Caveat Emptor

Ozroll

‘Let the buyer beware’, says the old Latin phrase. Davin Slobedman, Group Business Development Manager of South Australian based Ozroll, agrees wholeheartedly.

Solapowa, Ozroll’s division concerned with solar renewable energy solutions, is trying to reverse the conventional consumer view of this exciting but tarnished technology. You get what you pay for, is the watchword, and if it seems suspiciously cheap, it probably is – and nasty too.

Davin believes the solar industry across Australia is a somewhat fragmented industry, “dominated by many small ‘backyard’ solar companies with limited experience in large scale and commercial solar projects.” He says the availability of large volumes of solar panels of widely differing quality has partly resulted from a drop in demand from Europe, a strengthening Australian dollar but also an oversupply from China whereby low cost Chinese panels that have been heavily subsidised have been dumped into the local market.

The glut of panels has washed up on Australian shores for sale to a market still far from mature in terms of what it understands about solar energy delivery or the hardware involved. Inadequately trained tradesmen have been installing systems that may perform poorly; when the problems surface, the installer is nowhere to be seen. Hence the “bad name” for the solar industry, and the more reputable companies in the field are getting a bit fed up with being tarred with the same brush.

Ozroll, for example, is a large national company successful in other environmentally friendly fields such as insulating window shutters. Davin says the market will continue to consolidate and many of the low end brands will simply exit the market, as consumers wise up and start to demand quality and affordable solutions. OzRoll, through its renewable energy division, Solapowa, is positioning itself as a premium solar company and has selected the Conext range of inverters by Schneider Electric as its premium offer to the market. OzRoll also carries a number of Tier 1 solar PV panels in its offer. OZRoll has a strong relationship with companies such as Class A Energy Solutions who specialises in commercial size solar installations and project management.

Through these relationships, Solapowa can provide fully installed turnkey solutions for projects rangin g in size from 30 kW to 1MW. So Davin says Solapowa cannot afford to let its standards slip. It is concentrating on the commercial side of solar power, a more effective field than domestic household installations, which suffer from the problem of a lack of efficient storage to offset the gap between power generation – sunshine hours – and use – mainly evening. Commercial applications often consume energy when the sun is shining – a perfect fit which often does not rely on government feed in tariff schemes to be a viable financial option for business.

The Group has developed a professional commercial grade solution for businesses wishing to reduce or eliminate their electricity bills. Davin explains that, “A large embedded solar generator is not simply a small domestic solar system with a few additional solar panels and a larger solar inverter. Commercial size solar installations require specialist knowledge and equipment and must comply with relevant electricity network operator specifications and requirements.” There are strict controls on consistency of feed-in electricity to ensure no spikes that could damage infrastructure and have the opposite effect to the desired one.

“Understanding a business’ electricity consumption as well as its pattern of electricity usage and billing structure are important considerations in the design of a solar solution,” Davin explains. “In particular, businesses need to understand the impact of any solar system on future billing methods and structure as this may impact significantly on overall Return on Investment scenarios.”

He continues, “There are cases where companies have installed solar panels on their roofs and their electricity bills have actually gone up. This only further highlights the importance of dealing with reputable and professional suppliers with a thorough knowledge and experience of the requirements of commercial solar systems.” But in a situation where demand has been analysed, and installation designed, to correctly meet the requirements of a commercial energy user, the user may achieve a return of as much as 20 per cent.

Business owners’ primary reason for installing solar panels is to reduce electricity costs. “People are surprised at just how financially attractive a properly designed high quality commercial solar system can be. Return on Investment is often as high as 20 per cent, which is often much higher than the net profit percentage that the business achieves through its operational activities.”

Environmental savings are simply a “cherry on the cake” for commercial users – good for PR but not necessarily for the bottom line. “A 100kw solar system can save over 130 tonnes of greenhouse gases being emitted into the environment each year. Everyone wants to save the world but not many people really want to pay for it,” shares Davin. Nevertheless, consumers often look very favourably on businesses who are doing the right thing by the environment. If a business reduces its environmental footprint, it can distinguish itself from others and offer a point of difference in the marketplace – saving the company money at the same time.

At Ozroll, visualisation systems are available which can be incorporated into the design of the solar package. These systems are web-based with mobile phone connectivity and can be linked to business web sites to show performance of the system, including environmental savings in real time. As Feed in Tariffs (FiT) for excess electricity fed back to the grid are reduced by State governments, it makes perfect sense, says Davin, to use solar electricity produced when the sun is shining. In any case, the utilities are not as keen as some governments think to buy their electricity from householders and businesses, dependent on their peaks and troughs as well as a bank of passing cloud. Nor, Davin points out, should businesses be over the moon to sell power to the utilities if they subsequently have to buy it back – at a probably higher tariff – when their own demand peaks.

Often solar systems fail to live up to expectations and performance can vary widely depending on the type and quality of the components used and solar system design and orientation on the roof. “Sometimes ‘cheap’ is not cheap,” Davin says. “Often, inferior components or cutting corners on installation can cause solar systems to underperform or fail prematurely. You only have to look at the bad experiences of some home owners who have had shoddy solar systems installed on their homes to know that it is just not worth it.” On the other hand, says Davin, “a quality commercial solar system using premium grade solar panels and quality solar inverters is a long term asset which may actually appreciate in value each year as electricity prices increase. However, for tax reasons, it may be possible to depreciate the solar system over the long term thus possibly achieving further tax savings.”

Davin stresses that Ozroll practises what it preaches and has solar arrays installed and working. Its plants are demonstration sites and recently attracted praise from South Australia’s Minister for Manufacturing, Innovation and Trade, Tom Kenyon, who officially launched Ozroll’s 100kW commercial solar system.

What Ozroll and Solapowa are offering is not intended to be revolutionary; they offer a robust and integrated installation which they will design to individual requirements rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all approach, and they choose the components with care. There are basic common components of a package: tier 1 premium grade solar panels with 25 year performance warranty; Schneider Electric or other brand name premium grid inverters; quality panel mounting racks and hardware; circuit protection and network protection including ROCOF relay and vector shift grid components; visualisation equipment for performance management and monitoring; and full project management and installation services.

Everything must perform to the appropriate standards of both performance and longevity (the standard is 25 years). So the Solapowa pitch is conservative, offering above all reliability. But, as Davin is happy to agree, the company’s offering also includes a warning: make sure you know what you are buying. The company’s team can be reached at 1800 OZROLL (697655) or at www.ozroll.com.au. The consequences of putting the wrong stuff on your roof can be disastrous. But the consequences of a well-designed system, properly installed, can be just as dramatic in the opposite direction – especially as we all know energy prices form the utilities can only continue to rise.

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December 19, 2018, 9:23 AM AEDT