Solar Victoria is committed to working closely with consumers and industry to inform the development and rollout of its programs.
The Industry and Consumer Reference Group (ICRG) provides advice to Solar Victoria and the Victorian Government on the effective delivery of its programs. This includes the Solar Homes and the Solar for Business Programs which aim to help Victorians take control of their energy costs by offering rebates on the installation of solar PV, solar hot water systems and solar batteries.
The work of the ICRG helps Solar Victoria deliver on its goals and support the sustainable development of the solar industry in Victoria.
Former CEO of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, Ivor Frischknecht, is the independent chair of the ICRG.
Members have been selected to provide diversity from a range of small, medium and large businesses, different backgrounds and from metropolitan and regional areas. Organisation representatives are nominated by their organisation, and industry representatives are appointed by the CEO of Solar Victoria through an Expression of Interest process.
ICRG members meet regularly to provide advice on:
- safety and quality matters, and associated standards
- consumer protections and customer experiences
- technology requirements
- future grid requirements
- skills and workforce development
- product stewardship.
Outcomes from the Solar Victoria Industry and Consumer Reference Group
The ICRG meeting held on 28 July 2021 covered the following:
- update on COVID-19 restrictions
- vulnerable customers
- Home Heating and Cooling Program update
- overview of the Solar Homes Program.
Update on COVID-19 restrictions
Solar Victoria CEO Stan Krpan provided the group with an update on the implications of the recent COVID-19 restrictions, including that solar installations are permitted under the easing (this was prior to the current lockdown). Members heard that:
- June was a record month for Solar Victoria with over 16,000 applications, which is three times the number of applications in April 2021.
- Given the high volume of applications, the turnaround period for approval is approximately 10 days, but Solar Victoria expects this to return within the five-day target period shortly.
- Extensions are being granted to all customers whose applications are due to expire due to COVID-19 restrictions and the related pipeline of installations.
Kate Barnes, Acting Executive Director, Customer Experience highlighted Solar Victoria’s commitment to assisting vulnerable customers and its relevant strategies. This included research undertaken in partnership with the , which focused on cohorts:
- with language diversity
- from rural and isolated locations
- with limited internet access, or who may be otherwise technologically or digitally disadvantaged.
Solar Victoria then incorporated those findings into its new programs and training for new employees.
Members were supportive of the various initiatives outlined to support vulnerable customers. These included, amongst other things: paper-based applications, payment extensions, pausing loan repayments and upcoming renter applications for the Solar Homes Program and Home Heating and Cooling Upgrades Program.
Members also expressed interest in consumer protection and Customer Experience dispute resolution mechanisms as future ICRG agenda items.
Home Heating and Cooling Upgrades Program update
- approximately 50 small, medium and large businesses have been chosen to participate in the initial phase of the approved supplier panel, covering every Local Government Area in Victoria
- based on the number of installation teams across the 50 suppliers and geographic coverage, up to 40 installations per day are possible in even the most remote regional areas, and over 300 per day in metropolitan Melbourne.
Solar Victoria highlighted that the purpose of this program is to support low-income households as well as stimulate the economy following COVID-19 restrictions, and that it will monitor uptake and performance to ensure it meets the objectives of the program.
Overview of the Solar Homes Program
- Members were presented with recent figures on applications and installations from the Solar Homes Program.
- Solar Victoria will consider a forward agenda item relating to the process for next year’s Notice to Market.
- The group heard the results of Solar Victoria’s most recent Voice of the Customer survey on post-installation satisfaction. Results indicated that 85 per cent of Solar Homes customers surveyed are either very satisfied or satisfied with the quality and product of their installations.
- It was noted that it is important to have ongoing surveys that seek feedback from customers over an extended period and track any change in response to positive or negative Solar Victoria feedback. Solar Victoria reported that it was working on measuring customer behaviour and feedback several months following an installation.
The ICRG meeting held on 30 June 2021 covered the following:
- update on Solar Victoria’s programs and related industry issues
- Time Of Use tariffs
- Solar for Business Program update
- members’ insights and feedback.
