For owners of solar PV systems the investment has worked out well. But for Australia to keep leading the world in adoption of this clean energy solution the industry needs to focus on stringent quality control, writes Patrick Matweew of Redback Technologies, and that means lassoing a few cowboys.

Australia is a global leader in the solar industry, with the highest uptake of solar worldwide. Two million Australian households – one in five – already use rooftop solar to power their homes.

Driving this uptake is not only a desire to live greener, but a lack of trust in the ability of the government and energy retailers to control rising power prices. Homeowners have started to take matters into their own hands, installing record numbers of solar power and storage systems into their homes. 

Patrick Matweew is chief executive officer of Redback Technologies.

While this is great news for the industry, it hides growing mistrust that threatens to undermine many businesses’ hard-earned success.

Much of this mistrust boils down to the fact that many homeowners are first-time buyers who aren’t being provided with the right information or support for what is one of the most significant investments they will make.

This has made generating and converting new leads increasingly difficult, with many customers put-off by proactive offers from a subset of sellers who have employed aggressive sales tactics to get homeowners to purchase with them.

Many homeowners have been approached too many times by these resellers who offer unsolicited free solar consultations, free installations or installations at no upfront cost. For others, they have read, seen or heard about the lack of post purchase support. Who can blame them?

Misinformation and mistrust

For the renewable energy sector to thrive, we need to rebuild trust with the more than 80% of homeowners who do not have solar power systems in their homes. But we are not there yet, and we still have a long way to go.

For too long, a small segment of industry players has taken advantage of the information imbalance in the market. They have used the underdeveloped understanding of the public on how solar works and the returns involved to their advantage.

Local suppliers who are active members of the community are more likely to be invested in their customers’ outcomes and often act as trusted advisors. Whereas a large proportion of the unscrupulous players operate at a state or national level, relying on the anonymity afforded by distance.  

With house prices falling in major cities, wage growth flat-lining and debt-to-income ratios for many Australians at historical maximum levels, many homeowners are minimising risk by choosing the lowest-priced option. Deals that can sound too good to be true – and often are.

For many families, it’s hard to know for certain whether a solar and battery system is delivering on its promised benefits until three or six months after installation. This has made it increasingly difficult to motivate homeowners to invest in an asset like a solar and storage system with a multi-year payback period. 

Despite the thousands of well-installed, high-performing systems on Australian homes, it is the few cases where customers weren’t serviced correctly that dominate the news, casting a bad light on the whole industry.

Time to act is now

There is a genuine interest growing within the sector to collaborate and educate the next generation of customers and ensure that their money is spent on products with a demonstrated return on investment.

This includes educating homeowners about not only the benefits of solar and storage systems, but best practice around installation and maintenance. We’re starting to see an honest dialogue emerge, aimed at helping Australian families make the right decisions that will reduce their energy bills.

SolarQuotes has grown into a reputable source for providing homeowners with education and pricing indications in a way that enables everyone to understand the basics. Furthermore, Facebook groups like Solar Cutters and Crap Solar provide peer-to-peer reviews on installation quality and standard. This kind of transparency is a step in the right direction and will help to secure and generate quality jobs across Australia.

Role of government

At a government level, regulation of the sector can be strengthened and aligned. There’s currently a whole range of different regulations across states. Higher barriers to entry into the sector and stronger rules around who gets to claim generous government subsidies and rebates to install solar systems would be beneficial.

To certify installers is a step in the right direction. Currently too many people who are not qualified and certified are still able to sell and install solar systems without the fear of any consequences. This is a big loophole that still needs to be addressed. This is a question not only for the industry itself but also for a wider range of stakeholders.

There should be more consideration given to which businesses can register to claim government benefits such as rebates on solar systems. How we can ensure the “black sheep” are called out and investigated faster and their business directors are excluded from schemes? We need to make sure that is a responsibility for the directors of such businesses and that there are genuine mechanisms that hold them responsible for the consequences of their actions. 

At Redback Technologies, we’re introducing measures that we believe will help fill the trust deficit in the long run. This year, we’ll restrict access to our systems to installers who register with us as a partner and attend specific training. We’ll continue to support companies that do business sustainably and honestly by providing them with free training, marketing support and access to customer leads.

Through our work with a number of installers in Australia it is clear to us that the trust crisis that prevents many households from going green can be overcome, with homeowners getting peace of mind that they’re receiving the best products and service. 

Let’s rebuild trust one household at a time, across Australia. Realising the potential of our industry depends on it.

Patrick Matweew is chief executive officer of Redback Technologies.