He’s done plenty of residential in his time but it’s the complexity of large systems that keeps Energa and MG Solar Designs managing director Glen Bulled busy connecting south-east Queensland to clean energy.
How’s the world of solar treating you?
Fantastic. I’ve just started a 200kW commercial system today in Brisbane. We install commercial systems – we only do residential if the owner of a commercial system wants to sneak one in.
How long have you been doing commercial systems?
For about three years now, but I’ve been installing solar since about 2009. I’m an electrician – have been for nearly 30 years – and one day I woke up and thought, I want to do solar. I just decided to do it; it looked like it was going to be a booming industry. My wife wasn’t so sure; she was saying, “It will never take off.” My solar journey started years ago when I was a marine sparky at Airlie Beach. When I headed back down to Brisbane area I looked at the industry a little more closely. I got my diploma of renewable energy engineering at SkillsTech and just kept going.
Did you start out doing residential?
That’s right. We started a company and were doing an Origin contract for about 18 months; we did a couple of thousand installations for them – 1.5kW systems, running about six crews. I’ve got two companies: Energa is my marketing and finance arm, and my construction business is MG Solar Designs. We have about 10 guys working for us at the moment.
Why the shift to commercial systems?
I’ve always been a commercial electrician. I’d never done residential until I started doing solar installations for residential properties. For me it was a simple natural progression to move into commercial. I understand the commercial energy requirements a lot more than I do residential.
Are you installing many batteries?
I used to but I don’t do many at the moment. Commercial installations are booming and we’re right at the forefront. Not only do we do commercial solar we also do efficiency measures, automation, the whole box and dice. There’s so much more to it than just a solar installation.
Do clients understand their own energy use and systems or do you have to show them what can be achieved?
One thing we always do is give them visibility. We put the monitoring in straight away and as soon as they can see what they’re doing they see they can change. Once they’ve got that visibility [around power use] they can change their staffing, their habits, a lot of issues around it – they can really understand where they’re spending their money.
Is the commercial sector catching up to residential?
It’s surpassing it. Since October last year we’ve installed nearly 2MW, just my little company. We’ve got about 3-4MW in proposal right now. It’s absolutely going crazy.
Are you having any trouble getting the work done?
Finding qualified experienced staff is just about impossible at the moment. We’re having to train and mentor a lot of young guys. I hired a young sparky today. He’s pretty green but he’s willing to learn, and I’m willing to teach.
Do you have any concerns about how the industry is tracking?
Having the boom and bust solar-coaster the industry is used to over the last couple of years, it’s difficult to maintain a workflow for the crews. You have to balance it out with [other work]. I try so hard to stay away from that stuff and just focus on the solar and renewable energy systems, but sometimes you have to supplement your workflow [with other work].
You’re not tempted to get back into residential work?
It’s not a challenge any more. Commercial is my area of expertise. Some residential installers have this cookie-cutter approach to the commercial environment and it just doesn’t work. There are so many more variable factors. We’ve got a 900kW system about to start soon for a school where we’ve changed the whole approach around the energy systems in their fraternity; we’ve changed the whole way the system is set up, just to make it work better. Other commercial companies had just come in and recommended 100kW, but we said the best solution is 900kW.
It must be hard selling a system nine times bigger than competitors are proposing.
Not at all. If you present the numbers correctly, there’s no problem at all. Rather than saving 4% of their power bill, if you walk in and show a 50-60% reduction in electricity costs and show future-proofing for price rises then that’s what people want. They want a solution.