Australia: Growth in capacity and consumer sophistication


What does a strong rooftop PV market mean for Sunterra as an established installer in the Australian residential and C&I sector?

Lily Zhou is the COO of Sunterra, a leading Australian project developer in the rooftop solar market.

Photo: Sunterrra

The Australian rooftop PV market grew significantly in 2019, and this growth is expected to continue this year. Actually, one could say that Australia’s rooftop PV is one of the most stable markets in the world. A major factor behind the stable solar industry is a supportive government policy called the small-scale renewable energy scheme (SRES), which provides incentives for residential and commercial users. In addition, the SRES creates jobs and demand in the market and lowers the threshold for system providers to enter the market, which contributes to a stable and fast-growing solar industry in Australia.

We at Sunterra have enjoyed the benefits of the supportive government policy and the overall industry environment. We do not need to worry about creating an industry because it is already developed and stable. Instead, we can focus more on business operations and on sourcing better products and delivering better services to our customers.

Contradicting rooftop PV installation rates, behind-the-meter battery storage deployment has been sluggish. What have you noticed in terms of sales trends and overall demand for batteries?

Indeed, but these are two consecutive stages of distributed power generation, and the development of the energy storage market is supposed to take place after solar PV. Right now, battery storage is at the same stage solar PV was ten years ago in Australia. People still hesitate to install batteries nowadays mainly because of the return on investment. Since they are still relatively expensive, people need to pay a fair bit upfront to get a battery installed. However, we can clearly see that battery storage is changing from a concept to a standard home appliance. This is especially the case in South Australia, where the state government has the Home Battery Scheme in place that significantly cuts the upfront costs.

Manufacturing costs continue to fall, and this will enable more and more consumers to opt for batteries even without special rebates. We have already observed a considerable increase in solar+storage demand in other states as well, for example, in Western Australia, where the local government does not have a battery scheme in place.

Sunterra is operating across the country. What state-to-state market specificities are the most pronounced?

The Australian solar market is exciting as it varies from one state to another in terms of market features. The Western Australia market is the most competitive, both in terms of the number of system providers and prices. In South Australia, the power prices are the highest in the country, so the solar market is the most saturated one, with around 30% of rooftops already with PV systems. Due to the high level of solar penetration, the power network is not really stable, and this has contributed to the deployment of the state government’s home battery scheme. In Victoria, the state government offers an additional solar rebate – which initially raised market demand significantly. However, very strict safety requirements were introduced at a later stage which has led to much higher installation costs. So, solar PV providers in Victoria, Sunterra included, are trying to digest the policy changes and adjust their operations. New South Wales and Queensland make up the largest proportion of the Australian solar industry, the markets are very healthy and competition is high.

What kind of qualities are customers searching for in PV equipment?

Customers are making use of all kinds of information channels to research PV equipment. So what they do is compare different brands in terms of market history, product durability, quality, reliability, and even other factors, such as customer service or warranty claim experiences. Therefore, our selection of supply partners is reflecting our customer preferences. We look for high efficiency, better quality, and larger brand impact.

It is also worth mentioning that customers tend to have additional preferences when it comes to the selection of inverters. They stress the importance of the external design, and require that inverters have multiple functions. For example, they want inverters that are battery-ready and can be remotely monitored so they can see on their phones and laptops how the system is performing. Customers also stress that good inverters have an off-grid mode available.

What are Sunterra’s quality requirements when choosing its partners?

At Sunterra, we are very careful when choosing product suppliers. We believe that a long-term business relationship really counts, and we would only select those suppliers who continue to deliver reliable products and services. For example, our major solar panel partners are Jinko and Longi, as well as Japanese high-efficiency PV panel manufacturer Leapton.

In terms of inverters, we mainly partner with Growatt, which offers high-efficiency products and continues to innovate. We opted for Growatt after reviewing lots of different inverter brands. Actually, Growatt solar inverters have been in the Australian solar market for ten years now, and they are well-known as quality, reliable inverters. Recently, Growatt won the award called Top Brand PV Seal in Australia.

Growatt is one of your long-standing partners offering its on-grid, off-grid, and storage inverters for residential and commercial applications and batteries. What advantages have you found in their products?

Growatt has such a comprehensive product line that whenever we have a different customer demand, we can always find the particular product to supply them. On-grid inverters are the most demanded among our residential and C&I customers, while off-grid inverters are mostly used in rural areas. We have also seen a rapid increase in demand for storage-ready inverters.

Growatt offers an online platform that allows its engineers to notice a performance issue even before the customer, which means they can send their technicians proactively before the customer would even report a faulty unit. This brings the customer experience to the next level. Growatt offers high-standard product support. In Australia they have local engineers and support teams who provide useful system design information for us at the sale stage. They offer technical support to our installers. They also offer excellent customer service after installation whenever customers have an issue with their inverters or batteries. Therefore, at Sunterra, everyone from installers and sales to customer care officers and our customers, are very confident with Growatt inverters and their team.

What do you believe are the next trends in residential and C&I solar equipment in Australia?

The next trend will be driven by the consumer’s energy consumption habits that continue to evolve. People will continue to move to solar, but more will be accompanied by storage. In terms of solar equipment, PV panels will have increasingly higher efficiencies, and more and more inverters will have a battery-ready mode and blackout protection.

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