Calls for better consumer protections intensify as complaints over shoddy solar panels soar

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The body representing household and small business power users is pushing for greater safeguards to protect consumers from faulty solar panels and misleading advice, amid a spike in complaints over dodgy installations.

In a campaign to be launched today, Energy Consumers Australia is seeking to fix what it says has been a “challenging, confusing and even disappointing” experience for too many people buying solar panels.

The campaign, called Plug In, coincides with efforts by state and territory regulators to gain powers that would allow them to investigate claims of unscrupulous or inadequate practices by solar installers.

It also comes amid an expected wave of demand for energy technologies such as home batteries and electric vehicles.

Lynne Gallagher, the chief executive of Energy Consumers Australia, said the adoption of rooftop solar and other new energy technologies across the country was overwhelmingly a good news story.

However, Ms Gallagher says too many customers are being let down by providers who sell them products that are either defective or do not deliver the stated benefits.

“We know that millions of Australians have already bought and installed rooftop solar panels,” she said.

“And (they) increasingly are purchasing home batteries and electric vehicles and that these decisions are a huge part of Australia’s push towards a cleaner and better energy system.

“Consumer adoption of these technologies has been a massive success story and we need to see even more of it over the next decade as our energy system transforms.

“But we also know that for some who have gone through it, the process has been challenging, confusing and even disappointing.”

‘Flood’ of complaints spurs action

As part of its campaign, the lobby group is set to unveil a website that provides “clear, independent and easy-to-use information” for new and existing solar, battery and EV customers.

The website can be found at

“These decisions are not easy for consumers and represent significant investments of their time and money,” Ms Gallagher said.

“Australians need to be able to find information that explains the kind of products that meet their individual needs, how to find a reputable supplier and installer, how to use these technologies for their own benefit and what to do if something goes wrong.

“That’s what Plug In offers.”

According to ECA, in recent years there has been a “flood of complaints from Australians unhappy with the sale, installation or operation of rooftop solar and other technologies”.

Complaints have centred on allegations of installers exaggerating the potential output of systems, making false representations about where panels were manufactured, and underquoting the costs of installation.

Other grievances included suppliers giving misleading information about the performance of panels over time and outdated or incorrect details about government incentives.

Regulators effectively ‘powerless’

Despite this, ECA noted regulators had little ability to probe the actions of industry players.

Janine Young, the New South Wales Electricity and Water Ombudsman, says regulators are keen for this to change.

“Complaints about new energy services often involve multiple service providers and require customers to navigate several forums in search of a satisfactory response,” she said.

“Increasingly, aspects of complaints involving energy products and services are out of EWON’s jurisdiction causing increased customer detriment and frustration.

“We’re proactively working with our state-based energy ombudsman peers to ensure we influence reforms and regulation so that complaints raised by energy customers affecting their supply can obtain dispute resolution from their energy ombudsman.

“Reform needs to happen now.”

Across Australia, more than 3 million households have a rooftop solar installation and ECA says the rate of uptake is expected to remain strong in coming years.

Citing consumer research, it said almost a quarter of households were currently considering the purchase of rooftop solar, while 27 per cent were thinking about buying a home battery or an EV.

For all the enthusiasm, the organisation said almost half of household consumers felt they did not have access to information allowing them to make an informed decision.

“This problem has been around a long time, and it hasn’t gotten any better,” Ms Gallagher said.

“Better information on its own will not solve all the problems we see in this space.

“We absolutely need stronger consumer protections, and we need the industry to lean in to better conduct.

“But this will be an important addition.”

By energy reporter Daniel Mercer (Original ABC Article)