Clenergy: Built from the news feed up
Clenergy is a solar mounting solution and electrical component manufacturer which turned to Facebook for its latest innovation. Sean Carroll finds out how many Facebook users it takes to change an industry standard.
The chances are, if you’re reading this magazine and you have a Facebook account, you’re probably in the ‘Crappy Electrical’ Facebook group.
And on top of that, if you work with solar products, you’d be on the ‘Crap Solar’ Facebook group as well, a place where solar installers and specifiers can talk about shoddy installs they’ve seen when going around to jobs but also ask questions about how to install a certain product, sharing tips, advice and another pair of eyes.
The Solar Cutters identified a gap within these forums for quicky quality technical information from manufacturers, standards and industry best case practices, who now have their own community who reaches out to thousands of workers in the solar industry across the country.
As Clenergy’s national channel manager Sean Guzzi describes it: “[Solar Cutters] was a hive where people in the industry could come, ask questions and have them answered within a day.”
That short turnaround is often leaps and bounds ahead of what it’d take to ask the manufacturer or supplier. That’s not to criticise the manufacturers but given the nature of their structure, answers are not always immediate. It can be convenient to quickly ask Facebook for informal advice as opposed to official advice.
The group also runs a number of training and information sessions, hoping to learn from the industry what’s needed, what products would truly help the installers and so on.
“I knew Jack (Solar Cutters co-founder and director) from years back and we were sitting in an event about 18 months ago. By that time, the group had grown to an actual foundation with its own website, selling merch and with dedicated sections giving information to solar installers,” Sean explains.
Sean adds that this conversation took place at the same time Clenergy wanted to change the way installers mounted solar panels, as a result of a growing trend in larger, higher-performing panels.
“We said: ‘Why don’t we bring this together; you help us to market this because you’re a well-respected organisation. And we will donate a portion of the profits of the sale of these products through the Solar Cutters, for the purposes, of creating new solar installer CPD training events around the country’.
“Unfortunately, COVID hit, so they weren’t able to run any of those events. But this year, hopefully, fingers crossed. If the borders remain open, then they’ll be running a whole bunch of other events with the solar events.”
Clenergy manufactures PV mounting solutions for all kinds of surfaces, solar tracking systems and will soon work on cable management solutions for electricians.
“We did something a little bit different when we launched the PV roof mount, our Cutter Rail,” Sean says.
“We made the length of the round 4.4m. The standardised length of dial in the market had been 4.2m for probably the last decade, I would say. But as all the panels are getting wider, they needed a bit more length on the rails.
“And so, what we did was we decided to run a poll through the Facebook group, and get the industry to vote on what they want the new standardised length of route to be and they came back with 4.4m.”
The cutter rail is also 100% Australian made, keeping manufacturing on Aussie shores.
The design of the solution helps eliminate a common issue with solar installation: wind. As Sean explains, as the panels get bigger, they become a bit like a sail for wind and it can start to push against the underbelly of the panels.
What this means is, with larger panels, larger rails and wider clamping zones, the industry essentially has now more flexibility for the solar installation. Additionally, Clenergy has non-penetrative kliplok clamps that do not need the installer to drill through the tin roof structure, instead the clamps secure itself to the rib of the roof.
“We have a team of in-house structural engineers that go through pretty much every commercial job that we supply to make sure that the roof structure itself will be suitable for the loads that need to be put onto it,” he says.
So Clenergy used the Facebook group as a platform to get market feedback and release the product at a size that end users want it.
Clenergy has taken the stakeholder engagement a step further now with its very own online R&D Lab – Clenergy Stakeholder Forum, another way for Clenergy and the Solar Cutters can get in touch with the market.
Moving forwards, Clenergy is continuing to manufacture products, building on its portfolio with cable management solutions and approximately 28 other new products and services.
Similar to the company’s solar solutions, it’ll be working on listening to the customers and focusing on R&D: “We’re going to be throwing a whole bunch of new resources and people at that as well and hiring new people for the purposes of launching that product,” Sean says.
“We want to try and do what we did in the solar mounting system space in the cable management space: put relationships, trust and innovation at the front of everything we do.”