The installation process for solar panels is only a small part of what installers actually do in their role. Many other elements of the job have a significant impact on what installers do, and how we eventually get photovoltaic (PV) solar modules on a customer’s roof.
There are many steps before, during and after the installation process, and many challenges are faced on a daily basis.
We research the market for the best-value and quality products for our customers; we put some simple designs together, market the systems, and the orders start rolling in. We submit all of the required permissions to connect documents prior to installation, then we deploy our installation teams and everything goes according to plan.
What happens next? Jim’s Solar customers see everything unfold in front of their eyes, from the panels going on the roof, to the inverter being mounted to the wall, and the system being tested.Article continues below…
We then contact the energy provider to have the system connected to the grid, and the net meter installed. In some states of Australia, this process happens within a reasonable amount of time. In other states, it can take 12, 14, or 16 weeks to get a system connected, and there’s nothing an installer can do about this timeframe except wait for it to finish. In New South Wales there is a significant level of control over this process, as installers are able to employ their own Level 2 electrician to install the meters; this is a great solution when the meters are available.
It can be frustrating to have delivered an efficient service, and then have to explain delays right at the last step to the customer. We keep records of all information to log in our system and prove that we have ‘done our part’ to get a solar system online. This is very important if you want to keep your customers.
The solar industry has seen a lot of changes over the last few years – changes to the Federal Government’s rebate schemes, cancellation of feed-in tariffs by state and territory governments, and cost of goods falling by more than 50 per cent in the last year alone.
Australian governments have helped to kick-start the solar industry, and it is now an industry in its own right. The challenge these days is keeping up with how quickly the market changes, and being able to identify the changes just as quickly.
Factors that affect our business and can change without notice are things like the value of the Australian dollar, the Small-scale Technology Certificate (STC) price, and even the weather in a particular month. Whenever there is a change in government policy, there is a knee-jerk reaction from suppliers and manufacturers.
The good news is: the future looks bright for installers. In less than 12 months from now, the solar multiplier will be gone, and it will be a more stable market to operate in with greater consistency and the luxury of knowing that the STC price will remain stable.
We now have a little over 10 per cent of market penetration with retrofitting PV to the Australian market, and we still have a long way to go. There are many new products coming onto the market, and if we have any sort of vision at all, renewable embedded generators with self-storage will be not too far away at an affordable and sustainable cost.
Consumers demand value for money: good quality product from a reputable company at a fair price. They need to be assured that an installation is done properly and on time. It is our job to source products, assemble an efficient administration team to handle all of the paperwork – and there is a lot – and to manage the installation.
We must provide training to staff and customers alike, and ensure staff have all of the required licenses to do the job. Our customers need to be confident we can deliver. As in any industry, there are good and bad operators in the solar space. The good ones will continue to adapt to the changes brought by outside forces, and the bad will always come and go.
In 2013, installers will no doubt have to endure yet another boom-bust cycle, struggling to fill orders when suppliers are unable to supply the quantity the industry requires. There will be the unavoidable human resources shortfall, then the aftermath – jobs being cut and companies downsizing. No matter what happens, there’s always a light at the end of the solar tunnel for the Australian industry.