Nathan Allen of Launceston-based High Yield Solar, who represents Tasmania on the Clean Energy Council’s Installer Reference Group, talks about the role of PV in the hydro state.

How did you get into solar?

I was an electrician in the army for 10 years. My wife is from Tassie and we relocated here once I left the army. I started an electrical contracting business and quickly branched out into renewables. I did my training at Holmsglen TAFE in Melbourne, mainly because Tassie did not offer many training opportunities and I had heard Holmesglen’s courses were good. Through friends and family contacts in the micro-brewing and winery industries I quickly demonstrated the savings that could be achieved through installing PV. Now I mainly do grid-connect, battery storage, off-grid and remote rural solar applications, like solar pumping.

Nathan Allen says solar is an obvious solution to cutting energy bills, whether you live in the country’s sunniest state or otherwise.
What makes you stand out from other installers?

We spend the time talking to our customers and suggesting the best solution for their needs. The best solution isn’t always what gives us a maximum profit but it’s what is best for our customer. It is what works for them, not us just selling systems.

That must mean you spend some time looking at load data…

We have a huge heating demand in a Tassie winter so it is a real challenge to provide good solutions. We look at their usage and then work out their best solution. That may mean grid-connected PV, PV with batteries, new hot water heat pumps or simply changing their current tariff with some behavioural changes. Obviously, the later recommendations don’t make us money but we have happy customers, which leads to more references.

How about commercial customers? What have you been doing for them?

Commercial work is more challenging and rewarding. We did a job recently on some storage units near the Launceston Airport, where the owner was spending about $600 a quarter on automatic roller doors and security lighting. We turned that into a $400 credit. First off, we did a thorough audit of the site and found the roller door transformers were chewing a lot of juice on standby. We recommended a 10kW system, they wanted a 100kW – we agreed on a 25kW system, which is exporting more than they use … money in their pockets! They invested to add value to their complex and are extremely happy with the result.

We also provided the solar on the new Flinders Island Wharf, which is a whiskey distillery and restaurant. It’s one of the only one-for-one feed-in tariff rates still around in Tasmania – 26 cents in and 26 cents out. A win-win for my customer.

Tasmania doesn’t show up very bright on irradiance maps. Is it a good state for solar?

Yes, I believe it is still worthwhile. Our mainland cousins may not agree but solar in Tasmania is a viable solution. Energy prices are increasing across Australia, and Tasmania is no different. Thankfully in Tasmania more energy providers are coming to the market. Hopefully that will create some competition. With the price of solar going down I think it’s a no-brainer. Across Australia, regardless of what sunlight you have, solar works!

How do you go explaining storage to customers?

Energy storage is still feeling its way into the market. At this stage our grid-connected systems are mainly up to 10kWh of storage. Those customers just want a battery; it isn’t about the return on investment. Our customers have money but still want value for money. I believe the energy future in Tasmania is about embedded storage. A subsidy for embedded storage like in Victoria and South Australia could provide a great solution for our electricity network.

What sort of work were you doing in the army?

Everything. It was fantastic. The training we get as apprentices through the army is significantly differently than the civilian workforce. We do 12 months of theory with a little bit of practical and then we are placed with civilian contractors. I spent the rest of my three years with 14 different electrical contractors and I was working on everything: industrial, domestic, commercial, control, hazardous areas, air-conditioning. You name it, we were exposed to it. It was great.