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Rooftop solar industry backs new panel standard for Australia

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The Australian solar industry will soon be subject to a new audit program to test the quality and composition of photovoltaic panels where they are made, to ensure the final products being installed on Australian rooftops are of a consistently high standard.

The Positive Quality program – launched on Thursday by the Australian Solar Council with the backing of market leaders Yingli Solar, Trina Solar, JA Solar and locally-based company Solar Juice – is an independent, industry-led initiative that aims set a new standard of quality control in the Australian market, and increase public confidence in switching to solar.

The voluntary program – companies will have to opt in to be part of it – will see random audits conducted on solar manufacturers who export their panels to Australia.

The tests – conducted four times every year, with just half an hour’s notice – will include audits on all company certifications, a 60 point factory check, detailed random testing of solar panels, and financial verification, to ensure a manufacturer is not on the brink of collapse.

Solar panels that meet the ASC standards will be certified under the Positive Quality program.

ASC chief John Grimes says the audit program will fill a regulatory breach that has concerned industry bodies and market leaders since cheap solar panels started flooding the Australian market.

“Until now, a paper assessment, once every five years, is all that has been done before a particular solar panel can be used in Australia,” Grimes told RenewEconomy on the sidelines of the 2014 Solar Conference & Expo.

“There has been no way (until now) for the public to identify genuine quality solar panels,” Grimes said. “Instead, we see disreputable manufacturers ‘gaming the system,’ substituting cheap materials and pricing quality manufacturers out of the market.

Daman Cole, managing director of Yingli Energy Australia – one of the founding partners of the Positive Quality program – said part of his company’s motivation for backing the new regulations was to raise the overall standard of the Australian PV market, which he described as “one of the most saturated” in the world.

“We want consumers to approach buying solar with the same discerning approach they use to buy a sandwich,” Cole said. As with sandwiches, he said, the main ingredients of solar panels are largely the same, but the quality of these ingredients and the way they were put together varied greatly.

“You want to choose the cheese made in Tasmania, and the ham that has been organically grown,” he said.

Cole said the measures would also help expose some companies for a lot of “fluffy things” they fed to the consumer, such as the oft-quoted “German manufactured,” which, upon close investigation, could mean any number of things.

Finally, he said, Yingli supported the measures because it didn’t want to give oil and fossil fuel companies any reason to talk the solar industry down.

As the Australia’s insulation industry learned the hard way, a lack of industry-led regulation can be disastrous – especially under the circumstances of a subsidy-driven boom. And in the current political environment, it is more important that ever for the nation’s solar industry to self-regulate.

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