Update on Solar Victoria’s programs and related industry issues
Solar Victoria Chief Executive Officer Stan Krpan and A/Executive Director of Policy, Programs and Industry Jonathan Leake provided the group with an update on current issues in the industry and programs including:
- the recently released
- the gas rule change under the
- Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC)’s
- Victorian Auditor-General’s Office report,
Solar Victoria has introduced changes to the solar hot water rebate stream, including removing the current requirement for applicants to install a gas-boosted solar hot water system where they are connected to reticulated gas (unless they have an existing PV system greater than 2.5kW). The group welcomed these changes and felt that it would increase the appeal of the solar hot water rebate stream and improve consumer choice.
The HHCU Program is set for launch in July, along with an Approved Supplier Panel, established through an Expression of Interest process. Solar Victoria advised that it had consulted Small Business Victoria and Industry Capability Network in designing the panel procurement but will consider the processes and investigate the availability of training in Victorian Government tendering. Solar Victoria advised members that they can apply to join the panel after the initial launch of the program, as the panel includes a rolling procurement.
Solar Victoria gave an overview of the recent Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) report, . It also provided an overview of some of the key recommendations the organisation will implement, including the development of a business case to better inform government about the efficacy of the Solar Homes Program.
Time of Use tariffs
The change encourages load shifting into the morning and midday for households, and between 9pm and 9am for businesses. This will help the grid to absorb excess solar being exported during the day and create a shift in the pricing structure for default customers or those who choose to opt-in to the setting.
The tariff pricing will be passed onto the consumer through the retailers who will incorporate the prices into their customer plans.
Solar for Business Program update
Solar Victoria Director of Program Development and Implementation, Lashae Roulston, highlighted some of the key achievements in the Solar for Business Program. Across a broad range of industries, 490 applications have been submitted, 361 have been approved and 94 installs have been completed.
Solar Victoria invited feedback on whether rental provider-led applications and loan for small businesses would be useful. Members welcomed the suggestions and confirmed that this would lead to an increase in commercial customers interested in getting solar panels.
Overview of the Licensed Electrical Inspector training and improvements
Solar Victoria and ESV are working together on a that aims to upskill existing LEIs to qualify for solar inspections. The training addresses the skill differences between regular inspections and solar inspections, including examining DC currents, polarity, earthing panels and Working Safely at Heights.
Solar Victoria and the group predict that a range of initiatives, including the new training and mentoring initiatives, will help to decease the wait time for the inspections of solar installations.
Members' insights and feedback – Standing agenda item
The members’ insights, feedback and discussion covered a range of topics, including:
- The ban on door-to-door sales was welcome but there are other areas of practice that the Government might consider regulating.
- Solar businesses would value training on applying for Government tenders.
- Solar panel cleaning is an emerging and related industry that includes a risk of people climbing on, and potentially damaging, solar panels. Solar Victoria should consider the possibility of training in this area.
- The Clean Energy Council is investigating potential supply chain issues regarding solar panels sourced from Xinjiang Provence in China, in collaboration with an international working group.
- It was suggested that Solar Victoria give an overview at future meeting on its processes for vulnerable customers.
- The group suggested that safety in solar could be a focus by Solar Victoria and Clean Energy Council at in October.
- Solar Victoria should consider promoting new initiatives in recycling of solar components in Victoria.
- Working Safely in Solar training was attended by one member who praised it for being relevant, informative and appropriate for the industry.
The ICRG meeting held on 28 May 2021 covered the following:
- battery aggregation pilot
- the (now published) Solar Victoria Notice to Market
- the (now published) Technology Guidelines
- Working Safely in the Solar Industry mandatory training
- Home Heating and Cooling Upgrades Program
The is an important document that confirms the value and volume of Solar Homes rebates each financial year. Members expressed concern about the delay in the publishing of the Notice to Market. Ideally it would in future be released some months prior to end of financial year.
Solar Victoria updated the group on its activities to support solar workers to complete the , currently due for completion by all participating solar on-site workers by 30 June 2021. On current completion rates (prior to the recent circuit-breaker COVID lockdown), Solar Victoria indicated that all solar on-site workers could have completed the training by the deadline.
Solar for Business Program
Lashae Roulston, Director Program Development and Implementation, updated the group on the launch of the . Prior to the launch, Solar Victoria held two industry webinars with over 200 attendees to update them on the retailer launch, program design and answer key questions.
