Residential solar companies should adopt strict social distancing and other measures recommended to avoid the spread of infection of Covid-19, or “shut up shop,” the Smart Energy Council has warned.
In an industry webinar discussing how Australia’s rooftop solar industry could continue to operate during the Coronavirus lock-down – presuming the sector is not also compelled to shut down – SEC chief John Grimes warned companies must “go all-in” on strict infection control measures.
These included workers washing hands with soap and water upon arrival at a rooftop solar installation site, washing them again before leaving, wearing masks and goggles to discourage face touching, and staying at least 1.5 metres away from work colleagues and customers.
“Those companies that take this crisis the most seriously are likely to … be the same companies that are going to survive,” Grimes said, referring to the economy-wide downturn that will inevitably follow the Coronavirus shut-down.
“Go all in, get deadly serious,” he added. “You’ve actually got no choice. Otherwise, you might as well shut up shop and see where we’re going to be in three month’s time.”
Kiran Hiriyanna, a risk management and health care expert who runs aged care homes said businesses must educate themselves and their staff about the virus and how it transmits, to play their part in stopping the spread.
Social distancing was key, Hiriyanna said, and would need to be carefully adhered to while installers and retailers were first engaging with customers – or at the end of a job, when instructing them on the use of the system.
“Have meetings in an outside environment, standing up to 2 metres apart, because in a closed environment the virus is much more likely to transmit,” he said.
Hiriyanna also recommended workers wore goggles and face masks to give customers the confidence that they were taking the threat seriously, as well as to remind customers to keep their distance, and to prevent workers from touching their faces.
After leaving site, Hiriyanna said workers had to be careful to protect their families, too, by taking off their work clothes as soon as they got home, putting them in a warm wash, and then having a shower themselves.
He also cited information from America’s Johns Hopkins University suggesting that the virus could survive for up to 72 hours on plastics, 48 hours on stainless steel, 24 hours on cardboard and four hours on copper.
Geoff Bragg, who is a director at the SEC and vice chair of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said social distancing would be particularly difficult for solar salespeople who had previously found value in taking a personal approach to gathering business.
But, he added, “It’s a risk that we’ve really got to manage. A big one. If you have to go inside the house (to access the fuse box or get inside a roof cavity) reach some arrangement with the customer. Manage the risk together and decide whether it’s appropriate.
“We have an opportunity, in a way, over other sectors where we can continue to trade, but we’re going to have to accept that we have to change things,” Bragg said.
“We can actually do something and take action. Do the right thing by ourselves, our employees and our customers.”
As things stand, the latest data from Green Energy Markets shows the small-scale rooftop solar market enjoyed another strong month of installations in March, with record numbers in terms of megawatts and number of systems installed.
But GEM analyst Tristan Edis points out that the STC data is subject to lags of about 3 weeks between install date and registration of the STCs, so would likely hide any falls in consumer demand.