Wednesday, July 6th, 2011 - Seaward Solar
Australia’s Great Opportunity to improve Solar PV Safety

By Rod Taylor of Seaward Solar

The recent report produced by the National Electrical and Communications Association (NECA), has highlighted that there are great opportunities to improve the Quality and Safety of Solar PV Installations in Australia.

NECA supported the release of data produced by the NSW Government on solar PV installations in western Sydney in June that found that 18.5% of the installations had major defects. 122 of the 658 systems inspected had significant safety issues and a further 418 (63.5%) were found to have minor defects.

NECA concluded that there appears to have been serious problems with solar panel installations in NSW and that it was likely that further inspections will be required to satisfy concerned members of the public that their solar installation is safe.

As with so many issues in business and life, shortcomings and errors cannot always be attributed to lack of care and poor workmanship. In reality they are more likely to be the result of inadequate process procedures and documentation.

Australia has often lead the way in the creation of standards aimed at improving performance and safety and photovoltaic systems have fallen within the scope of AS/NZ 5033: 2005.

Solar PV is one of the fastest growing global technologies and it is generally recognised worldwide that the solar industry has developed at a faster pace than the standard-making organisations have been able to.

In June, Australian standards released the draft document DR AS/NZS 5033, ‘Installation and safety requirements for photovoltaic (PV) arrays’ which is now open for public comment. This document provides further clarity and also references a number of international standards which are starting to make a substantial impact on the quality and electrical safety of PV installations elsewhere in the world.

Depending upon the state, the country and the subject, on their own standards may have little impact on the way in which the work is performed or products created. The key is for relevant standards to be made mandatory by one or more controlling organisations.

The great opportunity for the Australian PV industry and its consumers is the introduction of the international standard IEC62446 which is now referred to in the new draft Australian document DR AS/NZS 5033.

The IEC62446 standard defines the minimum requirements for system documentation, commissioning tests and inspection for PV systems. As such, this standard not only specifies the minimum testing and inspection requirements but equally importantly how the inspection and test results are documented and supplied to the consumer after installation.

In many cases documentation not only provides evidence to the consumer that work has been performed correctly, but it also acts as an aide mémoire to an installer and ensures that best practice is followed with the work that is being undertaken.

The IEC62446 reports are more extensive than those currently detailed in AS/NZS 5033 and importantly include three key items - a PV System Inspection Report, a PV Array Report and a PV System Verification Certificate. Now, a variety of products are available on the market to provide further support in the area of documentation and reporting. Seaward’s SolarCert software is a cost effective method for installers to build up data files covering PV Installations, also allowing them to create and complete the documents and certification which ensure that all the key tests have been carried out and the appropriate inspections undertaken.

Various countries including the UK have adopted IEC62446 in their accreditation schemes and although the standard is not mandatory, it is effectively enforced because no feed-in-tariff will be paid to a consumer unless the installation has been installed by an accredited installer. The accreditation schemes require specific procedures to be followed which to all intents and purposes are equivalent to those described in IEC62446.

Australia is not unique in its concern regarding the safety of PV Installations with a recent survey conducted in France also finding that 61% of solar installations failed to meet safety and quality requirements. In response, France has adopted a different approach by implementing a more rigorous inspection regime, although there is little doubt that a more cost effective approach would be to copy that of the UK and require completion of the IEC62446 documentation before any financial subsidy is made available.

So all in all, Australia is not alone in experiencing the problems it is now facing with regards to the safety and quality of its solar PV installations. This is without doubt an international issue. However, the standards and procedures exist which can quickly turn this situation around. The Australian standards committee therefore has an ideal opportunity to give IEC62446 a higher profile in their new draft standard.

In addition, the suppliers of electrical test instrumentation and software are playing their part by introducing a whole range of new products which will support the contractor by making testing faster, simpler and furthermore, safer. Instruments such as the Seaward Solar PV100, allow testing of installations to be carried out in seconds and at the touch of a button by combining a number of the required tests into one test instrument.

Developments such as these should not only help safeguard the future integrity of solar PV installations – but will also help allay the concerns that have been raised on the proficiency of the PV installers involved.


About the Author
Rod Taylor is a founder and Managing Director of the Seaward Group of companies, including Seaward Solar. The company is represented in Australia by Emona Instruments (

Established in 1982, Seaward is a market leading company which specialises in providing test and measurement solutions for electrical safety applications and health and safety type approval legislation.


Seaward Solar is part of the Seaward Group and is based at Bracken Hill, South West Industrial Estate, Peterlee, County Durham, SR8 2SW
Tel. (0191) 586 3511 Fax. (0191) 586 0227
E: [email protected]


For further information please contact:
Ian Watson of Mitchell Halton Watson PR [email protected]
8 Higham Place, Newcastle NE1 8AF
Tel (0191) 233 1300 Fax 0191 233 9530

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Seaward Solar

Established in 1982, Seaward is a market leading company which specialises in providing test and measurement solutions for electrical safety applications and health and safety type approval legislation. The company is represented in Australia by Emona Instruments.
Ian Watson
P: +44 (0) 191 233 1300
M: +44 0733 614 727


solar PV testing, electrical safety, solar PV installations


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