Conergy Australia Managing Director David McCallum has seen several peaks and troughs shape Australia’s solar industry over his seven years of involvement in solar with Conergy. Mr McCallum notes that it has been an exciting and buoyant ride; despite 2012 being a tough year, Conergy has made strong progress, and the industry is entering a new phase in 2013.
Reinforcing this upturn was the announcement from Bloomberg New Energy Finance in 2012 that Conergy holds the Tier 1 position as the highest-ranked European brand for solar modules most frequently used in large developments.
“The Australian solar industry has established itself exceptionally well within the global market; rebates have been utilised and gradually retracted over a number of years, and we are now focusing on solar array generation for consumers and business, rather than purely focusing on the cost of purchasing a system,” Mr McCallum says. “The market mindset – not only in Australia but globally – in regard to perspectives on the performance of a system has changed, progressively moving away from ‘how cheap can I buy one?’”
Conergy sits well within this new phase, Mr McCallum contends, because of the company’s position as an early adopter and market leader in Australia, having entered the Australian market in 2005. Far from resting on its laurels, the company is looking ahead to future growth areas.
“We are positioned well within the Australian market, but we’ve gone through changes. Like all businesses, if you’re not moving, searching and seeking the next step, you’ll find yourself no longer in the industry,” he notes. “We’re always on the lookout for where the market will turn to next, and where Conergy’s next position will be within that market to best service our customers and the end user.”
The direction Conergy Australia is taking in 2013 is different to past years. Whereas previously the company was readily available to everyone in the market, in order to meet the requirements of that market’s ‘intensive distribution’ configuration, it is now restructuring to create dedicated networks with exclusive distribution partners.
Since early last year, Conergy has worked to develop a network of exclusive Conergy PowerPlus Partners for its German-made PowerPlus solar module. These partners have exclusive territories around Australia, selling Conergy’s premium product for domestic and commercial applications. PowerPlus partnerships primarily service the domestic market, and on the back of this, Conergy has entered a wholesale market partnership with Rexel Energy Solutions to service a wider installer network, allowing smaller photovoltaic (PV) businesses to access Conergy products as well.
Rexel Holdings Australia, Australia’s largest electrical wholesale group, incorporates several brands in every state and territory and has more than 170 branches. Mr McCallum says that in distributing Conergy products, Rexel will enable installers to pick up a single component of a product or system, or to order kits from their local store.
Mr McCallum adds that times of past years where small, medium and large retailers were ordering and being supplied bulk container volumes of inventory have reduced, in terms of the number of clients operating in that capacity with the capability to receive large volumes into their own warehouse.
“A PV installer or retailer can now go to any Rexel store nation-wide and place orders for PV kits, and Rexel will provide Conergy modules, inverters and mounting systems along with all of the ancillary electrical equipment required. If the installer has sold five systems this week, he or she can call into Rexel next week and order the five systems.
“Working capital-wise, and business management-wise, for the smaller installers and retailers this will provide a significant advantage and benefit to them in terms of how they are able to access inventory without having to purchase it in large pallet or container volume quantities.”
Rexel Energy Solutions Executive General Manager Michael Power agrees, pointing out that installers can “get on with business, dealing with their customers and lining up work, and they can rely on us to get the products to them as and when required”.
“Their focus becomes more about the customer interface and installation aspects, rather than having to worry about supply chain issues.”
Mr Power adds that Rexel has business development managers in each state, who can support installers with product awareness and general advice on Conergy products.
“We can depend on Conergy to back us technically, and we provide the access points across the country to provide services for their products, meaning Conergy can get on with developing solar farms and continuing major investments in the PV market,” Mr Power explains.
“We have three solar experts within Rexel that can provide advice on installs – one in Sydney, one in Brisbane and one in Darwin. If the local branch doesn’t have an answer, they know who to access to get a quick and easy response back on any query.”
Mr McCallum adds “Behind Rexel, we provide engineering, design, installation and grid connection support, plus other procurement and construction services.”
Mr Power says that what Rexel can offer over and above what an installer would have received dealing with Conergy directly is that with the Australian solar market maturing, the size of the market is maturing, and installers need other projects to work on.
“Within our offering, we not only do renewables such as solar, we also do energy efficiency products – and we can help installers understand how they can get into energy efficient lighting applications, sensors, motors and drives, heating and ventilation, pool pump power-savers, power-quality equipment, monitoring systems and more.”
Rexel is bringing a new energy monitoring system to Australia in mid-2013 from its business in the United Kingdom, which Mr Power points to as an example of a product that installers could offer as a value-add to their previous PV customers.
“These customers would obviously have an interest in power consumption, as they’ve done something about it previously by installing solar,” he says. “We can offer a cloud-based system where home or business owners can measure energy use – right down to the appliance – to make decisions and change behaviour to further reduce their power consumption. The system requires installation, so for businesses who are installing solar, we can train them to install these products as well.”