Solar Victoria also provided an update on the planned launch at the end of May, which was well received.
New Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) Subsidy
The group also noted that, to create appropriate charging infrastructure, the location of ZEVs needs to be considered so that Distribution Network Service Providers (DNSPs) can plan the best locations for charging stations. Solar Victoria acknowledged the importance of this.
Victorian Energy Efficiency Program update
Sarah Stephen, Executive Director of Energy Demand and Helen Sofele, Director of Energy Efficiency, from the Energy Group at DELWP informed the members about the currently underway that collectively aim to reduce emissions by 7 per cent by 2024.
The members welcomed the information, with some solar retailers also working in energy efficiency.
There were questions from members about the relationship between demand response and smart technology.
The group was informed that smart technology will play a soft role in the upgrades, where people are able to get real-time information on their energy use to enable smarter decision-making. This will be complemented through building energy-management systems with smart-controls connected to home devices. In addition, new-builds may incorporate smart-service statistics in some properties to enable devices to load-shift.
There are aims to introduce program incentives that will reduce demand at times where energy is the most valuable or the local network is constrained. The group heard that a consultation paper addressing this matter will be released in July, and that major reform will occur through amendments to the .
Members asked about the demand management incentives, noting that many DNSPs already offer these. DELWP Energy invited members to work collaboratively on these incentives and noted that there are battery aggregation issues that may be worth collaborating on as well.
The ICRG meeting held on 28 April 2021 covered the following, which were discussed with the Minister for Solar Homes who also attended:
- the Victorian Government’s stance on
- the current state of the residential PV market
- and related issues
- consumer protection issues around unsolicited door-knocking and unscrupulous marketing
- the rollout of
- gender equality and women in solar.
Update on LEI discussions and industry roundtables
- During April, WorkSafe, Energy Safe Victoria (ESV) and Solar Victoria met to develop new LEI training materials and to discuss providing the opportunity for existing LEIs to upskill through solar-specific training.
- There will be a focus on improving communication between LEIs and customers to assist both parties in the appointment-making process.
- A proposed LEI inspection checklist has been prepared and submitted to ESV for final consideration, before eventually rolling it out on a trial basis.
Operational performance and continuous improvement
Lyn Bowring, Executive Director of Customer Experience, informed the Group about the process of introducing new and streamlined systems to improve the customer experience at Solar Victoria.
There have been approximately 50 program or process changes made since 1 July 2020, and April 2021 saw the introduction of the ‘Prove it Once’ initiative. This has enabled concession card holders to input card details rather than upload documents – over 1,600 applicants have utilised the new process, saving an average of three minutes per online application.
March 2021 recorded the highest volume of payment requests since the program began, which has increased some turnaround times and delayed some payment processing. As a result, there has been more activity in the contact centre and longer wait times for customers inquiring about the status of the payments. To address this, Solar Victoria has:
- employed more Customer Service Officers
- reduced staff turnover
- introduced specialist training
- improved the 1300 call center queue options.
The ICRG meeting held on 31 March 2021 covered the following:
Update on Licensed Electrical Inspectors (LEIs)
Paul Corkill, Director of Risk, Assurance and Standards, updated the group on the findings and next steps from two roundtables held in conjunction with Energy Safe Victoria (ESV) with LEIs and with industry representatives on 17 and 19 March respectively.
The barriers to LEIs inspecting new solar installations were discussed. A range of possible causes were identified, including information on specific inspection requirements for solar installations, dedicated training for new LEIs and working at heights risks for solar inspections. Solar Victoria and ESV will work to implement the following steps:
- promote the findings from the Solar Victoria safety and quality audit program and explore further engagement with LEIs directly
- work with ESV on finalising an LEI inspection checklist
- develop new LEI training material and implement at pilot to support new LEI entrants and up-skill LEIs to undertake solar installations through dedicated solar training
- work with LEI representatives on next steps to address barriers in the LEI regime, and identify demand for new LEIs to support solar sector in future years and to consider enticements to attract new entrants.
- Members appreciated the efforts of SV to take the lead to identify and implement practical actions to address the immediate and long-term LEI inspection shortages.
