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Solar installation integrity

Don't get caught out installing non-approved products as product standards have recently changed.

By Clean Energy Council Executive General Manager, Installation Integrity Sandy Atkins

At the start of February, over 3600 types of solar panels were removed from the list of approved products maintained by the Clean Energy Council.

I will go in to the full details of why they were removed later in this column, but certainly one of the main reasons is that there have been a lot of changes to product standards recently and these products no longer comply.

Given the record year in 2017 for rooftop solar, installation integrity has never been more important. But the crunch comes when installers or solar retailers are sitting on stock which no longer makes the grade.

Recently an installer called in to the Clean Energy Council quite upset as he was trying to claim STCs for a large system which used products that had recently been de-listed. The STC claim was rejected because the panels were no longer on the approved list. In order to ensure continued compliance, the manufacturer or responsible supplier would need to have the module tested to the new product standards for solar panels. Therefore we were not able to help him.

A lot of people are responsible along the supply chain for making sure the modules that get installed are on the approved list. These include the module manufacturer, the importer, the wholesaler, the solar retailer, the designer and the solar installer. But ultimately the buck stops with the person who is offering a sale price for a system which factors in the value of the STCs. They are the ones who need to stay up to date with which products are approved and what date their listing expires.

The Clean Energy Council communicates changes to listing status in a number of ways:

  • On our website.
  • The Installer News e-bulletin.
  • Member communications.
  • Separate emails to manufacturers and suppliers, as well as individual emails relating to their product expiry. Product expiry emails are sent automatically at three months and one month before panels are due to expire.
  • An email bulletin sent out to all manufacturers.

In addition to this, the expiry dates are available via an online database.

The Clean Energy Council has been extremely focused on raising the bar when it comes to approving the solar panels and inverters to be listed on our approved products lists. This has been an ongoing process since 2016. We have introduced stricter requirements in the terms and conditions for companies wanting to list their products.

As mentioned in the intro to this column, there have been a series of product standard changes which products must comply with, including new versions of IEC 61215 and IEC 61730.

Some other important dates include:

  • 1 April 2018 - All listed thin film PV modules not covered by new T&Cs must demonstrate compliance with new versions of IEC 61215 and IEC 61730.
  • 1 December 2018 - All listed PV modules on new T&Cs must demonstrate compliance with new versions of IEC 61215 and IEC 61730 (unless IEC certification expires before this date, in which case you will need to re-apply earlier).

Additionally we have increased our testing and compliance program for both solar panels and inverters. In 2017, the program resulted in 16 companies and 488 models being suspended or de-listed. So far in 2018, eight companies and 156 models have been either suspended or de-listed.

In addition, the results from the inverter tested under the Inverter Test Program are starting to come in.

Two inverters have failed anti-islanding tests and have been removed from the approved inverter list.

Suggested actions for people with stock of these inverters are as follows:

  • Do not install these inverters.
  • If you have installed this inverter, contact your supplier and await advice from the manufacturer or electrical safety authorities on what action you should take.
  • At the time of writing, no advice has been given by the company or electrical safety authorities. Keep an eye out for updates in Installer News and on our website.

At the end of the day, I encourage you to double or triple check that the modules you are buying are on the approved products list.

I would even suggest getting the wholesaler or supplier to send you a photo of the label from the module before you purchase them and use the model number from the label to check the Clean Energy Council’s online database. Do your research and you shouldn’t get stung.

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