Australia’s rooftop solar industry braces for lock-down

The Clean Energy Council says it will continue to make a case for Australia’s rooftop solar industry to continue operating during the Covid-19 lock-down, but that increasingly tight restrictions could soon see it shut down.

In an interview with One Step Off The Grid on Wednesday, CEO Kane Thornton said an industry webinar the day before had focused on what lay ahead for household and commercial installers, and what measures they should be putting in place, now, to install PV systems safely.

Thornton said the mood of the webinar, hosted by Energetic Consulting, was fairly sombre, with “a lot of questions and anxiety” around what was happening in the market and where it might be headed.

One of the key questions has been around whether solar could be classed as an essential service, being so closely tied to electricity, and therefore exempted from increasingly tight restrictions being introduced by governments.

The consensus from the online meeting is that an exemption is looking increasingly unlikely, and that rooftop solar installers – like so many other businesses and industries – will be shut down in line with important measures to rein in the pandemic proportions of the new virus. (See the Solar Insiders podcast last week).

But Thornton stressed on Wednesday that this was by no means a given, with different measures in place in each state and territory, and differing definitions of what exactly could be classed as essential services, and thus allowed to keep operating (think bottle shops).

“We’re urging governments to be as clear as they can,” he said. “We are making a point that installing solar, if you can avoid direct contact with the inside of the household, it is a relatively isolated activity – as long as you can isolate from your co-workers efficiently.

“We think it is something that can still be done safely, but also we understand the importance of following the instructions from government at this time.”

Beyond this grey area, Thornton said there were “pockets of optimism” remaining in the rooftop solar industry, with some parts of the market expected to hold up ok.

“It is possible that during this time, more households could begin to show more interest in engaging in energy independence, and in protecting themselves from fluctuating power prices.

“There does seem to be some anecdotal evidence that this in happening in some places,” he said.

“On the whole, there is a sense of sadness about the current situation – there are a lot of people and businesses in a very tough situation,” Thornton added.

“But on another level, none of this changes the fact that the world is moving forward into renewable energy, even if this will be a bit of disruption to that.”

Thornton said the CEC and other industry groups like the Smart Energy Council were working hard to provide as much clarity as possible for the industry and were providing regular updates on their websites.

He said the industry would also be pushing for a package of policy measures for after the Covid-19 crisis has passed, to get things back moving again.

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