Voice of the Customer
Grant Johnston, Director of CX Strategy and Insights, presented insights to the ICRG collected through Solar Victoria’s customer survey ‘Voice of the Customer’ framework.
Insights from customers indicate:
- a high level of satisfaction amongst respondents, with an increase in satisfaction across all metrics since December 2019
- uploading documents on the Solar Victoria portal is now the primary pain point in the customer experience since other concerns have been addressed
- reducing energy costs is the primary reason households are installing solar
- reducing a home’s carbon footprint was the second reason and taking control of their energy bills was the third reason for installing solar
- 70 per cent would not have installed solar unless there was a rebate
- 31 per cent would not have taken up rebate unless a loan option was available.
Members were pleased with the initiative and keen to see customer insights on customers experience with solar retailers.
Marianne Doyle, Director of Communications, informed the Group that a new advertising campaign will be rolled out over the coming months via the Solar Victoria website, social media platforms and radio.
Concerns of unscrupulous sales tactics using these materials will be monitored through the Solar Victoria Risk Assurance and Safety Framework.
February’s ICRG meeting touched on several pressing issues that are currently impacting the broader solar industry and customers.
Licensed Electrical Inspectors
Members raised concerns about the by Licensed Electrical Inspectors, noting that some installations from as far back as November still had not been inspected. Members were particularly concerned about the potential for retailer cash flow issues and reputational damage due to delays.
Paul Corkill, Director of Risk, Assurance and Standards, reported to the Group that the average time from installation completion to payment to the retailer is currently 22 days which suggests that the much-delayed inspections may be outliers.
Members have agreed to focus in on this issue in the next meeting given the delays they are experiencing.
System export curtailment
Members raised concern about an increase in solar export curtailment and zero exports for some PV customers in some regions. Members heard from Energy Networks Australia about CitiPower/Powercor activities to mitigate this problem in their network.
Solar Victoria and DELWP have been working closely with CitiPower/Powercor to review their online export tool and to move forward the rollout of their hotspot program.
Powercor have the early rollout of their hotspot program in Western Victoria between March and June 2021. They will be targeting areas of high rooftop solar penetration, with dedicated field crews working on up to 30 locations a week to increase power network capacity in Ballarat, Bendigo and Portland as well as the precinct between Sunshine and Point Cook in Melbourne’s western suburbs.
In the CitiPower network, work will be conducted over the next six months across Melbourne’s inner suburbs, including Northcote, Brunswick, Fitzroy, Kew and Camberwell.
Citpower/Powercor have also committed to a review of customers whose export request is declined through the online application process. Customers who are declined should contact Citpower/Powercor directly to request a review of their application.
Notice to Market
Further information on the Notice to Market will be released shortly.
Solar for Business Program
Lashae Roulston, Director of Program Development and Implementation, provided an update to the Group on the progress of the Solar for Business Program.
Industry and Consumer Reference Group members
Ivor has 20 years’ experience in the renewable energy sector working at the intersection of energy and climate, innovation and investment. He is serving on the Boards of CleanCo Queensland, C4Net and RACE for 2030 CRC and is also on a number of advisory boards.
Ivor is the former Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). Ivor set up ARENA and oversaw its $2.1 billion portfolio for 6 years, during which time the organisation invested in 300+ ground-breaking clean energy projects. Previously he was a venture capital investor and CEO in the clean energy sector in Australia and California.
Ivor is a graduate of Stanford University Graduate School of Business and holds a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Economics (Honours).
Kane Thornton is Chief Executive of the Clean Energy Council, the peak body for the renewable energy and energy storage industry in Australia.
Kane has more than a decade's experience in energy policy and leadership in the development of the renewable energy industry. Kane has advocated for and helped design the policies that have been critical to the renewable energy industry's growth, and continues to be an active political advocate, public presenter and media spokesperson.
His previous roles include senior manager and advisor for Hydro Tasmania and executive officer of Renewable Energy Generators Australia.
Kane has broad international management experience having previously worked in technology, living and working in Asia. He has held a range of advisory and board roles with government and non-government organisations in the climate change and energy sector including as the chair of Renew the Deputy Chair of Sustainability Victoria.
Kane is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, has a Masters in Social Science and Bachelor of Information Technology.
