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Fimer issues "call to action" as DC isolator rule threatens solar inverter chaos

Nov 05, 2023

December 9, 2021 by Sophie Vorrath Leave a Comment

Global inverter maker Fimer has slammed the Australian solar market's "latest regulatory overreach," after Queensland authorities announced they would enforce changes to safety and certification requirements for residential rooftop PV inverters that could exclude some brands and models from the market.

The controversial revisions to rules around inverters with integrated DC isolators requires all products to be re-tested, re-certified and re-listed according to a new Australian standard by December 18, even if previously approved for use under the equivalent international standard.

The changes have come ahead of mandatory inverter re-listings due to apply from mid-December, but some manufacturers are warning it will be impossible for their product to be tested and certified by that time, meaning either delays in installations, or added costs to find a workaround.

And not just because of a lack of time. According to industry insiders, having DC isolators tested to the new AS 60947.3 will be difficult because there is currently nowhere in Australia or anywhere else in the world carrying out testing or certification to that particular standard – at least not yet.

Following an industry outcry, the CEC called on the Electrical Regulatory Authorities Council to clarify whether certificates obtained prior to the administrative changes to DC isolator certification requirements could still be used for compliance with [the new Australian standard].

"[These] decisions by electrical safety regulators will determine whether recent administrative changes to DC isolator certification requirements derail the introduction of the new AS/NZS 4777.2:2020 inverter standard," the CEC said.

At least one state has responded to that call, but not in the way the CEC had hoped: The EESS, the electrical safety body in Queensland, has said it will be enforcing the changes in compliance and testing requirements for residential solar inverters with inbuilt DC isolators.

Jason Venning, the country manager for the Australia and New Zealand branches of Fimer – the fourth largest inverter maker in the world – said on Thursday that the decision would "cost jobs and money for no tangible benefit to anyone."

"This was done with no proper consultation process or reasonable notification with the industry, and comes on top of all inverter manufacturers working hard this year to achieve compliance with the updated AS4777.2:2020 inverter standard due to come into effect on 18th December," Venning said in a post on LinkedIn.

"This last minute change will have a dramatic impact on the residential solar industry. If these changes are implemented now, well over half of the solar inverters currently available in the market will no longer be able to [be] installed and registered for STCs."

And Venning issued a "call to action" to Australian solar inverter manufacturers, retailers and installers who were likewise confused, upset or angry about the new standards.

"If you are outraged by this latest example of regulatory overreach and just want to be able to get on with running your business, please send a message to … the acting head of the Electrical Safety Office in [Queensland], and also to the responsible [state] minister … telling them to give the industry a break!

"If you really want us to comply with these requirements then give us a reasonable amount of time to get it done and help us to minimise the negative impact on the industry."

And Venning is not alone in his criticisms of the new standard.

"It's a huge mess," said Haider Khan, the product and solutions manager of solar inverters at Huawei Technologies. "The work around that some are coming up with by removing inbuilt isolators from the inverters is a… riskier option. There goes ‘safety regulation’ down the drain."

"Agree with you," said Muhammad Tahir, the CEO at Prosun Solar. "It's just a headache, waste of time and money. They must allow a reasonable time for these changes so we could get rid of our existing stock."

James Sturch from SolarEdge – whose inverters do not have a DC isolator built in, so are not currently facing any of the issues addressed directly – told One Step Off The Grid that while the 2018 rule change to AS/NZS 5033 had incentivised the integration of DC isolators into inverters, the change to certification rules threw a last-minute spanner in the works.

"The process has been very hard to navigate and understand," Sturch said in comments last month. "Overnight they have removed that ability to test and certify integrated DC isolators and in affect deemed every current DC Isolator listed with ERAC to be non-compliant."

The Smart Energy Council on Thursday evening also weighed in on the issue, assuring members it had "intervened in a major way," by calling for an extension to the date of compliance for the new regulations to 1 July 2022, to allow time for inverters to comply.

"We just finished a meeting with regulators called at our request at which we asked that this be resolved urgently," said SEC CEO John Grimes in an email.

"A failure to respond with a workable solution would see us demanding State Energy Ministers intervene immediately to save solar jobs in the lead up to Christmas."

Grimes said there was a "very simple and safe solution" to the problem: To allow inverters that had already received AS 4777.2:2020 certifications, but had built in ‘non-compliant’ DC isolators, to be used with approved external DC isolators between December 18 and 01 July, 2022.

"This will give the industry time for the test labs to tick the right boxes, redo the tests, reissue the test certificates, and comply with the Australian only requirement," he said.

"The SEC is not trying to circumvent safety or other requirements and our members certainly aren't – there is a timing issue for gaining certification and that's all we are seeking."

Sophie is editor of One Step Off The Grid and deputy editor of its sister site, Renew Economy. Sophie has been writing about clean energy for more than a decade.

Filed Under: Featured, Policy, Software/Gadgets, Solar