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Keeping up with change in a fast-paced industry

My grandfather used to say the difference between a good tradesman and a handyman was that the tradesman could get himself out of the mess that he got himself into. When I started my apprenticeship, my boss used to say that a good sparky always carries electrical tape. But what makes a good solar installer?

By Clean Energy Council Tech Support Leader James Patterson

First, you need to have the skills that pay the bills, just like any good tradie from when my grandfather was a boy. But this is a fast-paced industry and a good solar installer also needs to keep up to date with the many changes that happen every month.

In the solar game you also have to be an expert at rolling with the punches, especially when the things that don’t go to plan are often out of your control. Recently hundreds of contractors would have packed their vans before the weekend for a Monday job, only to receive a message from their isolator manufacture instructing them not to install their DC isolators. Frustrating? You bet.

The DC isolator ruling was buried in a standard called AS/NZS 4417.2 among household appliances like electric hot water bottles and glue guns. But it had the potential to put the brakes on the solar industry. It caught everyone off guard, including regulators and the DC switch manufacturers themselves.

Unfortunately the issue also ended up costing small solar businesses who were trying to do the right thing. To see how complex and different the issue is from state to state, check out the DC isolator page on the Solar Accreditation website. At the time, the Clean Energy Council dropped everything to communicate the ins and outs to the industry and negotiate a way through the mess. Imagine you had to get to the bottom of it all by yourself, possibly while managing an apprentice.

This is just one example of a recent bump on the solar-coaster. But if you’re in the business of installing solar and batteries, you’d better strap in for some more big changes.

Wired for big changes to come

Here’s some examples of the changes we are seeing at the moment. The Wiring Rules (AS/NZS3000:2018) were released late June and will be mandatory in most states by the end of the year. These affect how you install a solar system. There was also a change to the Australian Standard for installing the solar panels and the wiring to the DC terminals of the inverter (AS/NZS5033:2014), only a few days after the Wiring Rules were released.

The new battery installation safety standard AS/NZS 5139 is in draft and due to be released sometime soon. If it is released before this time next year, it will be the third standard in the space of a year for our industry. In comparison, our colleagues the light and power sparkies, have had one change in the last decade. For the next year, our CEC Installation Guidelines will be in a state of flux to keep up to date.

The CEC grid-connected Battery Guidelines were first published several years ago, to take initiative for safety in our industry. The latest edition of these guidelines brings the relevant parts of more than five standards into one place and plugs an industry hole by incorporating key safety clauses from Draft Standard 5139. As a sparky who is trying to follow the rules, the grey area would be even greyer without them.

Helping you take care of business

We understand how hard it is to keep up to date in an industry that is changing at such a fast pace. All of the technical team at the CEC have run businesses and/or been out on the tools. Most of us were in the real world when AS/NZS 5033:2012 was released. We know how hard it can be out there, and we bring that attitude to answering the phones on the technical hotline, hosting webinars and Toolbox Talks, writing our monthly installer news, writing guidelines and representing the voice of solar installers on standards committees.

If you haven’t read Installer News or logged into the Solar Accreditation website in the past six months, now is the time to pay attention. Over the next year and beyond, our technical team will be focusing on keeping you up to date with many changes in the industry.

If sitting down to read the energy standards after a day of lugging solar panels up climbing ladders isn’t exactly appealing, we put a lot of work into presenting must-know topics as manageable bite-size pieces. For example, you could suggest your staff tune into the CEC Toolbox Talks, which are 5-10 minute online presentations located in the login area. July’s edition is about AS/NZS 5033:2014 amendment one, which is mandatory now.

Or if you want to go deeper, sink your teeth into one of the hour-long Clean Energy Council webinars or one of our online presentations. There is lots of support available in this login section.

Staying engaged will help you be a better solar installer. And the bottom line is that installers who keep up with change will deliver the best quality work and be around for the long term.

This article was first published in the October 2018 edition of ecogeneration.