New solar AS5033 installation standard has just been released and while I’m still getting my head around them there is some good news and the usual Australian Standards brain dead stuff.
The most anticipated news was for the first time the ability to exclude the rooftop isolator. Which has been a problem for well over a decade. These are the little white plastic boxes which contain a DC switch mounted near the solar array on the roof. These were meant to give emergency services the means to isolate the DC power from the solar panels from the inverter. Basically de-energising the cable from the solar panels to the inverter.
Problem was emergency services never actually used them and in most cases were trained not to. So this little white plastic box would degrade in the sun, leak water water which would then short circuit the DC energy and catch fire.
This is why we started using SolarEdge as we cannot have rooftop isolator fires as the arc detection senses issues and turns off the solar panels individually and emails us. Plus we use aluminium isolators not plastic ones which are designed to last longer than the solar panels are.
Sounds like good news doesn’t it?
Well it is and it isn’t.
We can scrap the rooftop isolators when we can maintain 600mm clearance between the cables and the ceiling or if we can run the cables within the eaves. An awful lot of houses we will legally still have to use them. Basically any house with a flat roof or cathedral ceilings.
But wait there’s more
If we chose not to use rooftop isolators we have to draw a map showing the layout of the DC cables and where the disconnector is located. So while it would be much more sensible to just run the cables straight down to the inverter we still have to put in, yes you have guessed it, a white plastic box with some plugs we have to pull apart.
So yes there are circumstances where we do not need to use DC isolators; the opportunity has been muddied by warm and fuzzy bureaucracy.
Another example of madness is they want a special drain valve installed to allow water to come out of the conduits. Another plastic doo hickey that will fester in the sun and fail.
While good operators used to fit a drip loop which is just a loop to make it the lowest point for water to collect in and then drill a tiny little weep hole for the water to escape out of. Drilling weep holes is considered best practices for every other area of electrical except solar where we were told we weren’t allowed to which quite often lead to the weep holes being hidden. As we know water eventually gets into everything over time but it’s not an issue if it can find its way back out again and not be given the chance to build up.
I often wonder if inviting manufacturers to be part of the boards that create electrical standards hasn’t just turned into a product lobbying free for all? Some of these changes seem to be device driven instead of solution based.
There has been some really good stuff though.
The 600v limit has been removed from domestic buildings which means we can start using SolarEdge bigger 3 phase inverters again for larger homes.
The wattage limits on optimisers has been dropped which means we won’t have to play the word salad in labelling. We had to use optimisers which were there for safety in the first place.
Some bad news is if you ever wanted to install a pole mount or ground mounted array they have to have restricted access which in all likelihood will require padlocked fences around the solar panels or some very inventive conduit and duct work.
That’s going to price a lot of people out of that option of having free standing solar panels out in a paddock. But there will be ways around it, we just haven’t worked them out yet.
There is a 6 month lead in period for this new standard so if you do want a ground mounted solar array it might be the time to press the button on that while the restricted access rules are not so black and white.
In the next few days I will be going over the standard with a fine tooth comb and looking for more little nuggets of the good, bad and the ugly.
I haven’t inspected the labelling section yet but I imagine there will be yet more stickers. I once asked a customer what all these labels mean to you? He replied ‘I don’t understand any of them’. I asked him, ‘What would you like to see?’ His reply was he just wanted to see how to turn it on and off safely. Which was actually there but it was just one label swimming in a sea of other labels. I’m genuinely starting to believe you can label something up to the point it becomes dangerous. Labelling is meant to be clear, concise and easy to follow. We somehow have moved beyond that to labels on top of labels that make even tradesmen think twice about what they are trying to convey.
Most of the industry just despairs with the Australian Standard processes at the moment. They don’t listen to the people at the coal face, they are heavily lobbied and infiltrated by manufacturers these days. Too many competing interests sit on these boards and as such we just keep getting nonsense thrown into the installation rules. It shouldn’t have taken 10 years of lobbying to get rid of the rooftop isolator and even now the methodology to remove it has been bastardised to the point it’s probably going to make more sense for us with our SolarEdge systems and aluminium isolators to keep using them.
There it is, the new AS5033 2021 solar installation standards. There will be a flurry of amendments in the new year no doubt to satisfy some hurt feelings
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