John was appointed as Chief Executive of the Australian Solar Council in 2008.
John started his career as an officer in the Air Force and went on to found and grow a number of companies, including a start-up company he took to a successful listing on the ASX with a market capitalisation in excess of $30m.
His most recent company was in the environmental sector employing over 25 people with operations in Australia, the US and the Middle East.
In his role as CEO of the Smart Energy Council he has grown the profile and influence of the organisation.
John has a passion for solar, storage and the smart energy industry. He is regularly called upon, by the media, to provide relevant and independent comment in these areas.
In May 2017, Danny was elected Branch President of the ETU, a role he takes up 14 years after stepping up as a shop steward, representing fellow workers on the job.
As Branch President Danny chairs the State Council.
He also serves as a Divisional and National Councillor. Before being elected, Danny served as Training Officer and as an Organiser within the union.
He continues to serve as a Board Member and Joint Chair of FES Industry Training Board and is a director of Protect.
Gerard is CEO of the Consumer Action Law Centre, an independent, not-for-profit consumer organisation based in Melbourne. Consumer Action provides financial counselling, legal advice and representation to support vulnerable and disadvantaged Victorians and draws on its direct knowledge of the consumer experience in modern markets to pursue consumer interest campaigns and policy reform at both state and national levels.
Gerard is also the Chair of Consumers’ Federation of Australia, the peak body for consumer organisations in Australia, representing a diverse range of consumer groups, including most national consumer organisations.
Joanne Pafumi is the General Manager Corporate Affairs for electricity distribution networks CitiPower, Powercor and United Energy. Her team aims to build customer and stakeholder trust in the networks to deliver reliable, safe and affordable power and enable new energy choices. This includes supporting direct customer relationships for all forms of network connections including solar PV and emerging technologies.
Joanne brings a diverse background in mining and resources and experience in community development, socio-economic planning and Indigenous affairs.
Joanne holds a Bachelor of Communication, a Graduate Diploma of Applied Finance and Investment and is a graduate of the Company Directors Course (Australian Institute of Company Directors).
Michael has a strong background as an A Grade Electrician, an electrical contractor and is a Licenced Electrical Inspector, with a wealth of technical experience gained previously as the Technical and Operations Manager managing a team of electrical inspectors at one of the biggest inspection companies within Victoria.
He assisted in providing electrical inspection, investigations, training and consulting services to householders, businesses, registered electrical contractors, developers and supply authorities across Victoria.
Michael has also spent 13 years at Energy Safe Victoria as an Electrical Compliance and Enforcement Officer where he was involved in compliance inspections, legislative investigations, stakeholder engagement, standards review and writing, and education of the electrical industry.
Currently Michael is a Technical Manager with the National Electrical and Communications Association (NECA) where he is involved in providing advice, advocacy and mentoring. He sits on several committees, including the Wiring Rules, Licensing Advisory and Service and Installations Rules. He is also heavily involved in legislative reviews, including electricity safety, engineering design and residential tenancy.
Mathew Delaney is a second-generation electrician with 25 years’ experience working in commercial, industrial, telecommunications and rail projects in both new installations and maintenance. He has worked in all states of Australia and on major installations in the United Kingdom.
Mathew has worked in the renewable energy sector for the past 12 years and in roles that include installation, project management, sales, procurement, process development and service/maintenance within the solar industry and electrical industry.
More recently he has focused on his own business, Advanced Energy Management (AEM), which has operated since 2012 as an electrical contracting company specialising in PV and renewables servicing both residential and commercial customers. He is a director and manager of AEM. AEM operates Australia-wide as a solutions-based company with a client focus, priding itself on providing industry-leading products, installation and service.
Mathew has a passion for renewables and compliance within the electrical industry and values the opportunity to give back to the industry through participation as member of the Solar Victoria ICRG.
Birender has been working for two years as an Operations Head at Australian Solar and Energy Solutions, where he promotes solar and sustainable living.
Starting from energy sales in 2009, Birender has more than a decade’s experience in the energy sector. He is passionate about reducing household energy costs by increasing consumer awareness and education about replacing inefficient and old appliances. To help achieve the Victorian Government’s zero emission targets, he is actively seeking support from the Solar Homes Program to promote energy efficiency assessments through the .
