Quality solar is vital on the Sunshine Coast!

Fast read

On the 4th YEA Podcast, Markus Lambert interviews Dan Spence, owner of SolarWide, a solar power company located on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland.

Spence attributes the company's success to prioritising quality in products and installations. His company concentrates on selling high-end solar systems to withstand challenging coastal conditions.

Spence cautions against cheap, unreliable systems and emphasizes that failed solar panels typically need replacing rather than repair. Notably, the demand for solar battery installations has surged due to increased awareness about power security and sustainability.

He believes staff happiness and customer satisfaction drive the company's positive reputation, reflected in numerous five-star Google reviews. He also highlights the growing demand for EV charger installations.

Finally, the conversation alerts customers to misconceptions about battery capabilities and warns against solar shark businesses using small batteries as a lure to upsell. The pair also discuss the environmental implications of poor-quality solar panels and the importance of regular maintenance.

Dan Spence at YEA Podcast EP4

In this podcast episode, Markus Lambert interviews Dan Spence, owner of SolarWide. A solar power company on Australia’s Sunshine Coast. Spence explains that his family founded the company in 2011, inspired by a relative who was working in the emerging solar sector. The business began in a single storage shed and has grown into a larger operation. Spence attributes their success to an emphasis on quality in both products and installation.

He warns against cheap systems that often fail and leave customers stranded when manufacturers disappear. Instead, he advocates investing in high-quality systems that might cost more initially but offer greater longevity and returns.

He explains that the coastal conditions in their area, characterised by high heat, humidity, and salt levels, are harsh on solar panels and inverters. Consequently, they focus solely on selling high-end, quality solar systems.

Spence discusses common issues they encounter with failing systems, including water ingress, framing issues, and broken isolators, often on ‘orphan’ systems left unsupported by the companies that installed them because often the installer companies of cheap crap systems have disappeared.

Dan Spence from SolarWide at the YEA podcast regarding solar on the Sunshine Coast
A warm welcome to Dan Spence from SolarWide

Can failed solar panels be repaired?

In the podcast, Dan Spence and Markus Lambert discuss the repairability of solar panels and the increasing popularity of batteries. Spence, a solar panel expert, emphasises that most solar panels cannot be repaired and, if malfunctioning, generally need replacing. This can be problematic when the manufacturer has disappeared or a significant amount of time has passed since installation.

Discussing the evolution of solar energy, Spence reveals an uptake in solar battery installations. Their popularity has risen dramatically over the past 12 to 18 months. Starting straight after Covid, driven by people’s desire for power security and sustainable energy.

Dan Spence also underlines the importance of staff happiness and customer satisfaction in his business, noting how unhappy staff can negatively impact customer experience. He is proud of his in-house installation teams and points out the importance of quality over quantity in solar system sizing.

In the podcast, Dan also highlights the impact of electric vehicles (EVs) on the solar industry. The demand for EV charger installations has surged over the last few years, changing the dynamics of solar system sizing. Spence emphasises the importance of selling customers the correct system size for their needs, as opposed to the biggest or most expensive one.

Positive 5-star Google Reviews for solar installs come down to staff training

He explains how he is proud of his company’s high number of five-star Google reviews (over 150 – always 5-star). Attributing them to his staff’s efforts of making sure a positive result and experience is always part of a solar & battery installation with SolarWide.

These two solar experts then discuss challenges they faced with particularly demanding customers, especially retired engineers, who are detail-oriented and have high expectations. Spence explains he appreciates these customers as they bring referrals when satisfied.

Dan Spence acknowledges the difficulties of installing solar systems on complex roof structures, often found on high-end homes, which may feature multiple angles and valleys. However, they mitigate these challenges by always conducting on-site inspections before starting the installation to avoid surprises. Spence firmly explains that his company does not have any hidden charges, asserting that they absorb any extra costs due to overlooked aspects by their salesperson during the inspection and design phase.

