Rooftop solar panels, which cost thousands of dollars, are considered a fire hazard

Ricky Barron installed a rooftop solar system in 2014 to make the most of the North Queensland sun and save money on his electric bills.

But since installing it, it has cost him thousands of dollars and years of sleepless nights.

It wasn’t until a so-called solar doctor checked his roof panels this year that the Mackay man realized the potential danger he was living under.

“he is [the solar inspector] Basically he said it was poorly installed and there is a high chance of it getting caught on fire.”

“I was so nervous and didn’t sleep well thinking about it.”

It took two years for a solar system to be installed by a local company, Barron said, so he instead switched to a Melbourne-based company.

Ricky Barron and his solar son
Ricky Barron and his son in Mackay.(ABC Tropical North: Hannah Walsh)

He said the problems started about six months later and then he had trouble replacing parts, like when the inverters broke after 18 months.

On one occasion, a neighbor called Mr. Barron to alert him of a fire.

“They blew up the dashboard,” he said.

“It should have clicked from day one…we just had a problem with it.

“The system never worked… We tried to save money to do some other renovations, but we couldn’t.”

Barron said he wants the company to uninstall it but ABC understands the company hasn’t sold solar for several years.

“They kept saying someone would reach out to them, and they never did,” Barron said.

“They have a complaint site and there are a lot of people in the same boat.”

The company has been contacted by ABC for comment.

What is a solar doctor?

Jemal Solo started his own solar inspection business in Mackay because he said no one advocates for homeowners with solar installations.

man sitting at desk
Jamal Solow says most people don’t think about maintaining their solar installations.(ABC Tropical North: Hannah Walsh)

“We hold installers and manufacturers responsible for their products and their manufacture,” said Mr. Solow.

“We took this because we saw that no one is dealing with this…and when it comes to retirees, then you really get upset because people buy this to save money.”

Mr. Solo, who has installed the solar panels and conducted clean energy regulator inspections, said the installers have a five-year defects liability period to fix their work.

“It’s really your fault if you find after six years that it hasn’t been installed properly,” he said.

“The problem is there is no feedback loop…no one is checking if the installer is working.

“Solar retailers don’t really care as long as they get paid.”

Brian Richardson of Queensland’s Bureau of Electrical Safety said there have been cases where interstate companies have come to Queensland without the appropriate licenses.

Who can consumers turn to?

Australia does not have a national body responsible for electrical safety.

Mr Barron said he had referred his case to the Queensland Office of Fair Trade as well as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

Solar panels on a brick roof
A solar inspection company in Mackay says there is no one to advocate for homeowners with solar installations.(Unsplash: ulleo: public domain)

He is not alone.

The Office of Fair Trade handles approximately 350 complaints each year related to solar energy products.

The Queensland Energy and Water Ombudsman (EWOQ) deals with complaints related to solar bills and metering.

EWOQ’s Jane Peiris said in the 2021-2022 fiscal year, it received 142 complaints about solar billing errors, an increase of 92 percent from the previous year.

It referred 153 installation related cases and 17 solar energy guarantee cases to the Office of Fair Trade.

Delia Ricard, vice president of the ACCC, said her organization has also been receiving a large number of complaints regarding consumer experience with solar panels retail and installation.

“If it’s a small local regulator, we’d probably refer it to Queensland Fair Trading,” she said.

“When it is a larger or more systemic national problem, we may take enforcement or regulatory action.

“The Clean Energy Council and new technology icons are designed to raise standards in terms of manufacturing and installing solar energy systems.

“Although they are optional codes, in most states where there are rebates, you can only get the discount if the system was purchased from someone subject to the code.”

There are currently no state or territory requirements for electricians to obtain additional solar qualifications.

A plan introduced by the federal government 22 years ago aims to address this, but will be phased out by 2030.

The Small-Scale Renewable Energy Scheme managed by the Clean Energy Regulator provides families and businesses with financial incentives to install solar energy systems approved by the Clean Energy Council.

The scheme’s general manager, Matthew Power, said he has been consulting with states and territories to include some aspects of the scheme in the state’s regular electrical bases for the state and territories.

A man wearing high-visibility work equipment closes his meter box.
It is recommended to check the solar installation once a year.(ABC Tropical North: Hannah Walsh)

“The Commonwealth Scheme sets out a commitment that goes beyond already existing state and territory requirements,” Mr. Power said.

“The system needs to be installed by a Clean Energy Council-certified installer who has had additional qualifications and training above normal electrical licenses.”

Complaints of “shoddy workmanship”

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