Solar accreditation and training out-of-date and fundamentally flawed


The solar industry is a fast developing and constantly changing beast, similar to the heyday of personal computer uptake from the late nineties to the naughties.
While computer evolution has slowed down somewhat (I’m still on my 5-year-old computer now and it’s still zipping along after replacing the battery) solar has the same fast evolution that computers once had, due, no doubt, to all the smart kids flocking to work in solar R&D and manufacturing.
With all this change we’ve got the same solar accreditation we’ve had for a very long time. Not only is it out of date it is fundamentally flawed.
There are many things that need to be changed within the accreditation scheme, which unfortunately has now even poisoned the standards related to solar.  Here is list of the most egregious errors and flaws in the current accreditation scheme:

  1. The existence of a requirement for rooftop solar isolators. This daft requirement is a major point of failure for a solar system and a safety hazard that exists in no other market.(Of all the fires that have happened in Solar no greater cause exists than these stupidly roof mounted and weather affected switches).

 

  1. The 600VDC system limit rule is one of the worst and is on the verge of ruining the business as inverter manufacturers around the world move to higher voltages and consumers move to installing larger (10-30kW) systems on their roofs (Which is inevitable thanks tothe availability of solar roofs -courtesy of Tesla). The standard DC voltage limit for households must be moved in line with all other countries which is 1000VDC, as per a domestic electrician’s license restrictions.  Makes sense!!

 

  1. The 350VDC limit on a microinverter or optimiser yet another ridiculous limit. Sunpower now has 360W and 370W panels in standard domestic format (1.0 x 1.6M approx) that are not allowed to be hooked up to optimisers.These are the world’s best panels and are often combined with premium solar technology to allow customers to extract the most solar energy from their rooftop system.  Similarly, LG has 360W panels and then there are larger commercial format panels which are also above 350W.  This is another arbitrary rule that is unreasonable and holding back the solar industry for no good reason.  It is also worthwhile noting that the standards committee which has made these outdated, flawed rules appears to be asleep at the wheel when it comes to their job of updating them in a timely manner. .

That’s just problems that have come out of the standards – but there’s a big problem with the standards themselves.  The fundamental flaw with the accreditation scheme is the separation of battery/off grid training and tickets and solar tickets.
There is absolutely no good reason why they can’t be rolled into the same ticket, as the technologies are meant to be part of single system and consumer thinking now includes both whenever they think solar.  Would it make sense to do a roadworthy on the wheels of a car separately?
It is already the case today that every solar installer in the country would be getting requests to install batteries and they’d be doing them with or without the tickets. Installations with the tickets means they’ve invested in a whole extra course, time off work and lost income.
Without a ticket means they’ve signed the battery off the day or week before OR they’ve got their mate, supervisor or one guy in the team to sign them all off.  Time to roll this whole process into one.
The evolution of solar powers on -things have changed but the de-facto industry regulator, the Clean Energy Council, has moved with all the swiftness and up-to-datedness of elderly medieval clergymen.
In Australia solar started with off -grid systems, people on 200W or 500W off grid DC setups. These then started to grow into kilowatt class systems i.e. 1kW, 2kW 5kW.
Battery banks got bigger and more things in the home could be run off them. Lead acid evolved into sealed AGM and a step change has now occurred with a shift to Lithium ion technologies.
At the same time that systems got bigger the on-grid market started to get legs and by around 2007 it had far eclipsed the off grid market. Fast forward to 2016 and batteries started to be part of the equation for just about everyone considering solar.
Today companies that had never sold a battery and installers who had never installed one have got customers banging on doors with wads of cash in hand wanting to install a home battery.
Installations aren’t stopping and no one is turning down a doubling of sales revenue from customers who want a solar system AND a big battery.
In conclusion CEC battery and on-grid solar accreditation needs to be rolled into one course.  And taking it a step further, solar accreditation really needs to be the responsibility of the experts in this space i.e. the state-based electricity regulators such as Energy Safe Victoria.
Given some 20% + of all Australian houses have a solar system all electricians should know how to install and deal with solar systems (with or without batteries).
Finally installing and dealing with solar and battery systems needs to be fully integrated into the apprenticeship programs to become a licensed sparkie.
Waiting for some common sense to save everyone time, money and to get more solar out there.
Matthew Wright and Paul Szuster are the principals of Pure Electric Solutions

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