Having worked in the "Electrical Industry" for 13 years and run a small and now medium contracting business for 8 years I have seen booms in different areas of the construction industry but never one like firstly the Insulation Debacle and now Solar Power.
Firstly we had an insulation scheme set up by a vote hungry labour government that cost us 2.45 billion dollars and made 80 thousand homes unsafe. The true sadness of this government incentivised boom is the 4 deaths of insulation installers who were not provided with adequate training, working for businesses who had not implemented safe working conditions for their employees.
Now we have a second boom where the government has provided large incentives for home owners to install Solar Power on their homes. This has seen the rise and fall of many Solar Companies but strangely enough these have all been marketing and sales company that have come in and ridden the boom. A key point to focus on throughout this boom is quality of both materials and installation as per Australian Standards. This was a boom that simply lost control and was not manageable by the government bodies that were in place to ensure safety and quality were adhered too. With the industry expanding so quickly this allowed lower quality components onto our market imported by companies that had no experience in the solar industry or technical knowledge to support their product. Now with these companies nowhere to be found we have thousands of installations around Australia that have no warranty or back up support and the owners have not been given installation manuals or training on the proper use and maintenance of the system.
I speak regularly to electricians and contractors about what solar Panels and solar Inverters are being used and their preferences. One of the first questions is why they believe these solar Panels and solar Inverters are higher quality than the others and what are the factors are in deciding which brands to use. Most low volume installers who win work only through referral refuse to us anything but well known brands like SMA, Power One, Fonius, Trina and SunPower and base this on the strength of the brand. Some of my peers do their homework and research solar panels and inverters looking at what capacitors and transistors are used and what there fail rates are. Based on this none of these electricians are using panels worth 70cents a watt of inverters that you can purchase for $350. When I speak to companies who are installing high volume at low cost there reply is simply. They choose the cheapest solar panels, inverters and mounting systems they can possibly find that pass Australian Standards. With these installations owning around 50% of the market one can only imagine what will happen to them and their warranties when rebates are gone and quality takes over.
As a business owner in the solar power industry I spend hours upon hours researching solar panels and inverters including the company manufacturing and supplying the product. We look for companies with long term commitment to the Australian market place that are financial and provide back up support and training on the product. But most importantly we look for a company that has a solid warranty system who will cover costs of changing solar panels and inverters over and have technicians who test and repair the equipment in Australia. We have recently teamed with Fronius Australia who supply not only solar inverters which they have been doing for 20 years but also provide a 20 year warranty on their product which will cover the electricians costs of replacing the inverter. They have a team in Tullamarine that repair and test any faulty equipment and also provide training at this facility.
The reason I have spoken about Fronius is not a marketing ploy but to use an example of what the solar power industry requires too increase quality. We require companies to commit long term to the Australian solar market setting up facilities and providing technicians, designers and installers with training and support. If we can get three or four major companies to do this with a focus on quality over price then we will see a stronger and more financial stable solar industry than previous years.
Once we have this product support and our government provides incentives for investment in solar power rather than giving it away we will see banks supporting high quality components thus setting a higher standard and a trend towards quality.
To improve the quality of solar power installations i believe we need better training and facilities to educate new installers and retrain existing ones every 12 months. This should be a requirement for all installers along with more random audits of not only the solar installation but the design, the installation manuals and the sales documentation.
On the 14th of March, 2012 Neco Holdings Pty Ltd a Solar Power System Retailer from Melbourne reported on their Twitter page ”Neco is no more. We did our best to survive but government policy and dodgy cut-price competitors finally caught up with us. Sorry everyone.”
This is evidence in itself that ever changing government rebates and policy are causing turbulence in the residential solar industry and creating confusion for the consumer. Last year Clear Solar, Solar Shop and Solargen all took an instrumental dive from our ever changing government handout industry yet they were all large sales companies.
When will the solar industry in Australia be a safe playing field for the consumer where companies can be trusted to outlive their warranties and provide quality electrical components? In my opinion not until it is mature enough that the companies living off government rebates are extinct and the electrical industry is back to a place where quality components are more common than not.
Was this company another victim to a government that repeatedly changes goal posts or could it be competing with the larger companies making loss leader sales to control the industry. Feedback from the industry has shown that NECO only supplied high quality components and their inhouse installers were excellent. This shows that no companies are safe when trying to compete with low quality components and installations. Solar companies need to diversify their business to handle the storms of melbournes weather and solar industry.
Queensland Energy Minister Stephen Robertson today announced contracts have been completed for the installation of a 266 kW PV solar power system on the roof of Hervey Bay Hospital.
The Hervey Bay project is worth around 1.3 million dollars and is the largest rooftop PV solar power system on any Queensland hospital. The Queensland government led by Anna Bligh has committed 4 million dollars to renewable energy along the Fraser Coast.
ABB Australia has been awarded the project at a value of 1.3 Million dollars using ABB components and inverters and Australian made panels from Silex Australia. Jason Venning who managers ABB’s power generation on Australia has stated that this will mark a significant milestone for ABB in Australia. The Hospital has already reduced its energy consumption significantly by implementing a number of energy efficient initiatives.
Roughly 385 MW hours of solar powered renewable energy will be produced each year from 266 kW of Silex Australia panels on 15 different roofs. The estimated savings are in excess of $20,000 per year on electricity costs and reducing carbon emissions by approximately 400 tonnes annually. See below for an image of Hervey Bay Hospital rooftop.
MP Robertson stated during tender stage that tenders were invited to submit “creative and innovative proposals” for the project.
“This project underlines the Government's commitment to making Queensland the Solar State and works towards our goal of doubling the state's solar energy use over the next five years,” Mr. Robertson said.
“The Queensland Government is providing funding to the Wide Bay Water Corporation, which will advertise and run the tender process for these solar projects. It's now up to industry to come forward with the best and brightest solar systems for Hervey Bay.”
According to ABB Australia, who are supplying the components for the project that will link the solar panels with the main hospital building management system. The project will include an interactive web-kiosk and large screen television in the foyer to display real time data as an educational tool for visitors; allowing them to "see" the energy produced by the solar power system.