Ricky Barone installed a solar system on his roof in 2014 to make the most of North Queensland’s sunshine and save on electricity bills.
- Ricky Barone has been told his installation is a fire hazard, but the retailer will not uninstall it
- Numerous regulatory bodies are receiving complaints about solar energy retailers, manufacturers and installers
- Some of the main issues raised relate to price, quality and high pressure sales
Since its installation, however, it has cost him thousands of dollars and years of sleepless nights.
It wasn’t until a so-called solar doctor inspected his roof panels this year that the Mackay man realized the potential danger he was living under.
“He [the solar inspector] he basically said it is badly installed and there is a big chance it could catch fire, “said Mr. Barone.
“I was so irritated and didn’t sleep well thinking about it.”
Mr. Barone said it took two years for a local company to install a solar system, so he turned to a Melbourne-based company instead.
He said the problems started after about six months and then he had a hard time replacing parts, like when the inverters failed after 18 months.
On one occasion a neighbor called Mr. Baron to warn him of a fire.
“They blew up the meter box,” he said.
“It should have clicked from day one … we had nothing but problems with it.
“The system never worked … we got it to try to save money to do other renovations, but we weren’t able to do it.”
Mr. Barone said he wanted the company to uninstall it, but ABC realized the company hadn’t been selling solar for several years.
“They keep saying that someone will get in touch and they never do,” Barone said.
“They have a complaint site and there are a lot of people in the same boat.”
The company was contacted by ABC for comment.
What is a sun doctor?
Jemal Solo started his solar inspection business in Mackay because he said no one was supporting homeowners with solar installations.
“We hold installers and manufacturers responsible for their products and their processing,” said Solo.
“We accepted it because we saw that no one cared about this … and when it comes to retirees that’s when you get really mad because people buy it to save.”
Mr. Solo, who installed solar panels and conducts inspections for the Clean Energy Regulator, said the installers had a five-year defect liability period to repair their work.
“It’s really your fault if you find out six years later that it didn’t install properly,” he said.
“The problem is that there is no feedback loop … no one controls the work of the installers.
“Solar power retailers don’t really care as long as they get paid.”
Brian Richardson of the Queensland Electrical Safety Office said there have been instances where interstate companies have arrived in Queensland without the proper licenses.
Who can consumers turn to?
Australia does not have a national authority responsible for electrical safety.
Mr. Barone said he referred his case to the Queensland Office of Fair Trading and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
He is not alone.
The Office of Fair Trading handles approximately 350 complaints per year related to solar products.
The Queensland Energy and Water Ombudsman (EWOQ) handles complaints related to solar billing and metering.
EWOQ’s Jane Pires said she received 142 complaints about solar billing errors in the 2021-22 financial year, up 92% from the previous year.
It has passed 153 installation-related cases and 17 related to solar guarantees at the Office of Fair Trading.
Delia Ricard, vice president of the ACCC, said her organization is also receiving a large volume of complaints regarding the consumer experience with retail solar panels and installation.
“If it’s a small local regulator, it’s likely we’ll report it to Queensland Fair Trading,” he said.
“Where it is a larger or more systematic national problem, we may take law enforcement or regulatory action.
“The Clean Energy Council and the new technology codes are designed to raise standards in terms of manufacturing and installing solar systems.
“Even though they are voluntary codes, in most states where there are discounts, you can only get the discount if the system was purchased by someone who fits the code.”
There are currently no state or territorial requirements for electricians with extra solar qualifications.
A scheme introduced 22 years ago by the federal government aimed to address this problem, but will be phased out by 2030.
The small-scale renewable energy scheme run by the Clean Energy Regulator provides households and businesses with financial incentives to install Clean Energy Council-approved solar systems.
The scheme’s general manager, Matthew Power, said he has consulted with states and territories to incorporate some of the aspects of the scheme into regular state and territorial electrical rules.
“The Commonwealth scheme establishes an obligation above and beyond the state and territorial requirements already in place,” said Power.
“The system must be installed by a Clean Energy Council accredited installer who has undergone additional qualifications and training in addition to the normal electrical license.”
Claims for “poor workmanship”.
Ms Ricard said that some of the main problems the CCCA desk encountered involved misrepresentations about price and quality, as well as unsolicited high-pressure sales.
“There is a number of issues that people complain about to us, including poor workmanship,” he said.
Ms Ricard said a number of regulators are looking into cases where the retailer has gone out of business.
Jemal Solo agreed that he saw too many retailers “come and go”.
“Usually what happens is that the producer disappears and the owner of the house doesn’t know who the installer is,” he said.
“Thirty percent of the cases we deal with, the manufacturers have already pulled out of Australia, so here you are years later with a piece of paper with a worthless guarantee.”
This is of little comfort to Ricky Barone.
“I just want my solar system to be taken out.”