Discussing an example, he recalls a miscommunication where a salesperson sold a three-phase site as a two-phase one. In response, they installed two single-phase inverters without charging the customer extra, maintaining their commitment to customer satisfaction.

Dan Spence, Owner of SolarWide on the Sunshine Coast
The Sunshine Coast has a harsh climate, and only quality components installed with care will last for decades

Explaining the solar install process to end customers

To make customers understand how solar installation works, the team first checks how much the customer knows about the process. Then they explain things in a way the customer can understand. They also help with all paperwork related to getting power from the grid and updating the meter.

Dan Spence gives advice to customers who aren’t sure if they need a solar system or a solar system with a battery. He says that batteries take more time to pay for themselves compared to solar systems. But for people living in the countryside or those who want power security, batteries are worth buying. People who like having the newest technology also often want batteries.

When talking about how to use batteries correctly, Dan Spence says that during power cuts, a battery should be used only a little. It should be used to keep important machines running and avoid using a lot of power. So, customers need to think about how much power they’re using during these times. They can also choose to have a backup, and this choice depends on how much more it costs and how often there are power issues in their area.

Black-out protection is a recommended feature on home storage batteries

Markus Lambert from YEA and Dan Spence from SolarWide discuss the misconception surrounding the capabilities of batteries sold with blackout protection. The pair underscore the importance of battery size, pointing out that many companies sell small batteries like 3kWh that don’t offer any meaningful benefit during power outages. They caution against the practice of companies using cheap small batteries as a hook to then upsell customers to larger, often overpriced battery.

They talk about how companies lure customers in with the promise of a cheap battery and then proceed to upsell larger systems that might not even work optimally. Dan stresses that adding capacity to an existing battery over time can be problematic. This is because older and newer components may not mesh well due to technological differences or the degradation of the older battery. They recommend buying the right-sized battery from the start, as future expansion might necessitate replacing the whole system.

They also advise customers to be careful about the timeline of adding batteries to an existing system. Adding capacity should ideally be done within the first 12 months, as anything beyond that would require significant effort to ensure all components are aligned, increasing the cost and hassle.

REC solar panels are a quality solution

Next, they discuss the quality of solar panels produced by REC, a Norwegian headquartered company manufacturing in Singapore. Spence speaks highly of REC’s products, claiming that they’ve had only two failures out of tens of thousands of panels sold. They also warn about other solar panel companies that do not honour their warranties, leaving installers to absorb the cost of failed systems.

Mr Spence explains the range of REC’s solar panels. The Twin Peak 5 and the Alpha Pure represent two ends of the company’s product spectrum. The latter, the Alpha, is described as the “best of the best”. They recommend panels with higher efficiency and low degradation, especially in hot weather conditions, to ensure optimal performance.

Dan Spence from SolarWide recently won the prestigious REC solar panel award for Australia. In a light-hearted and informative conversation, Spence reveals that SolarWide received actually two awards at the recent REC recognition Awards ceremony, being Queensland partner of the year and an award for selling more REC solar panels last year than any other company in Australia.

Markus lambert, Your Energy Answers Podcast host
Dan, you must be very proud of the recent REC Solar Panels Installer of the Year Award

High-quality solar system components are a must in Sunshine Coast’s unforgiving climate

The discussion then shifts to talking about the importance of using good-quality solar panels and inverters in installations. Spence mentions that while high-quality panels usually don’t cause problems, even good inverters can sometimes have issues. Despite these occasional setbacks, he appreciates the support and responsiveness of the manufacturers, particularly Fronius and Sungrow.

Spence talks about the customer service provided by SolarWide after the sale. Highlighting that any time the solar system is not working means, customers are losing money. If problems arise, it typically takes about a week to fix the system due to the logistics involved. He wishes for a faster resolution but acknowledges the efforts of the manufacturers to address problems quickly.

The conversation then focuses on the important aspects of determining the right system size, calculating cost savings, and providing advice to customers. Spence emphasizes the need to understand customers’ power usage patterns, energy needs, and other details before recommending a suitable system. He criticizes salespeople who lack a deep understanding of solar technology and only care about making a sale without considering what’s best for the customer.

