Interview with Scott Andrew – Market perspectives and what’s in store for the future.
We got a chance to sit with Scott Andrew the owner of Get Off Grid, a very well-known solar supplier in the market and a leader in Victron products. We asked for his perspectives on the current state of the renewable energy market and the possible future of renewable energy in South Africa.
How has the market changed from when you first started to now?
“In the five years of being in the solar Industry, technology change and better educated installers have made the huge differences in the industry. Inverters have become more robust and more efficient. Lithium Phosphate batteries have almost become a standard in the industry with far longer lifespan, and greater efficiencies than conventual lead based batteries. The Lithium phosphate battery in my opinion, is the single biggest factor in why power storage has become economically viable in South Africa. Solar Panels have also come a long way in five years. The yield on conventual modules has dramatically improved and the cost has effectively dropped by fifty percent. This factor has made domestic and commercial solar almost a no brainer in terms of return on investment.”
Indeed, there have been many advances in last five years with many more to come. The biggest advancement in our opinion has been the price of Lithium batteries which as Scott pointed out is the biggest factor in making solar energy systems much more viable for the residential market. Lithium batteries offer excellent long life and performance which was essentially the missing piece of the independent energy puzzle. Additionally, the fact that Eskom keeps increasing electricity tariffs year on year will bolster the ROI on independent energy systems even further.
Where do you think the market will move to in the next 5 – 10 years?
“I believe you will see a greater move to power storage in the next 5 to 10 years. As the price of utility power continues to grow and grow way beyond our rate of inflation in South Africa, I believe the masses will look for solar alternatives.”
(Current Eskom tariff rates)
What do you think is or will be the greatest driver of renewable energy in the coming years?
“Five years ago, Solar was perceived as a luxury product and was predominately purchased by the high income sector of South Africa. I believe in the next five to ten years we will see a massive growth from the medium and low end income sector as funding becomes more readily available. We all want a greener and cheaper power solution, but the growth has to come from the financial sector in providing the means for medium and low end income groups, to embrace this world.”
The financial sector will play a critical role in making independent energy systems a greater reality for most South Africans. The financial sector will need to provide and develop cost effective models and leasing schemes for the future as these leasing schemes will promise a cheaper alternative to Eskom.
As with any developing market place there will always be new entrants that either have the necessary skill set and look to pivot or want to enter quickly and make money before saturation takes effect. With this as a reality we wanted to know what Scott advises to the new entrants that seek to make a professional living in the solar energy market and his thoughts for consumers choosing to have energy systems installed.
What advise can you give installers, especially new comers?
“Not everyone can afford the best equipment, but no one can afford to buy poor equipment.
My advice is simple, try and align yourself with credible partners. Partners who take warranty issues seriously. An Installer is the single biggest factor in the chain from Importers and distributors right through to the end user who parts with his hard earned cash.
It doesn’t matter whether a customer spends R 50,000 or R 500,000. It is always a lot of money. Customers are often duped into believing their equipment is good for twenty years. This comes from believing in an installer. The Installer is the individual that ultimately forges the relationship with the end user. This relationship is vital. Solar grows by word of mouth and bad installations or poor equipment puts prospective customers off and negates a lot of good work being done by professional installers.”
As a business that supports Installers, we agree that the installer is the most important part of the value chain as they tie product and consumer together which either grows the energy market or damages it.
“In a nutshell, Installers need to put the time in to make sure they are buying quality products and making sure they are installed correctly. Many installers still try and cut corners and this ultimately hurts those who do take pride in their work. Not everyone can afford the best equipment, but no one can afford to buy poor equipment.
Installers need to take a long term view on their installs and furthermore make sure they understand the limitations on what they are installing.”
Given that there exists good quality products and cheap alternatives as well as professional installers and fly by nighters, we often wonder, should there be stricter regulation in the market place or at the very least regulation that helps protect the market.
Do you think we should have stricter regulation in the industry?
“This is a difficult question, as I believe a lot of regulation is written to discourage new installers / customers. There are many aspects to a solar system and due diligence needs to be followed, but common sense most prevail.
When I see some of the proposed legislation, it sometimes appears has being written to protect some individuals or corporations from their comfort zones.
I am all for stricter regulations, providing it is in the interest of protecting the consumer. When legislation is geared to providing bureaucratic protection, I then loose a little faith in the people that are supposed to be looking out for the consumer interests.”
Perhaps the current lack of regulation is purposeful to protect interests but when we see other countries leading the new energy economy we believe that regulation will have to implemented in the near future. Given that there isn’t much in the way of market protection how does a consumer make the right choice?
What’s the best thing a consumer can do to protect themselves from fly by night ‘installers’?
“Whilst all consumers have a different technical skill level, they should be prepared to do a little homework.
A consumer needs to make sure the brand of equipment is a substantial brand, backed by a reputable supplier with a track record.
The Installer needs to provide the customer with references and a detailed explanation as to how the system operates, Its limitations most all be pointed out before installation. This will ensure that the customer is not disappointed with his/her purchase.
A consumer must also make sure the equipment installed is installed with the required protection. You would not buy a an exotic car from the junkmail, so making sure the installation is installed correctly with the correct protection is just as important.
Lastly, A consumer should never part with all the money until the installation is complete. A consumer should insist on at least a 20% retention until the installation is 100% completed.”
We find that many consumers will have a few quotes provided from solar installers and much of the time is spent on the cost difference. While this is an aspect of the solar energy purchase, it isn’t the only one. Consumers should request referrals from a solar company and also check to see if there are bad comments made about their business online. Additionally consumers should have the right to ask exactly what the products being supplied are and be allowed to contact the supply direct to gain surety that there is a relationship between supplier and installer should help be needed.