Solar that pays for itself drives rapid Smart Energy expansion

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pv magazine Australia: Many solar companies in the last two decades have been caught out by the steep drop in prices of solar PV, how has Smart Energy found success in an industry that has seen such a significant shift?

Smart Energy: Too many companies and independent installers have seen the decrease in prices as a race to the bottom without having enough concern on quality or having a long-term strategy in place to continue to operate.

Smart Energy is more focused on offering premium quality products and service, so our customers know they will have their systems long into the future. It doesn’t take a genius to realise the cheapest deal is not often the best deal and with solar, you really do get what you pay for.

We’re also focused on building a long-lasting company that continues to offer world-class customer service and round-the-clock technical support to provide our customers with peace of mind.

Smart Energy allows customers the option of using the savings from their solar PV installation to pay for the installation itself. Is this a popular option among your customers? And how quickly do their savings cover a typical installation?

The Smart Savings Plan is the most popular option amongst our customers; it lets you pay for your solar system out of the savings it generates. Typically, our customers pay off their system in five years or less, at which point they own the system and enjoy free electricity from there on in.

Has this option of “paying with savings” allowed Smart Energy to build without relying on government support?

A huge part of our success has been due to making sure we are operational without relying on government support. In saying that, our Smart Savings Plan has certainly been popular and has played a part in helping us grow. The Savings Plan gives people who wouldn’t necessarily be in a position to purchase a solar system outright the chance to start saving on their electricity bills immediately.

Though Byron Bay based, many solar installers around the country have hit out in camaraderie with Victorian installers suffering under the apparently bungled Victorian Solar Homes scheme, what has gone wrong?

When the Victorian Government closed off the rebate and stopped taking applications, people stopped buying systems. This has had a huge impact on the industry, there’s now a monthly cap on the rebate, and the August quota was filled in 90 minutes. This has caused a huge strain on independent installers and mum and dad operations that aren’t in the financial position to continue to operate when business is only good for one day of the month.

Because we operate with a long-term vision and service the whole of Australia, we’re fortunate that it hasn’t put us out of business. We’re in a position to operate regardless of the rebate – but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to see industry improvements to schemes like this one in Victoria.

Smart Energy “was founded on the simple premise of helping Australia realise its full solar potential”. Smart Energy is undoubtedly helping in this regard, but how can Australia’s solar potential be better realised?

There’s still so much that can be done for Australia to reach its full solar potential. Australians are exhausted by our broken energy system, and we need continuous support from the government with policy and incentives and increased regulation to give people peace of mind that they are making a good investment.

We’d like to see more government investment in energy storage solutions; batteries will make the industry sustainable, reduce pressure on the network, and allow people to wholly reduce their electricity bills.

Smart Energy is concerned about the disparity of skills among installers and is seeking to change the industry and its standards. What is Smart Energy looking to do?

One of our biggest challenges since starting Smart Energy has been finding quality installers. We hope to set the standard in the industry for quality workmanship, so have implemented a rigorous internal vetting system and continually seek feedback from our customers on the quality of the installs. It’s fundamentally changed the way we do business and means we can ensure our customers are getting a great standard and that we can continue to grow without compromising quality work.

What equipment, modules etc does Smart Energy use for its installs?

When we started Smart Energy we made a pact to only work with the best products. Our most popular products are Q Cells panels and Fronius inverters. We are also Tesla accredited and offer a range of its premium storage solutions.

Smart Energy started in Byron Bay only three years ago and has already expanded across Australia. Why Byron? And where next for Smart Energy Group?

We came to Byron for a holiday three years ago and thought it was the ideal place to set up our HQ. We now have 11 offices across Australia and have signed a lease on an office in Portsmouth in the UK. We also have plans for an office in New Zealand and the U.S in the future.

What most excites Smart Energy about the future of solar PV in the next decade?

We’re excited to see the continuous innovation in the industry, it’s a big indicator for the positive direction it is headed. In particular, we’re excited to see more households across Australia adopt solar as a standard over the next decade, and more people implement storage solutions to sustain the industry.

What’s next for Smart Energy?

Apart from our global expansion, we’re focused on continuing our mission to make solar accessible and affordable for everyone and become a full-service energy provider