Contributors

Confidence is no trick

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26Given their superior knowledge and consumer trust, electrical contractors can play a pivotal role in the ever-changing world of renewable energy. Wes (I’m just an electrician) McKnight explains.

Through the generations and in various state jurisdictions, helping clients to connect to the grid has changed almost every year.

Certainly for those in Victoria it has never been harder. The uneasy alliance between retailer, meter installer, distributor and inspector allows for all sorts of delays and arguments.

However, the ‘renewable’ and ‘storage’ phenomenon makes it difficult for us to remain detached.

Our industry’s reluctance to get involved in the space between the retailer and the client will cause us to miss opportunities and not service clients to our best ability. History has shown that if we don’t move to ‘own’ this space we will miss out.

For established contractors the potential market is huge and consumer trust is substantial. We represent the antithesis of a call centre operator, or a sales person knocking on the door on a Sunday afternoon, asking: “Do you have solar power and would you like a quote?”

This is not about a simple solar installation, an LED upgrade, etc. It’s the ‘barbecue’ talking point around the country – batteries.

Electrical contractors have a major role to play in this sector. Consumers need our people to correctly explain, size and install the systems.

A call centre or a glib You Tube presentation will not give the client an appropriate solution. Here is a test: this week at footy training, around the water cooler or at the barbecue, ask friends and family what they think a battery connected to their solar generation system will provide?

The responses will be that it will:
-reduce power bills;

-provide power when the grid is down; and

-allow disconnection from the grid.

These are all wrong. Perception is the key, with all forms of media suggesting that the battery revolution will offer the above benefits.

Our industry should be ready to help domestic, commercial and industrial clients to understand that not all battery systems on the market will supply voltage when the grid is down (as an uninterruptible power supply does).

Depending on the tariff chosen, and the time/use of grid vs. solar power, there is no guarantee that the client’s power bill will go down, or that the premises can go off grid.

Our experience and understanding of our clients’ power usage is paramount here. No call centre can understand how a certain household works – or how, for example, a distribution business might use its electricity.

Looking at an account from the energy retailer is usually only half the story. As the onsite practitioners, we need to ensure that our clients acknowledge our superior knowledge. We can guide them through the whole process.

A direct understanding of how clients work and live makes the electrical contractor the best person to advise on an energy retailer and choice of tariff.

Why would a client take a call at 8pm on their home number and be talked into a 30% discount of their current energy account? What does the offer mean – 30% off the KwH usage, off the total account?

Our clients need to understand that we, their trusted family electrical contractor has value here.

Is it worth the energy retailers ‘partnering’ with our industry to provide a better link with the ultimate client? I suspect they would not rush into it. We might provide too much clarity on the issue. (For example, one of my family members changed energy retailer for two tickets to ‘gold class’ at the cinema.)

Having said all of this, I must add that contractors will need the appropriate skills. Clear, solid advice based on good training is crucial, otherwise we will be swamped by call-centre aligned businesses using unlicensed labour. NECA training providers are now providing this in all states.

To recent members of our fraternity: when the federal government deregulated the communications industry, suddenly a lot of work that had to be done by Telecom (which became Telstra) could be done by ‘trained’ cablers and installers.

At Telecom there was a rush for the door, and huge redundancies. However, the then Electrical Contractors Federation (now NECA) advocated that our industry had a natural presence in this space.

NECA management at the time (particularly chief executive Peter Glynn) fought a long and hard battle to ensure our industry had a place at the table. The fact that new entrants now finish their apprenticeship with a Certificate III in Communications is a direct result.

It is crucial that we learn from this example and follow suit.

This industry should be proud of how we have maintained the safest electrical system in the world. Let’s not allow clients to be inveigled into inappropriate retail plans that benefit only the energy retailers. Our role is clear – reduce energy costs for our clients.

We should be working smarter, enlarging our role with clients. We should be stepping into spaces we know – areas in which clients have not thought about using us.

A well-designed system calculated to meet the client’s requirements will save substantial amounts of money. The right combination of solar, batteries and appropriate tariff will be a huge compliment to you and your business. Add it to your website and your marketing, and talk about it at barbecues.

Don’t let friends, family and clients sign up to inappropriate deals – get involved and protect them. Don’t be afraid of ‘time of use’ tariffs. Not all clients will benefit, but those who install the correct battery system in conjunction with a correctly sized solar generation system will.

Time of use tariffs are coming and we need to engage with clients to explain how they can benefit.

About Wes McKnight

Wes McKnight

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