Are Imports up to Par

Master Electricians Australia (MEA) has today warned consumers not to assume imported products have been tested for safety, after the ACCC recalled an eighth hoverboard brand in just 26 days.

MEA CEO Malcolm Richards has pleaded with Australian consumers not to be dazzled by a bargain when buying electrical items – particularly online or from pop-up shops.

He said the United Kingdom’s National Trading Standards consumer watchdog had actively enforced electrical safety laws through the confiscation of 32,000 dangerous models in less than two months prior to Christmas.

As a result, exporters of dodgy electrical equipment had turned their efforts to Australia, where the import regime is not as strong.

“Overseas manufacturers know full well that Australia does not block untested electrical products from entering the country, and we’re seeing more and more junk arriving on our shores, and then on our shelves, each year,” Mr Richards said.

“Whether they’re making a dubious toy, faulty laptop charger, cabling with sheathing that breaks down prematurely or solar panels fitted with dodgy isolators, these manufacturers are not subject to the checks and balances we have in place to keep consumers safe.

“They are able to exploit holes in our legislation, using short-term channels to offload non-compliant and downright dangerous goods on the Australian market,” he said.

Mr Richards called on State and Federal Governments to address the issue of electrical imports as a matter of urgency, warning that Australia will remain a target country for large shipments of products manufactured in countries that don’t meet our safety standards.

“They know that they can keep churning out products to a lower price rather than to a standard by substituting parts, and that they will have no problem offloading them here.

“But when you mix faulty cabling, incorrect circuitry or missing safety features, such as the current-limiting circuitry that stops batteries from continuing to charge after they’ve been fully charged, it can be deadly.

“Unscrupulous operators will also exploit high demand, so when an item is selling out at well-known retailers, they jump in and fill the void by churning out cheap, dodgy imitations in very short time frames.

“Australian consumers deserve to be protected from this dangerous rubbish, and we need our elected leaders to act.”

Faulty Wiring

THOUSANDS of homes with faulty electrical wiring would have alerts added to rates notices to warn any future buyers in a push by building industry bosses – and landlords would be banned from renting homes until it was replaced.

The move has the backing of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

About 6800 Queensland properties – mostly houses – were among the 22,000 nationwide that had Infinity and Olsent-branded cabling installed.

Poor quality plastic coating means it will become brittle over time, risking electrocution, or fires if there is physical contact in areas such as roof spaces and under raised floors, or close to heat sources such as ovens, hot-water systems and recessed lights.

But a voluntary recall scheme, approved by the ACCC last year, has accounted for only about 40 per cent of the dangerous wiring.

The deterioration is expected to start this year in locations with high temperatures. Master Builders Queensland de­puty executive director Paul Bidwell said many property-owners had not come forward and some had even refused access to replace the cabling.

The recall covers only wiring in accessible areas – not behind walls – and a warning is placed on the meter advising some of the cabling is still present. Mr Bidwell said some owners feared that could lower the property’s value and so did not replace any of it.

2016 Excellence Awards

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Solar Cells

Scientists have developed a new silicon solar cell that promises cheaper manufacturing processes and better power output.

The collaboration, between scientists at The Australian National University (ANU), UC Berkeley, who led the research, and EPFL groups, did away with the chemical doping that conventional silicon cells rely on and instead used pure silicon sandwiched between thin films of different materials.

“For a lot of people this will broaden their idea of how silicon solar cells can be made,” said ANU PhD student and lead author James Bullock who conducted the study while on placement at UC Berkeley’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences.

“These cells can be made using a very simple low-temperature fabrication procedure, so they have the potential for cheaper processing whilst still having high efficiencies.”

The research is published in Nature Energy.

The team’s best solar cell so far has achieved nearly 20 per cent efficiency, which is better than the industry average, said co-author and ANU professor Andres Cuevas.

“There is nothing to say we can’t get to the world record efficiencies, over 25 per cent, using this approach,” Andres said.

Instead of using doping impurities within the silicon structure to control the electronic properties, the team sandwiched a silicon wafer between a lithium fluoride layer and a molybdenum oxide layer.

Lithium fluoride has a low binding energy of electrons, known as the work function, while molybdenum oxide’s is very high. The difference means that when sunlight hits the silicon and creates an electron-hole pair, the electron is drawn to the lithium fluoride, while the hole goes the opposite way, which creates an electric current.

The new design promises a lower energy footprint for solar cells, because they are manufactured below 200 degrees Celsius, in contrast to conventional doped cells which are made at above 800 degrees Celsius.

The cells also do not require the often toxic chemicals used to dope conventional materials.

“This device is the result of a completely new understanding of the physics of solar cells,” said Andres.

“All those wonderful materials were sitting there, some of them already in our lab cabinets, but we had not realised how useful they can be.”