There’s a healthy appetite for solar as well as batteries and EVs in the Albury-Wodonga on the NSW Victorian border, says Bobbi McKibbin, the business & community engagement manager at solar installation company Solar Integrity. McKibben tells Ecogeneration what it’s like for solar installation businesses in the regional area. 

I noticed the company is hiring. How’s that going? 

We would love to have put on another apprentice, possibly two. But there’s a massive skills shortage. So we need to think outside the box when it comes to attracting new staff. 

What do you mean by that? 

We are now starting to talk with schools and bringing in work experience students. These young people are weighing up what they want to with their careers, so we have them come and try working in solar during the holidays – a sort of “try before you buy” system. From there, these young people can make an informed decisions about staying at school or doing a school-based apprenticeship where they stay at school and come and work for us a couple of days a week.   

Bobbi McKibbin

From what I’m hearing, a lot of young people are starting to leave school earlier again. They are not lasting to year 12 because they are struggling though Covid and don’t want to go back to school. Also, we need to start considering that school is not a place everyone wants to be, it’s not necessarily an enjoyable experience for everyone. Some kids just want to get out and work.  

Can you please give me an overview of the business and what services it provides? 

We are located in Albury-Wodonga on the Victorian and NSW border. We operate within a two-hour radius of that area, although we will sometimes travel further if required. 

We do residential and some small scale commercial installations as well. We offer grid connect services, hybrid systems, standalone solar installations and energy efficient hot water systems as well.  

What’s demand been like? 

It’s been flat out. We are booked out three months in advance. There’s quite a few solar installers in the area but the demand is just so strong at the moment. Qualified solar installers have been hard to come by. It’s hard to find people willing to move from the metro areas, and [installers in the area] are so busy they don’t have time to think about hiring. But it’s worth mentioning that there are enormous benefits from moving regional.  

Do you talk to clients about energy efficiency as part of your services?  

We do when analysing customer energy usage. And if we think its worthwhile, we do make those recommendations. Many customers that come to us want to invest in energy efficient upgrades. There are a lot of people who want to set themselves up for the future. 

The community sounds very switched on.  

We have a very active community energy network across the northeast of Victoria and a lot of interest in energy efficiency and renewables. Wodonga is one of the highest uptake postcodes of the Victorian Solar Homes program. People here are certainly pretty open to it. 

So customers are now well-educated on these technologies? 

It’s a mixture. They are certainly more aware than they were traditionally. Many have done a fair bit of research and are now really considering what the future looks like – they are talking batteries and EVs from the get-go. They are having conversations about bringing the new tech into their lives, which is awesome.  

So batteries are becoming a bigger talking point. Is that translating into sales? 

On the Victorian side, batteries are very common. But on the NSW side, not so much, because the incentives just aren’t there. 

Are you optimistic about where the industry is going? 

I think we are really lucky and the solar industry generally is a very resilient industry. I think that it faired well through Covid and I think we’ll be stronger in the future. The pressure is on the government to transition to renewables so they will have to start moving. 

Do you expect to see the renewables industry featuring in the upcoming federal election? 

It’s been really interesting to watch that shift from our Prime Minister and his government so I’m excited to see what may come out of the federal election campaign. And we’ve got a Victorian one by the end of 2022, so will be interesting to see what happens there as it’s been clear the states have been doing the heavy lifting compared to the federal government. 

Is there anything else on your mind when it comes to the solar industry’s future? 

We just need to start thinking about waste management within our industry and end-of-life for the products. Ultimately, we’re here for the betterment of the environment and we have to be responsible and lead the way. There’s some stuff happening here in the region to that end. We also have the Minister for the Environment, Sussan Ley, putting the industry on notice to implement a national solar panel waste scheme. It will be better to do this as an industry or the government will do it for us, and it will be better if we design it ourselves than rely on the government.