Facebook isn’t just about sharing hilarious cat videos or photos of that awesome meatball and mozzarella sandwich you had for lunch, it’s also a cool way to link up with people who do the same stuff you do (so long as it’s legal and in good taste).

There are a few Facebook pages for solar installers that carry searingly honest opinions of standards and best practice in the industry, including Crap Solar, Solar Q&A Aus/NZ and Australian Women in Solar. One page that seems to have sprung to life as a hot social spot for the nation’s rooftop workers is Solar Cutters, with its posts of crews celebrating another 6.6kW install well after dark alongside promotion of branded stubbie-holders and fluro polo shorts. The world can now see that solar installers know how to have fun.

Social networks are mines of ideas, of course, and racking manufacturer Clenergy saw the Solar Cutters page as a window into installers’ heads, where it could put an ear out for bright ideas.

“You can help them with technical inquiries and at the same time we were getting a lot of valuable feedback about ways we could improve and in general how the market is going regarding new products,” says Clenergy national channel manager Sean Guzzi (picture, centre). “One thing in particular that came up is that panel sizes are increasing.”

Picking up on the theme of panel sizes, Guzzi ran a poll on the Solar Cutters page asking what a preferred length for racking should be. The consensus came back as 4.4 metres, adding another 200mm to the standard version. And so Clenergy’s “Cutter Rail” line of racking was born.

Good-looking racking makes a good-looking PV system. Image courtesy of Prometheus Energy Solutions.

Training on the agenda

Solar Cutters director and co-founder Jack Long (pictured, right, with co-founder Kosta Bourandanis, left) sees the Facebook page as “obviously a clear path to training”, and some of the profits from sales of the new racking will be funneled back to Solar Cutters to fund training and networking events (although Solar Cutters is not a registered training organization).

Subjects for training will be voted for on the Facebook page, with a course put together on whatever the Solar Cutters members feel like learning about – with the bonus of earning professional development points.

“The idea was to put together an installer training roadshow in each capital city,” Long says, but that was before covid-19. “It’s been postponed hopefully until next year.” Long hopes training based on peer-voted content will be “not so much like a sales pitch”.

What sort of training does Long think Australian installers need? “A lot of installers need refresher training on inverters; specific technical training on facets such as grid voltage settings and export limiting. It will be more agile, smaller training segments that really hone in on what’s important at the moment,” says Long, who works at RACV Solar. “Keeping to the theme of the [Solar Cutters] events we only want to work with a select number of manufacturers and product suppliers.”

Common gripes

If the online crew that sounds off on Solar Cutters is fuming about anything it’s long hold times to manufacturers when they’re trying to sort out a problem on site. “That’s a common gripe,” Long says, along with inverter settings, inverter updates, remote access to inverters and how covid-19 has disrupted work for installers in Victoria.

Anyone who claims to take the pulse of solar installers will have some good advice on how to satisfy potential customers. Long’s tips are to always do a thorough site inspection, steer away from high-pressure sales tactics and make sure the pricing is right. “It just comes down to research.”

The Solar Cutters moniker is based on the “Homer the Great” episode of The Simpsons, where the globular yellow patriarch manages to crash a secret society called the Stonecutters. The Solar Cutters logo is adapted from the Stonecutters emblem, which was adapted from a birthmark on Homer’s backside. In the Solar Cutters case, the hammers in the Stonecutters emblem are replaced with silhouettes of MC4 male and female plugs.

“I don’t think many people have picked up on that,” Long says. “A lot of the installers are a lot older than me and they’ve been around since the ’90s. I only really watch the earlier Simpsons seasons.”