Thought Leaders 2022: Jason Venning
What opportunities do you predict for the growth of your industry in 2022?
2020 was a record year for installing rooftop solar, and 2021 should end at a similar level, despite the impact of COVID-19 on the solar industry. There seems to be no stopping this upward growth trend in 2022. Commercial solar is growing strongly, with many large retail businesses like Woolworths and Coles committing to installing solar systems on their stores and distribution centres to achieve net zero by 2050. Investment in storage is also increasing, with more large-scale batteries being commissioned or under development for 2022 and beyond. This increase has been driven by a reduction in capital costs and grid strengthening and energy arbitrage benefits. Several state governments have also added incentives for electric vehicle ownership and usage, coupled with long-term strategies from vehicle manufacturers that will help accelerate the uptake of electric vehicle ownership in private and corporate fleets. The Future Fuels rollout’s next stage will continue to boost existing public charging network infrastructure to help with long-distance travel and reduce perceived range anxiety issues.
What are the three biggest challenges or threats facing your industry in 2022?
First is the challenge of getting the increasing amount of renewable generation integrated into the grid and available to the market. This will require significant investment in transmission infrastructure to relieve current bottlenecks and grid constraints to allow new generating plants to connect quickly and easily. Second is the policy issues around renewable energy. The policy disconnects between the federal level, where there is no coherent national policy, and states, which are going their own way, mean we have to spend more R&D resources complying with a range of different requirements instead of investing in ongoing product development to benefit the whole market. Lastly, we also strongly feel that battery storage needs a federal scheme like the Renewable Energy Target (RET) to drive uptake of residential and commercial batteries. This scheme would promote a greater reduction in our net emissions by 2030 and solve many grid stability problems.
What impacts have the pandemic lockdowns had on your industry, and how does this affect your business strategies for 2022?
The pandemic lockdowns have caused the temporary shutdown of the construction industry in large parts of the country for a large part of 2021, which meant that many residential and commercial solar installations could not proceed. This has had a marked impact on sales during this time. The extended closure of our international borders has also cut off recruiting international talent, which has limited our ability to find new talent to grow our business. Only recruiting local talent from a small talent pool has made it very expensive to employ and retain people whose skills are in high demand. In 2022, we will be looking at using more virtual teams by employing people in APAC with the right skills and using them to augment the work of our local employees.
How have the current international circumstances impacted your cybersecurity and/or supply chain management plans for 2022?
We have seen substantial cost increases and delays in international shipping as a result of the pandemic. We will be much more mindful of how we route our global freight from Europe to avoid highly congested ports such as Singapore. The global semiconductor shortage has affected production levels, leading to some delivery delays. For both of these reasons, we will be keeping higher inventory levels in Australia in 2022 to mitigate these issues while they hopefully resolve themselves during the course of the year. Cybersecurity will continue to be an increasingly important issue because solar inverters are now intelligent cloud-connected devices that need to be remotely monitored and controlled. As a European company, we have an obligation under GDPR to ensure that all customer data is kept safe, secure and only used for the purposes for which it was intended.
What are your thoughts about remote working technologies, mandating vaccines and supporting staff?
The availability of Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other desktop videoconferencing tools has become vital during the pandemic. However, using these tools cannot and should not completely replace face-to-face interaction in an office environment. It is certainly harder to keep people engaged when working remotely. There are also health and safety concerns around remote working, even from home. It is harder to control and monitor an employee’s home working environment to ensure they have everything they need to work safely and ensure it is properly maintained. A hybrid working model may well be an outcome of the pandemic. However, we have found there is still a strong desire from many employees to work in an office environment, side by side with their colleagues, with the added intellectual and emotional benefits derived from such interaction.
In regards to supporting our staff through the vaccination period this year, we have been fortunate to see a very high level of acceptance of getting vaccinated without using mandates. We have encouraged people to get expert advice and make informed decisions to protect their own health and the community, which has helped get those who may have been sceptical over the line. Various state government rules around travel and work restrictions have also helped speed up the workforce’s vaccination uptake.
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