He is always keen to update his industry knowledge by attending CPD programs. His aim is to represent the wider immigrant community on the ICRG and act as a mediator to culturally and linguistically diverse solar stakeholders.
As well as being a CEC Accredited Designer, Birender holds a double Masters degree in Electronics and Management from La Trobe University and is attaining further qualifications in the renewable energy sector.
Gareth is Rheem’s General Manager Corporate Affairs. Rheem is a major Australian manufacturer of water heaters and leading provider of solar water heaters, photo voltaic systems and storage batteries through its Solahart division.
Prior to joining Rheem, Gareth held senior finance, marketing and sales positions in both Australia and overseas. At Rheem he has held responsibilities for marketing, product development and government relations. Taking on Rheem’s Corporate Affairs responsibilities in 2008, he has developed strong working relationships with a broad range of politicians, regulators and industry stakeholders at both a national and state level.
Gareth is a Director of Manufacturing Australia, Vice President of the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association of Australia and chairs the Australia Water Heater Forum. He also represents these organisations on the Federal Government’s Equipment Energy Efficiency Review Committee and the ABCB’s Residential Energy Efficiency Technical Working Group.
Christine has been the General Manager at Total Solar Solutions Australia since 2016. As a medium-size solar retailer, business owner and wife to an installer, Christine has a broad understanding of the day to day challenges of the Victorian Solar Industry.
With a background in operations management, project management and marketing, Christine sees her high-level customer service and stakeholder management skills as pivotal to her many achievements.
She hopes through joining the ICRG she can assist to create positive dialogue between key government stakeholders, solar retailers and installers. She is committed to safety, workmanship, quality and accountability in the Victorian solar industry.
She sees immense value in engaging with others and values the diversity of thought involved in collaboration. She is enthusiastic about helping others in the community and is also a founding member of (AWISE).
Steve is the owner and CEO of the Solar Training Centre, an award-winning Registered Training Organisation (RTO #40352) and environmental consultancy since 2008.
Together with his team, he is a passionate and leading educator of solar sector personnel across Australia.
With qualifications in environmental management, education and business management, Steve also delivers education for energy efficiency, renewables, auditing, retrofitting buildings and energy-efficient building design.
He has held numerous senior management positions throughout his career and has actively embedded sustainable practices in many varied businesses.
He has a global outlook, is fluent in the Macedonian language and has a strong cultural and social conscience.
Since 2007, Steve has also been a presenter and mentor with the Hon. Al Gore ‘Climate Reality Project' and has delivered the climate-change message to a significant audience across Australia.
Steve has broad Business and Community Development experience, with commensurate Board and Panel positions and is an unwavering advocate for the solar sector.
Bobbi has been working in the renewable energy and energy efficiency sector since 2006. She has been a small business owner since 2009.
Along with Brett Emo and Luke Fraser, she owns and operates Solar Integrity based in Albury Wodonga.
Bobbi is a strong advocate for the solar industry and is the co-founder of Renewable Albury Wodonga Energy - a local community energy group gaining strong traction in the area. She is also an active member of North East Community Energy Network – 15 community energy groups from the electorate of INDI that meet and share knowledge.
She is also a member of the Clean Energy Council’s Installer Reference Group.
Matt has been working in the renewable energy industry since 2006 and is currently the director of Central Spark Victoria.
With a diverse range of skills in the industry Matt has a strong background in project management, solar design, installation and safety. Still spending most of his time onsite undertaking and supervising solar installations, he has working knowledge of the industry from sales through to customer handover.
Matt is an award-winning installer, designer, electrician and passionate supporter of the solar industry.
Sophie is Regional Manager at RACV Solar and has been working in the solar industry since February 2019.
Sophie is a CEC Accredited Designer and CPA and is passionate about demystifying solar for consumers and moving Victoria closer to its renewable targets.
“I am involved in the ICRG to have an input into the processes, not only from an installer and retailer perspective, but from the perspective of customers applying. It is very rewarding to see the direct changes to the processes that have made it easier for everyone to take part in the Solar Homes program. This means more solar on rooftops and Victoria moving closer to renewable targets - it’s great to all be a part of that.”
Reviewed 19 August 2021