Customers who use a lot of electricity make great PV-and-storage customers, says Sydney Solar Electricity owner Chris Pond.
You install residential systems around Sydney but you used to work on larger systems, is that right?
I used to do a lot of councils, solar schools projects, a couple of the universities – Wollongong uni and Western Sydney University – a 50kW system on a school. It was BP and SMA technology that was big back in the day. They were more as demonstration units, for science studies, than they were energy solutions. The BP panels were 150W whereas now I’m using 450W Sunpowers. It’s an amazing difference.
OK, and what sort of residential systems are you working on these days?
Residential has gone up in size, it’s very common to install a 6.4kW system. Bigger houses are hitting around 10kW or 15kW very regularly. I’ve done a couple of houses where the quarterly electricity bill is $5,000.
You have got to be joking…
No. These are houses with a Zip urn, a Miele coffee machine that sits there all the time switched on, a comms rack, a dimming rack for C-Bus and Dynalite, floor-heating for winter … it really adds up. Electricity was cheaper but now we’re hitting peaks of 52 and 56 cents for peak and shoulder off-peak and you’re seeing massive electricity bills. People are thinking, my goodness, I don’t mind spending a bit of money to offset three-quarters or half this bill to stop that.
Solar would have a massive impact on load like that.
Definitely. Floor-heating and swimming pool are seasonal but the comms rack and urn are on 24 hours a day. It’s a constant load. One house had an electric car as well. Now they have solar their electric car can charge and they don’t have these enormous bills. The good thing about a car is if it’s a rainy day and your solar is producing one-third or a quarter you put the car on slow charge; if it’s a sunny day you put your car on fast charge. There are some very interesting smart houses. I enjoy it.
Do you talk to clients about energy efficiency?
Always. I give every customer a brief energy audit. I’ve done thousands over the years. I’ll go through everything from LEDs to timing boards, passive solar design in the roof, insulation, drop seals, lessening your air-con and slowly getting to offset that exactly with solar and a car. Last of all is a battery. The battery is the slowest to pay back but is the thing that will only get you over the line of being totally self-sufficient throughout the night.
Are you installing many batteries?
I am. The Tesla is an amazing battery. It’s great equipment – bleeding edge – and as it comes down in price it’s going to be amazing. I’ve also installed LG, sonnen, enphase – they’re all good.
How knowledgeable are clients about solar when they contact you?
Everyone’s very savvy these days. Everyone looks at blogs, although people need to realise blogs can be sales-based rather than truth-based. You get your negatives and positives on different blogs and it will give a star rating on different products, but you know in the end the SMAs have the highest star rating because the customers are happy. Most people know things before they call up these days, whereas 10 years ago no-one knew anything. There were incentives then that got renewables onto the network, and they were important.
What do you think will happen if incentives are wound back?
I would hope that they are never silly enough to wind back RECs [small-scale technology certificates]. They wind it back every year but to wind it back totally would be ridiculous, although there was talk at one stage that they would just end it. It’s a mechanism to help us reach a goal and it should definitely be kept.
What’s your view on the industry overall?
It can have its dodgy operators. It’s very much a buyer-be-warned industry. I always try to keep to the quality end of the market; I deal with companies that are big, that have good warranties, that honour warranties, that have an office in Australia and you can get them on the phone for service. My rule is to keep to the three major brands. You shouldn’t have major problems that way.