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The underbelly of Australia’s solar energy industry

Firstly, I want to be very transparent. I work for Ecostar, that is no secret. I am also obviously a huge advocate for double glazing, that’s a given. So yes, this blog will lean in the direction of double glazing, but it is for good reason after watching the ABC’s 7:30 report that detailed the dark side of Australia’s solar energy industry.

That’s not to say that installing solar panels is a waste of your time and/or money, nor am I saying that if you already have solar panels on your roof that you are going to suffer the same fate as those featured in ABC’s report. However, whether you have installed solar panels, or are thinking about it, I feel it is in your best interest to think about the issues 7.30 brought to light.

Like many of us, Rex Leighton from Wollongong just south of Sydney, wanted to reduce his energy bills by moving towards using renewable energy on his home. After spending $8,000 to install solar panels on his roof, he is now having them replaced as the 20 panel system has been deemed damaged beyond repair.

“Look to have…smaller electricity bill and secondly a desire to try and move towards renewable energy and we wanted to be a part of that…” said Rex. “It made me feel a bit sick really because the warranty was for 10 years on the product and we were suspecting a substantially longer time than that.

The report revealed that a lot of solar panels installed between 2008 – 2014 have had to be taken down for the exact same reason as those on Rex’s roof.

So why is this happening? A few reasons.

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Firstly, there is the issue of how qualified and/or experienced the installer is.

“You have bottom of the barrel type guys going out there and smashing it out, trying to get it done as quickly as possible for as little money as possible but they’re the systems that are likely to last two years,” explained Johan Fleury, whose solar panel business has been called in to remove an increasing number of ‘dead solar panels’ installed by other solar companies in recent years

Now I’m not saying the installers are solely responsible for the solar panels’ failures. Of course that also has something to do with the quality of the product (more on that later). However, the prevalence of dodgy solar installers highlights exactly why we don’t employ subcontractors at Ecostar, and why all of our installers employed only by us, and are fully qualified to install our product having undertaken rigorous training over and above their carpentry qualifications.

In Australia, The Clean Energy Council has the ability to accredit products and installers within the solar energy industry and last year suspended 160 installers and cancelled the accreditation of 12 more.

So who is looking out for the customer?

Well there is The Clean Energy Regulator, an independent Australian Statutory Authority, which conducts inspections. However it was revealed that with one in five house now using solar panels, only 1.2% have been inspected. Of those which had undergone inspection, one in six installations were found to be substandard and one in 30 unsafe!

At Ecostar, our priority is not the number of installations we can make, but the quality of those installations. Each installation is conducted thoroughly with absolutely no room for error.

Which brings me to my next point – the quality of the product on offer.

Again, in the case of solar panels, the blame does not lie solely on the installer. The materials are equally important in determining the outcome and longevity of the product.

What struck me in 7:30’s report was that many solar panel customers have been misled about the quality of the panels they have purchased. Dr Michelle McCann from PV Lab in Canberra regularly tests solar panels to see if they do what they say they do and found that in some tests new panels produced 10% less energy than their advertised rating.

That stat is crazy!

By contrast, at Ecostar ALL our product is custom made and distributed via the UK and goes through extensive rigorous quality and functionality checks by a number of different members of our team before being loaded for delivery. So, when we say our uPVC double glazed windows and doors exceed the 6-star energy rating and offer a 1.2 U-value (the lowest certified) BFRC/WERS energy efficiency, we put our money where our mouth is!

We are able to offer a 10-year unconditional, fully transferable guarantee that’s worth the paper it’s written on because our business has been around for more than 40 years. Other businesses within the building industry may offer tempting warranties, but if they haven’t been in business for the same number of years as their warranty, who’s to say they’ll still be in business when you have issues and want to cash in that warranty? (I’m sure that’s something Rex Leighton from Wollongong can relate to!)

Ecostar has undertaken more than 50,000 successful double glazing installations since 1979, and like all our customers before you, should you have ANY issue with our product, you are 100% covered over the course of a decade.

Now if you’ve made it this far, thank you; my writing skills have obviously improved! But more importantly, there is one last issue I want to highlight which sums up the irony highlighted in the 7.30 report, oh so well.

Those who opt to install solar panels on their homes do so to help the environment, however with the rise of faulty/failing panels comes an increase in waste. Ironically, in Australia, there isn’t a mandatory recycling scheme for the failed panels, so when these faulty panels are removed they end up at the local tip as landfill.

Seriously.

Here’s some final food for thought; not only do Ecostar’s energy efficient double glazed windows and doors save you 40% of your home’s heating and cooling costs, all of Ecostar’s frame profiles are manufactured with 50% recycled material, and all the raw materials contained in our uPVC double glazed windows and doors are recyclable up to 350 times.

So when you’re thinking about installing solar panels to reduce your energy bills and make your home more environmentally friendly, are you really contributing to a sustainable future?

 

Paul Woods was formally Ecostar’s UK Chief Operating Officer before taking on the role of Construction Project Manager here in Melbourne. He has vast knowledge on double glazing and is considered an expert within the industry.

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