Despite the various challenges, Spence maintains a positive outlook on the industry. However, he acknowledges the existence of “solar sharks” and “solar cowboys” who either charge too much for low-quality systems or install them poorly. The podcast concludes with a strong message about the importance of investing in high-quality solar solutions and avoiding dishonest sales practices.

The environment is the looser when purchasing cheap solar crap

Dan Spence and Markus Lambert now focus on the environmental consequences of poor-quality solar panels, the importance of solar recycling, and the necessity of maintaining quality solar systems over decades.

They discuss the environmental implications of rapidly discarding solar systems, often as early as four to six years. Dan Spence illustrates this issue with the image of warehouses filled with discarded panels. The eventual destination for these is often landfill, a practice harmful to the environment. Spence also mentions some solar companies opting for cheaper, poor-quality panels and building them up in their marketing. Those panels inevitably fail and have to be replaced. This not only costs the company money but also harms the environment further.

Mr Spence points out that recycling facilities are a good concept. Many installers simply discard old panels at the local dump as it’s more economical and convenient. Lambert suggests that waste transfer stations should refuse solar panels to ensure they are recycled.

Solar PV system & battery maintenance – often overlooked but always needed

The pair also discuss the need for solar panel maintenance. Contrary to common belief, Spence explains that solar panels require regular cleaning and checks for any damage or other issues. He recommends cleaning every 18 to 24 months, especially in areas where construction dust may accumulate on the panels.

The conversation continues about the dangers of homeowners attempting to do the maintenance themselves. As ladders can be hazardous, particularly for older individuals, Spence suggests leaving the job to professionals. Cleaning services typically cost around $300 for a 20-panel system.

In their podcast, they warn against using high-pressure washers to clean solar panels. Although this method may remove grime efficiently, it can blow out panel seals, allowing water to seep in, damage the panel cells, and void the warranty. The correct cleaning method involves low-pressure water, using specialised solar panel cleaning equipment, or at least if you are the homeowner and it is safe to access your panels, a bucket, a sponge and soft-fibre brooms.

4th YEA podcast between Markus Lambert and Dan Spence
The 4th YEA podcast follows the solar & battery system install practices of SolarWide

Poor installed solar – only the installation company wins

The conversation then discusses the environmental and practical outcomes of poor-quality solar PV installations. They highlighted the harmful environmental impacts of solar panels that fail after a few years. Leading to disposal in landfills or low-grade recycling. Dan shared his experiences of having to replace thousands of such panels. This was costly not just financially but also environmentally.

They argued for the necessity of solar panel recycling facilities, emphasising the difficulty of separating solar cells from glass and metal. In choosing a solar system, Dan Spence stressed the significance of doing research, prioritising quality over price, and focusing on the installation process. He suggested getting several quotes and finding out about the products before making a decision, stating that a quality system that lasts is a better investment financially and environmentally.

The future of solar

Towards the end of the podcast, Markus Lambert and Dan Spence discuss the future of the solar industry and the potential for household electrification. Spence foresees a significant increase in the use of electric vehicles and smart home technologies, driving up electricity demand.

This presents an excellent opportunity for solar power businesses. Spence also highlights how the industry is moving towards more efficient, smart solutions that control power distribution within the home, such as turning on a hot water system only when there’s enough solar power.

Spence’s business is a family company with the long-term aim of passing it on to his children. He points out the importance of building a business on good ethics and providing quality products, despite the potential for higher short-term profits by selling cheaper systems.

Dan argues that such a short-term view often results in businesses closing down due to product failure and recalls. Spence believes people are beginning to understand the value of quality solar systems over cheap alternatives, and Markus Lambert foresees a bright future for SolarWide.

Should you consider buying solar, or other renewable energy products, we recommend engaging with a qualified local installer to provide advice. To find the right partner try our company finder and ask our recommended experts to assist you. Using a Your Energy Answers Authorised Partner will give you a reliable, and trustworthy company to serve your needs.

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