improve future PV system design, installation practices, selection of components, product development and product approvals for Australian conditions.

The new survey has been coordinated by Murdoch University, with support from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the Australian PV Institute (APVI), and with input from the Clean Energy Council (CEC), UNSW and Ekistica.

If you’re currently considering buying a solar power system, pick up some tips on choosing an installer and the 13 questions you should ask before making a purchase decision.

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.

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