Way up north the wind can blow a mighty gale, which is why Damien Cassidy of Mission Solar and Electrical in Mission Beach, Queensland, doubles up on racking. He’s also doubling up on commercial installs.

You’re based in Mission Beach but how far afield do you go?

For domestic jobs we service from Cairns to Townsville, and for commercial work we’ll go as far as Brisbane or up to Mount Isa. We’ve been lots of places.

How many people on your team?

Two full-time tradesmen, a trades assistant, myself, one in the office and a casual … and I may get two or three casual guys in for the larger jobs.

What got you into solar?

I was working in the mines as a sparkie doing fly-in, fly-out. Then I started having kids and my wife said the four-weeks-away, one-week-at-home bizzo isn’t going to work. One of the guys I was working with told me solar’s going to be big – he was getting out of mining and into solar in Perth – so I did a bit of homework and saw the potential. I started a contracting business, with the intent on primarily being solar, and within 12 months we got our tickets and hit the ground running.

You’ve taken on quite a bit of commercial work…

About 60% of our work is commercial. We’ve done about six 100kW installs in the last 2.5 years, mostly agricultural or transport businesses. We’ve also done a bunch of 60kW, 70kW and 80kW systems, and everything in between.

We have done quite a bit of feasibility work on diesel-and-solar hybrid systems, not so much batteries yet. The big agricultural jobs have been on rooftops of large sheds, which are big enough to take 100kW of panels to power the cold rooms.

What have their savings been?

Around the $40,000-a-year mark. We send them annual reports. The systems are all monitored using SMA’s Sunny Portal.

Do you have to work hard to drum up residential business?

It’s largely referrals, to be honest. We do advertise, but a lot of our work is referrals. Power bills are going up and people are looking for solutions. Pretty much all we sell residentially is hybrid-ready inverters, and only SolaX, and we’re starting to see more systems coming through where we’re connecting the batteries as well. We’re getting good feedback.

The grid can be quite interrupted up here; there are a lot of brownouts this time of year, and blackouts. Having the back-up mode is a real practical point of difference for customers with solar. We put in automatic changeover switches, so when we do have power outages the customer will only have that brownout for about three seconds, then they’ll to battery back-up.

Are you up against the large discount installers in your region?

Yes. You get the odd customer who is fixated on price and who doesn’t consider the fact they really should have someone who’s going to be around to service a solar system and come back when something goes wrong, because they just do not get that service when they go [to a large discount install company] and that’s why they get it so cheap.

Do you get many jobs where you have to fix other installers’ work?

We do get quite a bit of repair work. Usually it’s relating to simple things like faulty inverters which should be dealt with by the retailer who sold the system but we all know how that goes. When we are there, or even if doing an upgrade to an existing system, quite often we do find substandard work that needs to be fixed. Simple things like tying cables up off the roof, correct stringing of DC, waterproofing penetrations correctly.

What’s the best thing about solar in your region?

We get lots of sunlight hours, lots of good peak sunlight, which means better-than-average yields over the course of a year and a good return on investment for clients. We’re getting 30% ROI on solar systems for customers, a payback of about three years.

But what about storms? How do you factor the weather extremes into your work?

Because we’re in wind region C, the second-highest wind category, we put in almost double the amount of feet as what’s recommended. We use Clenergy racking, and their specifications say you need to be 1m to 1100mm between spacings, but we always go 600mm.