Amidst the aftermath of the South Australian blackouts and subsequent talk of a looming energy crisis, more and more Australians appear to be turning to solar powered energy storage systems (commonly referred to as “solar batteries”) to reduce electricity costs on a day to day basis and safeguard against a total loss of electricity during power outages.
The idea behind solar batteries, the likes of which include Tesla’s Powerwall, is simple – store surplus solar energy generated by solar panels for later use (for example, during on-peak periods or when electricity is otherwise not available from the grid). A recently conducted battery market audit has revealed that almost 7,000 solar batteries were installed in 2016 – up from 500 installations in 2015. Notably, most installations during 2016 took place in the latter part of the year, with Queensland and New South Wales proving the most popular states for installations.
With an increasing number of manufacturers descending upon the solar battery market (approximately 20 manufacturers now operate in Australia) and competition steadily driving down solar battery prices, the solar battery industry is showing no signs of slowing. As a country with one of the highest saturations of roof top solar panels in the world, it comes perhaps as little surprise that solar battery installations are predicted to triple in Australia during 2017.
However, as is often the case with trailblazing technology, the long term reliability and general durability of solar batteries remains unknown. This then begs the question – what protections are avaliable to the purchaser of a solar battery if that solar battery is faulty or does not operate as intended?
Whilst manufacturers generally offer warranties for solar batteries, levels of protection under those warranties can vary dramatically from manufacturer to manufacturer. For example, some manufacturers may seek to apply different warranty regimes depending on whether an issue with a battery concerns a ‘defect’ or the ‘performance’ of the battery.
In lieu of this, it is important for purchasers of solar batteries to be aware of the statutory protections that may be available to them in the form of consumer guarantees under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL)  (Consumer Guarantees) in the event that they encounter troubles with their solar battery.
What are Consumer Guarantees and how are they different to Warranties?
Consumer Guarantees comprise of a set of basic statutory protections that seek to ensure that consumers “get what they pay for” or, that consumers have avenues of recourse readily available to them in instances where goods or services received are not of an adequate standard.
Consumer Guarantees are distinct from express warranties (that is, warranties that have been given to a consumer, or purchased by a consumer, from a supplier or manufacturer) and as a result, the application of Consumer Guarantees cannot be restricted by the terms of an express warranty. The effect of this is that Consumer Guarantees do not cease to apply on the expiration of any fixed warranty period – rather, they apply for a “reasonable time” having regard to the nature of the relevant goods or services. This means that Consumer Guarantees may apply even where the express warranty for a product has expired.
The only exception to the idea that Consumer Guarantees apply for a “reasonable time” is if the consumer guarantee specifically seeks to guarantee matters contained in an express warranty. In those circumstances, the applicable consumer guarantee will cease to operate on expiration of the relevant warranty.
Do Consumer Guarantees apply to Solar Batteries?
Businesses and manufacturers are obliged to honour Consumer Guarantees in respect of goods or services that they sell, hire or lease for:
- under $40,000;  or
- over $40,000 that are normally purchased for personal or household use. 
With regard to the above requirements, we consider that most solar batteries will attract the protection of the Consumer Guarantees on the basis that they either constitute goods sold for under $40,000 or will be used to store and provide power to households. Naturally, solar batteries that are sold for over $40,000 and/or for commercial purposes (for example, powering commercial premises) are unlikely to be covered by those same guarantees.
Given the relative “newness” of solar battery products, and the short histories of some solar battery suppliers and manufacturers, we consider that perhaps the most noteworthy consumer guarantees for purchasers of solar batteries are those providing that:
- the goods (in this case, the solar battery or batteries) will be of acceptable quality; 
- spare parts and repair facilities will be available for a reasonable period;  and
- any express warranty will be honoured. 
We highlight that owners of solar batteries (assuming that those batteries have been purchased for under $40,000 or for personal or household use) are entitled to rely on the above consumer guarantees irrespective of whether a solar battery has been purchased from a local manufacturer or has otherwise been imported.
Ultimately, the overarching message is this: whilst products may change, the stringent obligations imposed on manufacturers and businesses by the ACL do not.
If you have purchased a solar battery and suspect that it is not of acceptable quality or that the relevant supplier or manufacturer are otherwise not meeting their obligations to you as required under the Consumer Guarantees, then please contact HopgoodGanim Lawyer’s Litigation and Dispute Resolution team for further discussion or advice.