We meet Astrid Herber, commercial solar consultant and PV system designer, and part of the award-winning team at EnviroGroup in Melbourne.
It doesn’t take many visits to a solar industry event or PD day to realise the solar game is pretty heavily stacked with blokes. It’s basically wall-to-wall dudes in high-viz, and the occasional boss-man in a suit. Nonetheless, there are a few women out there keeping the fellas honest, especially in the area of PV design, and one of them is Astrid Herber.
Astrid is the lead commercial PV solar consultant and system designer at EnviroGroup, in Melbourne’s inner north, and a CEC accredited PV designer. She is something of a star for the company, having closed out more than 1.5 MW of PV sales in 2015, chiefly in the commercial sector, as well as designing some of the company’s trickier installations. Here we chat with Astrid about her career and why she loves working at EnviroGroup.
Tell us a bit about your career in solar.
I was drawn to the industry because it aligned with my environmental principles, but I didn’t make the leap until 2010, when solar was really hitting its peak. The move was prompted when some associates in my home town of Adelaide opened a solar installation company at the same time as the ISP I was working for was sold. I embraced the call of the “˜new growth industry’ and haven’t looked back. After that I wanted to increase my knowledge and skill set, so I studied on the side to achieve my CEC grid design accreditation in 2013. I then started doing desktop design work for residential and commercial sites across Australia.
What does your current role at EnviroGroup entail?
I am working as a PV System Designer and Consultant in the commercial solar space. It’s a developing space, which is exciting. My role is quite varied, and sees me dealing with clients right from the beginning through to facilitating the delivery of the PV system. I contribute to tenders, present to boards and committees, write proposal content, and of course design the PV systems.
Do you spend much time up on rooftops?
Yes, I often attend sites to assess the viability of the roof area in person. While we can access aerial images online, once you’re actually up on the roof things can look pretty different.
What’s the story behind EnviroGroup?
Mick Harris, a bit of an “˜eco warrior’, started the company back in 2004 with a small shop in Thornbury. He’s actually been involved in solar PV since the late 70s and was a founding member of the Alternative Technology Association, a community organisation promoting sustainability. It’s a pretty tight-knit team of about 20 people in-house, with a lot of experience between us and a great spirit. Last year we were honoured to take out a CEC design award for a 355 kW install at Burder Industries in Wangaratta. We also work with solar hot water, some LEDs, Power Factor Correction and a variety of other services.
How would you describe the company’s ethos?
There’s a genuine core of people who care about what we do and doing it well, and aren’t just here to make a buck and go home. It’s the reason I love working here.
What are some notable projects you’ve worked on recently?
There’s been a good spread of interesting jobs. One that springs to mind is the 100 kW system for the Kew Recreation Centre, which was the first time I’ve used “˜selective deployment’ of optimised modules across a bunch of roof spaces. We also worked on the Hero Apartments project in the Melbourne CBD. Climbing around taking shade readings 15 storeys up on a very windy day was pretty scary! It does seem like we like to take on the more tricky jobs sometimes.
What type of equipment do you prefer to work with?
I feel like the term Tier 1 is a little overused, but there is a certain standard of product that is reliable, well-made and properly supported in Australia, and it’s no surprise that this isn’t usually the cheapest stuff. I’ve heard some companies are paying 35c/Watt for their modules and that’s just crazy cheap – too cheap.
Finally, any words of wisdom or advice for newcomers to the solar business?
It’s a great industry, but the “˜solar-coaster’ has given us quite the ride over the last five or six years and it might not be considered stable just yet. It’s a really satisfying profession, but it’s probably not for someone who wants to just cruise along.