Australians are mad for rooftop solar to ward off wild rises in energy bills, but are installers getting a fair income for all their hard work? Australia’s first national installer rates survey takes a look at how much the front line workers of renewable energy are taking home.
Solar installers have seen good times and bad as government incentives and tenuous green energy policy settings pull workloads one way or the other. As rooftop solar has slowly continued its advance into the mainstream, however, the margins earned by installers have felt the squeeze.
It’s a busy pitch. But is it a good business? A national survey was needed to understand the market and to find performance benchmarks.
Cranfield Projects invited solar installers to participate in a Solar Installer Rates Survey in the interest of determining trends across Australia. The purpose was to acknowledge the increasing price competition in solar installations as well as to show the average trends in labour costs as install rates have been the subject of many debates between industry stakeholders for some time.
The data reported in this article are based on the respondents from the survey only and should not be reflected as the true national average. The reported average charges exclude GST.
Respondents were concentrated mainly to NSW (25%) and Victoria (30%), with less than a third from South Australia (13%) and Queensland (15%). The remainder came from Northern Territory (2%), Western Australia (9%), Tasmania (9%) and the ACT (2%).
The average installer has been Clean Energy Council accredited for seven years. More than 85% work on both commercial and residential systems; 13% of respondents install residential systems only and 2% work on commercial only.
The average residential system installer (up to 10kW) has completed about 201-500 systems in total. The survey found that over a third of the respondents do not charge for a residential site inspection. From the respondents who do, the standard charge for a residential grid-connected site inspection ranged between $75 and $285.
About two-thirds of the residential installers scale their systems up to 10kW; the remainder selected 30kW and other options. About 70% of residential installers also fit battery systems, where the charge for a battery/off-grid site inspection is between $75 and $500. About two-thirds do not charge a cancellation fee. Some have never considered it or has not happened to them, but those who do charge between $100 and $300 for a cancellation.
Half of installers who take on commercial systems (10-100kW) have completed between 11 and 50 installs. About a third of the respondents reported to have installed large-scale commercial systems (over 100kW) with 4% reporting to have installed more than 50 systems. For 10-30kW commercial systems, only around 8% of the installers apply residential rates to their commercial installs; otherwise, the average reported labour rate is 35 cents per watt.
For larger systems (30-100kW), the average standard labour rate is also 35 cents per watt, but 10% of the respondents reported that the quote is entirely subjected to the site inspection. Among those who do charge for commercial site inspections, the average is around $265.
More than 60% of respondents include additional materials in their labour commercial/residential rates and 38% charge only labour rates with nothing provided. Of those who do provide additional material, more than half only supply the basic consumables and cabling; the remaining 41% provide all electrical components (isolators, cabling, conduits, fixings, etc).
Some respondents who took the opportunity to leave comments in the survey summarised the views about rates held my many installers: “[Rates are] Too low. There is a deliberate push from head contractors and sales companies in the downward direction! Profit margins are below that of a standard electrical work and installers are cutting corners … somewhat self-inflicted by installers not ‘doing their sums’ to determine what their minimum rates should be for acceptable profit.”
In response to the question “What is your opinion of solar installation rates in today’s market?”, around 75% reported their frustration and dissatisfaction, stating that installer rates are too low due to competition or sales companies forcing low rates as they “drive prices down, leading to poorer quality”.
Some commented that they will not sub-contract for solar companies as they view them as “just sales companies”. The remaining respondents commented that rates are fair or average, or that business is good and profitable “if all goes to plan”. Some installers said they have seen rates improving where “people will pay for quality”.
One respondent summed it up: “Solar installers are highly skilled and highly qualified electricians that are facing downward pressure on the prices from solar companies that don’t respect this fact, and are risking hurting the solar industry by bringing in ‘rough’ installers who skirt the rules and cut corners on their work.”
The salary survey was sponsored by renewable energy recruitment specialists Cranfield Projects and developed in conjunction with the UNSW industrial internship program, with EcoGeneration as media partner.
Special thanks to renewable energy engineering undergraduate Elisha Ma for her efforts in driving the project from inception through to completion. For a full copy of the report please email firstname.lastname@example.org