Things are tough for everyone in metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire at the moment, and the solar industry is no exception. Stage 4 restrictions mean six weeks – at the minimum – of major limitations on what rooftop PV retail and installation businesses can do and, more importantly, on how they can earn money.
But all is not lost. Drawing mostly from the latest advice from Solar Victoria and a couple of other handy sources, we’ve put together a list of some of the things that businesses under stage 4 restrictions can during Victoria’s lockdown.
1. Some residential solar installations – if no-one’s home
While current Melbourne and Mitchell Shire restrictions mean that solar systems (including new rooftop, solar batteries and solar hot water) cannot be installed on occupied homes, all of these things can be installed at construction sites like new-builds, or residential renovations where the home is fully vacated – as long as specialist contractors adhere to the worksite’s COVID Safe Plan and daily workforce caps.
2. Finish a job that’s already started (in certain cases)
Solar Vic says finishing a rooftop solar installation that was already underway before the Stage 4 restrictions came into play is considered permitted work, but only if it is necessary to “ensure the quality and safety of equipment already installed.” Otherwise, see above.
3. Critical solar repairs and emergency solar hot water
According to Solar Victoria, critical repairs on rooftop solar systems, inverters, batteries and so forth can be made where required in an emergency or for safety reasons. Emergency solar hot water installations may still go ahead.
4. Sell solar systems, for installation once restrictions lift
As Solar Victoria attests, as long as retailers abide by the Stage 4 restrictions – namely that all workers that can work from home, do work from home – they may continue to sell solar systems.
No working from call centres, however, and absolutely and positively no door-to-door sales.
5. Apply for residential solar rebates
Even though the systems can’t be installed just now, solar businesses can still work with home owners and rental properties to apply for the state government rebate of up to $1,850 for rooftop solar installation.
Solar Victoria says it’s still running the program, despite Stage 4, because around one-third of the rebates are provided to regional Victoria households, which is under less strict restrictions.
“Keeping our program open will allow the pipeline of installations to continue when restrictions change,” the website says.
“We currently allow up to 120 days for an install, with the possibility to extend up to an additional 60 days in exceptional circumstances. The installation pipeline is not expected to be substantially affected by metro installations halting for a six-week period.”
6. Travel between permitted installation sites
According to Solar Vic, installers undertaking installations on Permitted Work Premises are considered specialist contractors and can therefore attend up to three sites per week, as long as they stick to all other restrictions and guidance.
7. Generating sales and leads for later delivery
In a very informative Vodcast published on Monday, SunWiz managing director Warwick Johnston and Leeson Group director Peter Leeson had some great tips for Melbourne solar businesses during stage 4 lockdown.
Among them, Leeson recommends workers stuck at home put some time into calling existing clients to check up on the performance of their system and “really give them the red carpet treatment.” This could be a good way to generate referrals to new customers, and to build positive reviews.
There’s a lot of free online training that you can get access too, says Leeson, which could be very valuable for apprentices sitting at home for six weeks, particularly on such key things as Occupational Health and Safety regulations for installation teams. The Clean Energy Council website is a good start.
9. Getting financials in order
“Now you’ve probably got some time… the first thing I’d be doing …. is have your accounts reconciled and understand your cash position,” said Leeson in the SunWiz vodcast.
This means spending quality time with your accountant, taking stock of where you can cut costs, where you can defer finance, where you can cut overheads and what financial supports are available.
Johnston adds it’s also a good time to get any outstanding paperwork done, such as getting STCs processed to get that cash in the bank, or clearing the way to get any outstanding payments from Solar Victoria.
Businesses struggling to get by can apply for the federal government’s Job Keeper payments, and the Victorian government has a number of supports available, too.
10. Use your downtime wisely
Sure, it’s unwanted time, but now you have it, say Leeson and Johnston, use it for things like honing your sales processes, upgrading businesss software, upgrading websites, and getting acquainted with business-boosting tools, such as SunWiz’s OpenSolar.