Safety first: Solar installer banned from Victoria solar rebate program

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Hundreds of rooftop PV systems installed under the Victorian government’s solar rebate scheme will need to be double-checked after an investigation found an installer had employed unlicensed electricians to carry out works. The company conducted 546 solar installations through the Solar Homes scheme, and many were found to have technical and safety defects.

After joint investigations by Solar Victoria and Energy Safe Victoria (ESV) found that Community Energy Group Pty Ltd, trading as Space Solar (Victoria), had employed unlicensed electricians to carry out works in an unsafe manner, the operator was banned from the scheme for at least two years – both as a retailer and an installer.

The company’s sole director has also had their electrical registration cancelled. “While some defects were minor and easily fixed, a number were far more serious and demonstrate a wilful disregard for Victoria’s strict solar safety standards,” the government said in a release.

All customers who had their PV systems installed by Space Solar have been informed by Solar Victoria of the audit findings. The government has encouraged customers to have their systems double-checked by an independent electrical safety inspector – a list is available at esv.vic.gov.au. If further action is required, customers can contact Consumer Affairs to discuss their rights under Australian Consumer Law. It is expected that the retailer covers all costs of any repair work.

Minister for Solar Homes Lily D’Ambrosio on Wednesday announced swift action against the operator who put solar workers and home occupiers at risk in a bid to ensure the landmark Solar Homes program continues to roll out safely. “Dodgy solar operators that put the safety of Victorians at risk have no place in the Solar Homes program, and we won’t hesitate to kick them out,” the minister said.

“This kind of behaviour is totally unacceptable. Customers deserve to know their solar installations are completed to the highest standards and that’s why we have such a strict audit regime in the country,” D’Ambrosio said. “The majority of solar retailers and installers do the right thing – we’re acting to protect their reputation and uphold the standards of our world-leading solar industry.”

As part of Solar Victoria’s continued push to ensure the solar industry is held to the highest standard, Solar Victoria and ESV continue to work together to audit household solar systems on a risk basis, with more than 1,500 completed since the program began. ESV has also formed a renewable energy task force to inspect work completed by licensed electricians. Data provided by Solar Victoria has enabled ESV to identify trends and investigate unsafe installation work.

Despite substantial changes, including a significant increase in rebate allocations and streamlining of the online application portal, wrought to the program to alleviate the harm inflicted on the state’s solar industry, the Solar Homes scheme is still struggling to balance out supply and demand. In terms of safety, however, Victoria is the only state in Australia that requires solar systems to be independently tested at the time of installation and provided with a certificate of electrical safety to demonstrate compliance.

The auditing program builds on the government’s decision to make smart inverters mandatory for solar PV installations under the scheme and introduce safety and industry accreditation requirements for installers and solar retailers. A dozen of applications were initially rejected by the Clean Energy Council (CEC) for its approved retailer list, and most were reapplying to ensure they meet the high standards. Space Solar became a CEC-certified solar retailer in August