Jase Pearson of Green Earth Electrical says there are still plenty of ways solar and storage can help people in his corner of Western Australia save money.
Tell us about your history in solar.
I’ve been doing it about 13 years now. I started working for a Perth installer, doing the little 60-watt by 24 panel jobs. I did that for a couple of years and then went back into the commercial industry when I moved down south to Dunsborough. I did little jobs here and there and about six years ago started up my own company, Green Earth Electrical.
What sort of work did Green Earth start out doing and what are you doing now?
At the beginning it was more residential with the odd commercial job. At the moment it’s a bit of a mixture. On the commercial side I’ve done a dairy, a vineyard, a 30kW installation at a school, a couple of hybrid jobs with 90kW of batteries, three different off-grid jobs.
The network in your area, Western Power, replaced a line with stand-alone solar-and-storage systems. Are customers in your area more aware of energy solutions now?
They are definitely becoming more aware. A lot of the farmers you get in touch with are looking at the battery option and it’s the same with solar. It’s taken them a while to realise that solar is good value for money and you can run your house at very little cost. Farmers don’t like spending money if they don’t have to.
What loads are they running and what are their energy requirements?
They’re normally running pumps – they’re pumping a lot of water. At the vineyard I worked on down in Donnybrook, the owner had a 24kW pump. It was enormous, so we were trying to cover that load as much as we could. It was running pretty much all day in summer.
For the customer who has two off-grid systems and a hybrid, he’s running a yoga studio and a six-cottage retreat with a manager’s quarters that includes a commercial laundry. They had grid limitations. It was single phase with a 20kVa transformer. He kind of had to go with batteries and a large PV system. They also run a generator in back-up, which they run in sync with the system. It’s coping really well.
Are solar exports becoming an issue for the network in parts of your area?
I think it is becoming an issue. The network we’re connected to is definitely getting saturated with PV. Western Power is trying to guide people towards batteries. [In September last year the daytime feed-in tariff was changed from 7 cents to 3c and the feed-in tariff for 3-9pm increased to 10c, to encourage storage in residential systems.]
Do customers understand how to use solar and storage so they can save money?
It’s getting a little bit tricky. They’re asking questions. When you tell them they’ll get 3c [for daytime exports] they’re quite put off by it. You’ve got to explain to them that you don’t really want to be feeding your energy back into the grid. Instead, you want to consume the energy you are producing. Because you are getting so little for a feed-in tariff you want to be using it in the house or in any way you can.
Do you think a 5kW system is sometimes too big for residential clients?
Probably. If the owner is only paying $150 [for electricity] per billing period I’d definitely say if you put a 5kW system in you will be exporting more than you need to. The majority of my clients are paying $300-$800 per billing period, so a 5kW system is pretty much where you want to be.
What sort of daytime load are they running?
Pool pumps, water pumps, heat pumps, all those appliances. Air-con is not used so much in my area. We’re about three hours south of Perth and the temperature is a little bit cooler.
There’s been a bit of coverage recently about DC isolators being a fire risk. Do you have any thoughts about that?
I’ve had issues, but not with my own jobs. I’ve been called to jobs where I’ve had to fix issues with a burnt-out or melted isolator. If they are installed correctly they work. I did plenty of jobs back in the day with fuseboxes and they all worked perfectly fine as well. I can understand the need for isolators from the perspective of the fire brigade. I’ve got some mates who are volunteers and if a house is on fire they’re not going up on the roof – it’s too dangerous.
Do you have any comments about the standard of work you see in the solar industry?
Most of the guys down here are doing a pretty good job. You get a couple of cowboys come down from Perth every now and then to do installs for the companies up there and some of them could pick their standards up a bit. They’re not getting paid appropriate rates and they’re probably cutting a few corners.
How about business standards in the solar business in general?
The training has really improved in the industry. There is a lot more online training, which is great for me – running a business with an apprentice and being so far from Perth. As for manufacturer support, my experience with callbacks is pretty low because I only use the gear from the top end of the market. I try to keep away from the other stuff. My experience with faults is also pretty low. I’ve dealt with other customers who may have gear from the cheaper end of the market and it might take two months to get a replacement inverter.
What’s your favourite type of install?
I’m really enjoying the bigger battery jobs and the hybrid jobs. They make you think a bit more. You can get right into the customer’s load and see where they’re using their energy, sizing up the battery to suit their needs. Those jobs are always a little bit trickier; there may be limitations or they might not be connected to the grid.
What’s your least favourite type of job?
One with multiple rooves. Every installer hates them. Little, tiny, multiple rooves. They’re just a pain. As for customers, it’s ones who don’t want to see PV on their roof. I think, really? But you’re doing something good!