Albury-based installer Tristan Norling splits his time between Victoria and NSW. He finds energy solutions in the two states can be very different.

Tell us about your journey into solar.

I’ve been out on my own for three years and my apprenticeship was in solar, so I’ve been working in solar probably for seven years. I started off in Wodonga and then started in Lavington. My entire electrical career has been in solar.

What sort of customers are you taking inquiries from?

A lot around our area are households with kids that are home a lot during the day, usually with pools and large air-conditioning units. We also sell a lot to commercial buyers. We’ve put systems on sales yards around Albury-Wodonga and businesses that use a lot of energy during the day. They want to get their energy bills down and make it worthwhile. We work on systems around 30kW, it just depends on the size of the property and what they’re using. We’ve done systems up to 100kW.

Have you seen much demand for batteries?

It’s slow. The people we’re selling storage to know a lot about solar and are trying to make an impact on their night usage. I don’t see it being that worthwhile at this stage, considering the price of the stock and materials. But there is a small market for storage for us. We do a few a fortnight. We get more interest about off-grid systems.

OK, tell us about off-grid solutions you’ve worked on.

There are a lot of rural properties nearby that don’t have power, where it might cost up to $70,000 to get power to their property, whereas we can put an off-grid system in usually around that price or cheaper and they never have to have that ongoing cost of service fees. That’s the market we’re trying to hit. We did one in Barnawartha where they decided to go down a more renewable road and invest in solar and some batteries. They were operating on diesel generators. There’s no grid out there.

What’s a good rule for sizing a system that’s off the grid?

We like to aim for three to five days of autonomy, so they get three cloudy days they still have power.

You work in two states – NSW and Victoria – with different feed-in tariffs. How does that affect business?

The bottom feed-in tariff rate in Victoria is around 11.3 cents and you can shop around an get maybe 20c. In NSW the feed-in tariff rates aren’t as good – you’re getting roughly 6c/kW. In NSW you size the system more to what they’re going to be using not oversize it and feed back to the grid, because it’s not really viable. The grid is quite unstable where we are in Victoria, with high voltages. It means you can sometimes not get approval for a system you want to put on – the customer might want a 6.6kW system but we’ll get an approval back for 1kW export, so we can’t put 6.6kW on there. It’s a bit frustrating.

Are you selling more batteries in NSW?

No really. More people are interested in storage in Victoria because of the rebates, which is $4,500 off a battery install. In NSW they say, is storage really worth it yet?

What other interesting stuff do you notice working in two different states?

We’ve done a fair bit of fix-up work in Victoria. With the new Solar Victoria rebate we’ve noticed a lot of installers have dropped off and moved between companies, so we’ve gone through and fixed a lot of their stuff up. We’ve also noticed DC isolators on roofs are a pretty big problem. We probably fix one of them every three weeks, where owners either see them arcing or hear noises because water’s getting in. We find that’s a big problem with systems about three to five years old. We did one last week that had ants in it because it wasn’t properly sealed. The best thing I could see for DC isolators is to have it down by the inverter. It’s more of a hazard on the roof.

Is there anything that bugs you about the solar industry?

It would be good if the regulations were nationalised instead of being state by state. With Solar Victoria, for instance, it can take up to a month to have STCs processed and rebates approved because you have to have a third-party inspector in whereas in NSW it can take a week. It would be good to see it nationalised.