Murdoch solar scare campaign called out by Clean Energy Regulator

Australia’s Clean Energy Regulator has called out the Murdoch media for “inaccurate” reporting on the standard and safety of rooftop solar installations, following the release of its latest national data on solar panel inspections in 2018.

The CER last month released the rooftop PV data as part of its Renewable Energy Target 2018 Administrative Report, revealing a small year-on-year rise in the number of “sub-standard” and “unsafe” installations.

As we reported here, the data showed a total of 80 systems – or 2.2 per cent of all installations – deemed to be “unsafe” in a year where small-scale solar installations (1-100kW) grew by 37 per cent. This was a slight increase on the 1.9 per cent of 2017-18.

The number of systems found to have committed the slightly lesser transgression of being “sub-standard” also increased just slightly, to 748 (of 3678 systems inspected), or 20.3 per cent, compared to 17.7 per cent at the end of July 2018.

At the time, the CER stressed in its statement accompanying the data that a substandard rating did not mean the whole system was substandard, but rather was based on “one or two relatively minor defects” in the installation that did not affect performance.

“There is often a spike in sub–standard inspection findings following the release of updated standards. For example, the new standard could require that a heavy duty conduit is used instead of a standard duty conduit.”

Nonetheless, the findings were reported, first in The Australian as “One in five solar units defective,” and then two weeks later in the Daily Telegraph under the headline “Complaints rise to one a day, as report reveals a quarter of home installations are faulty.”

The Courier-Mail in Brisbane went with the less inflammatory (but strikingly vague) headline of “Solar panels on Qld homes may be faulty, Clean Energy Regulator;” but then followed it up with an editorial calling on federal energy minister Angus Taylor to shut down rooftop “solar shonks.”

Two days later, the CER felt the need to release a new statement, noting that some of the reporting of its solar panel inspection results was, “in our view …not an accurate interpretation of the data.”

And it reiterated: “The standards set in our inspections program are very high and the inspections are thorough.

“In 2018, 3,678 systems were inspected. Of these: 2,850 (77.5%) were assessed as compliant. 748 (20.3%) were assessed as substandard. This rating does not mean the whole system is substandard. Typically, such a rating is because one or two relatively minor defects are found in the installation that does not affect performance.

“80 systems (2.2%) were assessed as unsafe. …This category should be interpreted as potentially unsafe.”

Overall, the CER statement on Friday went on to stress, there has been a “downward trend in the level of potentially unsafe systems installed since the inspection program commenced.

“It is our view that this downward trend is a result of the Clean Energy Council strengthening guidelines, including the requirement for a shroud over the top of the isolator, and ongoing associated actions to improve installer training.”

As we concluded two weeks ago, none of this is to say that the safety and quality of rooftop solar installations in Australia is not a highly important issue, for both industry and consumers.

But accurate interpretation of renewable energy data by media is also important, and we’re glad to see the CER is on the watch for that, too.

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