A Bright Outlook


South Australia’s Suntrix is a leading and fast-growing provider of solar PV systems and associated products and tracking software. It is also a company that attracts awards, having garnered lots of gongs in its recent history.

Suntrix Director Jenny Paradiso was a category winner in the Telstra Business of the Year awards in 2013; she acknowledges that the residential market in particular has something of a patchy reputation at best and that the solar energy market in SA is perhaps the most crowded space in the world. SA has possibly the highest percentage of residential solar uptake in the whole of Australia.

“We do not see ourselves as ‘just’ a solar company,” says Ms Paradiso. “We do residential and commercial, and also wholesale, so we have an open market and fingers in lots of pies; we also provide more in the way of services than most providers.” Suntrix can handle large-scale installations of solar arrays for commercial properties, but it also has “good strategic partnerships with other companies to provide specialised or individual services – anything from an energy audit through network protection for large commercial clients to energy monitoring, brokering and management. We are in a strong position with our diversity.”

Ms Paradiso says she has seen a lot of local companies in this field go out of business, closing down while Suntrix is growing. “I think that is one of the reasons we have been winning awards this year, recognising that we are ‘future-proofing’ ourselves. We are not concerned about where the market is going: with incentives or without, there will still be a place for solar.”

The products and systems provided by Suntrix also have the effect of future-proofing its clients. Take for example the recently launched monitoring system; this aims at raising the awareness of the public as to how they use their energy – their actions, habits, what they are doing and how it affects the environment and their consumption. The monitoring system shows people if (and how well or otherwise) their solar system is working, then helps show the usage pattern of energy consumption – on an hourly basis.

This enables everyday users to understand the peaks and troughs of domestic usage, “but it is also useful in the commercial area. We find there are a lot of businesses who are getting billed higher rates because of peak consumptions they only hit occasionally,” but if they knew when they were getting close to this peak, they could turn off a particular piece of machinery at a set time and reduce the bill. It’s about identifying machinery and processes that are using the most electricity and at what time that coincides with high or low tariffs.

Ms Paradiso explains that Suntrix is unusually strong on expertise in-house with lots of well-trained electricians and engineers, so is in an ideal position to act as a consultant rather than just an installer. The monitoring system can be installed for customers who already have solar systems provided by other installers; it is entirely online and internet-driven, for instant access only to those to whom it relates. Although Suntrix does not stress the low price (for reasons of credibility in an industry where too many people have made extravagant and ultimately unsustainable claims), Ms Paradiso points out that the cost of the monitoring system is indeed extremely modest. “We don’t want to price it high because we feel this product will be a real advantage to everyone. We want to make it available to those people who need it most and help them get a better understanding not only of their solar panels but their whole energy usage.”

Online monitoring has not yet really caught on, especially in SA, not least because not all solar companies want the monitoring systems to be installed, she says. “Because once you have one of these systems, you are accountable, 100 per cent of the time, for the performance of the solar system you have put in.” Some companies are less than enthusiastic about having their installation subjected to an accurate analysis, she adds. This is helping the general clean-up of the industry and forcing out the companies that are not in it for the long haul. For instance, there are a “surprising” number of installations of rooftop solar arrays in SA which are not working to maximum performance.

It is not impossible that it could be one of Suntrix’ installations, Ms Paradiso freely admits. For example, recently a customer had a cockatoo eat through some rooftop cables; the result was that half the system was not working. He checked the inverter each day, saw a green light and assumed all was in order – until he received his next bill. This is the kind of problem the monitoring system can easily highlight and flag.

As she says, Ms Paradiso promotes Suntrix as not ‘just’ a solar provider. The company is happy to undertake energy audits that go much further; for example, to the area of installing LED lighting to cut consumption. “We can also help a commercial customer to understand their electricity bill, how the company has been billed for energy. You would be surprised how many companies out there, small and large, are paying power bills without any good understanding of how they are being billed.”

In another recent example, a Suntrix consultant calculated a way to save a customer a thousand dollars a month in electricity bills – without even turning to the benefits of solar. “It is definitely much more than just sticking some panels on the roof and saying ‘here you go – have fun’!”

In financial terms, Suntrix is highly flexible, with roughly half of its customers purchasing systems outright and the rest preferring to lease (through a partner company). What Ms Paradiso describes as her favourite and a ‘no-brainer’ is a scheme where the customer’s lease payment is the same as what the electricity bill was, so there is neither capital outlay nor any increased operating expenditure. Typically leases run from three to seven years. After that, electricity is as near free as it ever gets.

By early 2014, Suntrix expects to be in the marketplace with a PPA scheme – the power purchase agreement where the solar company installs the array and charges for the electricity consumed at a pre-agreed rate over a set period. The company is not yet offering PPAs because it is a very complex product and Suntrix is taking time to ensure everything is legal – warning that some Australian companies may not have done their homework on this one. “We do our due diligence really well. Unless you are an electricity retailer, it is very difficult to obtain an exemption. We are working on it at the moment but I am curious to see how some companies are managing to do it.”

As both an installer and a wholesaler of solar products, Suntrix has to choose carefully among the myriad brands available. It uses Chinese products, of course – no one can avoid the sheer volume of the panels coming from China – as well as European brands. “I don’t believe everything coming from China is of poor quality – you get what you pay for,” says Ms Paradiso. “We do a lot of research; some products we have been using for more than four years now. We actually go and see the production at the factories.” Rather than offering a multitude of brands, Suntrix sticks to a favourite three, plenty to offer choice to the client. All come with an external warranty from an independent insurance company for maximum peace of mind. For the warranty period, a customer’s panels would be covered even if the manufacturer – or Suntrix – was no longer on the scene. Suntrix “is going to be around in the long run. So we choose products that will not cost us money by being unreliable or not performing as they should.”

2014 should see the roll-out of a wider national coverage for Suntrix’ commercial offering; an ideal chance for a wider audience to bask in the sunshine and cut down on the bills!

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 19, 2018, 5:14 AM AEDT