Health check on new solar systems

News is cropping up of solar panels being installed in Aboriginal communities all over Australia.

On 24 July, the Australian reported that the Northern Territory Government has installed over 10,000 solar panels across 10 remote communities (Arlparra, Kintore, Nyirripi (Waite Creeke), Kaltukatjara (Docker River), Mr Liebig, Areyonga, Yuendumu, Lajamanu, Maningrida and Ramingining)

The ABC reported on 1 August 2017 that two sydney-based organisations are auditing homes in Walgett for suitability to install solar systems within two months.

And on 2 August 2017, ‘One Step of the Grid‘ reported that the NSW Aboriginal Housing Office have called for tenders to supply 970 solar systems in NSW’s Central West, Orana/Far West and Riverina/Murray regions.

Healthabitat welcomes news of reliable, affordable electricity as is necessary to power health hardware in houses including active heating and cooling systems. But we also think the way any electricity system is installed and maintained is important and hope to see lessons outlined in Housing for Health – the Guide (the Guide) referred to.

The Guide is based on safety and health principles called the Healthy Living Practices and is firmly based on the living environments and health of Indigenous Australians living in urban, suburban, rural and remote areas. The Guide makes available the data from over 7,500 Indigenous houses tested and improved around Australia during Housing for Health projects to improve new house design, construction and maintenance.

The Guide also provides a handy checklist for the installation and maintenance of electricity systems. To ensure that solar systems are dependable and economically and environmentally sustainable the Guide suggests:

  • ensuring the power generation system has the capacity to meet the load requirements of the proposed new buildings and associated infrastructure;
  • considering emerging technologies that allow residents to easily view their house’s power consumption;
  • considering the financial and technical capacity of the community to operate and maintain the system, including access to fuel, spare parts and technical experts;
  • ensuring that power is available to all houses;
  • ensuring the power supply installation in the street and the house connection has been tested and certified by the power provider or manager of the generation system, as well as an electrician;
  • having a maintenance contract in place for the power generation system and that the electrical supply system is regularly maintained and kept to a safe standard.

These considerations may seem obvious but they are often overlooked, which means health hardware systems like hot water and heating and cooling do not work, impacting health. Healthabitat will be checking in on the new solar power systems and updating the Guide to reflect best practice in installing and maintaining solar systems.