Survey finds Australians lack solar understanding, industry to step up

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pv magazine Australia: Redback Technologies commissioned a survey of more than 1,000 Australian residents, what were you seeking to learn?

Patrick Matweew, CEO Redback Technologies: We did the research to learn more about what consumers really think about solar and batteries, the motivations to purchase them and barriers to uptake.

Around 12 to 18 months ago there were some bullish forecasts that there would be an explosion in uptake of solar and battery storage, but this hasn’t happened yet. We wanted to understand why things are playing out differently, given that there’s clear value for consumers and wider stakeholders in the energy market to adopt solar and batteries.

We hope this research will help us understand what’s holding the market back and find effective ways to encourage interest and demand.

The survey showed that young families were the most concerned with the issue of climate change and the most passionate about government apathy on the subject. What impact can switching to solar do to alleviate stress these families are feeling?

Yes, young families were found to be the most concerned of all Australians about climate change and the government’s inaction. At a time when we’re seeing more and more people asking how they can do something about climate change – research by The Scanlon Foundation revealed last week that climate change is Australians’ number one concern – generating energy with a smart solar and battery storage system is a great way to take action, and one of the easiest too. What is better than producing your own green energy, storing it and using it whenever you want, potentially participating in network stabilising schemes like VPPs, and at the same time saving money on your electricity bills. This is a triple win!

The survey also showed that there are three distinct barriers Australians encounter when looking to buy a combined solar and battery system. These are the perceived upfront costs (80%), a lack of understanding about how these systems work (36%) and about knowing how to purchase one (35%). With the cost of combined solar and battery systems dropping every year, how can the industry better inform their potential customer base about deals and potential rebates?

The challenge goes beyond letting people know about deals and rebates. One of the main issues we see is that there is no independent and trusted source that people can go to get the information they really need.

Independent of what deal or package they choose, investing in a solar and storage bundle is a significant commitment for the average Australian family. Understandably, people want to make “the right decision” to make sure they get value for their money. As we are really at the early stages of adoption, the average consumer knows little about the different options on offer, if the product is right for them, what they should pay and what the benefit is. This creates uncertainty and holds people back from making a decision. Whereas, with other big ticket purchases you might get advice from friends or family who’ve done the same, in the case of home battery storage everyone is a first-time buyer.

Our survey shows there’s a lot of confusion and misunderstanding among consumers. As a result, people tend to wait and not make a purchase because they’re finding it hard to get good advice. That, naturally, is a problem for us as an industry and we need to act on this.

In our view, this lack of independent information that can help guide buyers is an industry problem. We need to find a way to be more transparent with consumers and communicate consistently and concisely from trusted sources.

Patrick Matweew, CEO, Redback Technologies

Image: Redback Technologies

Do you believe that Australians are concerned that a combined solar and battery system requires a lot of domestic upkeep?

The upkeep of a solar and battery system has never come up as a concern in our conversations with our customers. The primary issue is pricing – the concern over the cost of batteries, in addition to solar. We see that people are concerned around price and not fully understanding what a system can do for their household.

As an integrated solution, our system is very easy to maintain, and the information is accessible via an app or portal.

How is Redback Technologies going to go help combat the education gap more generally?

We make sure that our installer base is well trained and can support our customers with the information they need. We do that via our Redback Partner Connect Program which is structured to give installers training, access to sales information and partnership managers who can help them grow their business.

We also develop a lot of informative content specifically for consumers that aims to give them an overview of why they might want a specific system, or battery storage.

In the past many people have had trouble accessing government rebates for solar – particularly in Victoria – however this is beginning to change. What is your take on whether the solar industry has ironed out the many kinks which can hinder a rapidly growing sector?

The issue of accessing the rebates is not caused by the solar industry. The issue is the way the government program has been set up. Unfortunately, there’s few best practices of designing a good rebate system that makes it accessible and ensures it can’t be gamed. Currently, each state designs them differently and each state has different objectives. What is needed is a consistent and fair approach and framework that incentivises the right technology and stays in place long enough to give people time to understand it and build businesses around it. That would make it easier for consumers to understand and ultimately access the benefits.

All market participants need time to adapt their best practice around such programs by allowing initiatives likes rebates to be accessed by all households. For state governments it’s essential that they make sure homeowners are educated about rebates and that they are easily accessible.

Redback Technologies provides an integrated solution for its customers. What technologies does Redback utilise and amalgamate?

We provide an integrated solution that combines well-performing, tried, tested and affordable hardware solutions in an innovative way. We work with one of the world’s leading inverter and battery manufacturers to ensure we have high performing, reliable and safe products. We then enhance our offering with a suite of software solutions that we develop in-house in our Brisbane office. This ranges from intuitive visualisations of system performance on apps and desktop portals to VPP capabilities and innovative solutions such as Embedded Networks. We constantly look for ways to further improve our offering in terms of safety and performance.

Has Redback always offered an integrated solution?

No, the first generation of our products was only an inverter product with an option to be fully integrated and to connect to third party battery solutions.

Following feedback from our customers and installers that this was not the preferred option, we created a fully integrated solution. We are convinced that the integrated solution will ultimately become the industry standard.

How has Redback grown or changed in recent years?

Like most start-ups, we’ve had great times, we’ve had good times and we’ve had times of struggle. It’s a bit different working in the hardware market than providing software or an app solution like many start-ups do. Ultimately, I’d say we’ve been working very successfully in a challenging market and the approach we’ve taken has been perceived by stakeholders as the right approach, leaving us in a strong position to move forward.

What’s next for Redback Technologies?

We’ve got plans to release a number of innovative products in 2020, some of which we showcased in the All Energy conference in October. We are also continuing to work on our software solution with the aim to expand our business operations throughout Australia and overseas.