AS/NZS 5033:2021 may have turned the solar industry upside down, but modules still need to go on the roof, writes Clean Energy Council technical program specialist Nathan Smith. 

The Australian rooftop solar industry is set for significant changes in the next six months. The publication of AS/NZS 5033:2021 on 19 November 2021 is set to fundamentally change how we as an industry design, install, document and, to a great extent, think about solar installations. With some of the changes inherent to the new standard providing alternatives to the more controversial components of a solar installation (for example, rooftop DC isolators), there has been a flurry of gossip, social media posts, bulletins from industry bodies and suppliers, and advice that is often lacking in detail or simply misinformed. 

New year, new standard 

The Clean Energy Council led the rewrite of the new AS/NZS 5033:2021 standard in conjunction with the members of the EL-042 committee, with several staff members involved in both the development and review of the draft document. While significant time and resources were devoted to ensuring that installers and the industry’s interests were well represented, it is important to remember that the EL-042 committee also represents the opinions and concerns of other personnel that are required to interact with rooftop solar systems, including emergency services and other stakeholders that have vested interests in ensuring the best outcome from the rewrite. 

The new version of AS/NZS 5033 becomes mandatory on 19 May 2022 in all states and territories except NSW, where it became mandatory on the date of publication. Electrical regulators have the authority to make the new version of the standard mandatory before 19 May 2022, but most have indicated that they will not do this and allow installations to be done to either standard until the mandatory date.  

Regardless, it is important to know that whichever standard is applied, the whole standard must be followed. You cannot use some requirements from the 2021 version of the standard and some from the 2014 version. For installers outside of NSW, it may be easier to continue to work to the 2014 version until you have had a chance to develop a robust understanding of the requirements of the new standard. Further information on mandatory dates and all the latest information on the implementation of the standard can be found on the Electrical Regulatory Authorities Council’s (ERAC) website.  

What has changed in the new standard?  

Some of the major changes in the new version of AS/NZS 5033:2021 include:  

  • an increase in maximum PV array voltage for residential systems 
  • changes to PV array isolation requirements 
  • new DC cable installation requirements for wiring systems and wiring enclosures  
  • changes to earthing requirements 
  • changes to DC optimiser and micro inverter requirements  
  • updated testing and verification requirements. 

The new standard also provides clarification on two other highly anticipated topics. Firstly, rooftop DC isolators are not strictly required to be installed under the new standard. However, if you elect not to install a rooftop DC isolator, the standard requires you to install a “disconnection point”, which triggers a number of other associated requirements around cable routing, documentation and labelling. Secondly, for domestic installations connected to the grid, the 600V maximum limit mandated in AS/NZS 4777.1 must still be met, so unfortunately the freedom of 1000V designs is still not yet possible on these installations. 

Information to help installers transition 

At the time of writing, the Clean Energy Council was working hard to develop support materials to assist installers in interpreting and understanding the changes in the updated standard. Several videos highlighting the major changes are being released, along with a more comprehensive advice document. Due to the nature of the standard, this advice document is intended to go through several iterations. To facilitate this, the Clean Energy Council has set up a dedicated space in the installer area of our website that allows accredited people to ask questions about the new standard and submit feedback on the advice document. We encourage installers to use this form to provide feedback that will assist us in continually improving our advice to installers. There is also a public-facing online form on the Clean Energy Council website that others in the industry can use to provide feedback. 

As with previous amendments and rewrites of standards, becoming accustomed to the changes and new requirements can be a demanding task for solar installers that are already stretched thin with the other expectations and obligations they must meet. However, it is important to remember that when signing off on installations, we are making a declaration that we have met these requirements. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts when it comes to understanding these changes, and while social media and discussions with peers can be a useful tool in developing a better understanding, it is vital that these discussions are well informed and always refer to the relevant clauses in the standard.