Energy self-sufficiency is becoming popular in the Victorian town of Maldon, which means plenty of work for husband-and-wife solar installation team Melinda and Glenn Payne of Glennerator Electrical. This interview has been lightly edited for readability.
How did you both get into the solar industry?
Melinda: I started working at EnviroGroup in Melbourne a couple of years out of university. I started in admin there and then moved into an operations manager role. I was there between six and seven years. It gave me a pretty good overview of the solar industry.
Glenn: I started as a mature age apprentice with EnviroGroup group. I have a tech background and then moved into doing an apprenticeship. It really gave me good insight into how it all works.
And then you started your own business. Is that right?
Melinda: Yes in October 2018 we moved to Maldon in Victoria and started a business contracting as installers. We do a lot of work for EnviroShop, which is 10 minutes from here, in Newstead, and is part of the bigger EnviroGroup brand. I’d worked with them before and had a good understanding of what they needed, which is basically some consistent installers. We also do a bit of work for Central Spark. That’s the main two places we work for. There’s definitely enough work going to keep us busy.
How well-versed are your customer base on solar and other clean energy technologies?
Glenn: There’s a lot of eco-minded people down here. People are mainly doing this because they want to do the right thing – they’re not doing it to get rebates or anything. There’s a fair few even getting batteries installed. People get solar first and then they just want to go that next level and get a battery. We get a few blackouts up here, like when a storm comes through. People here often rely on water tanks and pumps and things like that for water. So, when the power goes out, there’s no water as well as no power. So it’s not surprising that every time a blackout happens we notice a spike in people wanting to get batteries to have energy back up in their houses.
What about EVs?
Melinda: We’ve put in a few EV chargers for people. There’s actually a few Teslas getting around this area and some of the other brands as well. It’s definitely something that people are talking about a lot more. They may just be looking at it as something they’ll do in a few years’ time.
Glenn: We have a fair few customers excited about the bi-directional charging and using it as a house battery. It isn’t here in Australia yet but when that happens, I think there will be a lot of appetite.
So what’s the standard size of your installations, and what kind of loads are people running?
Melinda: The average system is around 5kW.
Glenn: Also, a lot of houses are switching to electric appliances. People would consider getting a heat pump and start saving on power by using their solar to power it. People are moving away from gas and old hot water systems. It generally saves them a lot of energy.
Melinda: Compared to the past, in new builds, there’s a lot more electric appliances going in. I mean, there’s still plenty of people connecting to gas but electrification is definitely talked about a lot more. I don’t think people even thought about it before. Everyone is realising that you can put solar on and you can make your money back by running your home off it. With gas, you’re always going to have to pay for it, no matter what.
Glenn: People are also looking to insulate their houses properly to save energy that way.
So what are the big issues facing solar installers at the moment?
Glenn: Training up the industry remains a challenge. You can get trained and get your certification but that doesn’t necessarily tell you how to install solar on a roof. There’s lots of new people coming in installing systems and then getting audits and failing audits. They then realise it’s all too much work. I feel it’s not an attractive situation for new installers.
So what about the upcoming election – are you hopeful the fortunes might swing in favour of the solar industry?
Melinda: I’m hopeful that government will do something but the reality it’s probably going to be industry and customers leading the way. I wish there was a lot more government support but I think it is actually going to be businesses saying ‘it just makes so much more sense to put solar on’.
What’s an interesting job look like for you?
Glenn: A whole-home battery backup solution. They give people the ability to go off grid. That’s pretty rewarding.
Melinda: I always get excited for the customer when they’re putting something in like a Tesla battery. It’s obviously a big investment for them. And it’s that idea of putting the power back in the hands of the people. It’s really exciting to see when someone in the middle of town can do something like that because it wasn’t that long ago when you’d only have houses out of town that are off grid because there were no power lines out there. So yeah, it’s really shifting people’s vision of what they can do.