The SolarQuotes Story
The short version
SolarQuotes was started by me, Finn Peacock, in early 2009, back when a 1kW system cost $10,000 and residential solar systems were rarer than rocking horse poo.
I was working for CSIRO at the time, in their renewable energy division (having left the mining industry to follow my passion for solar). As I learned more about solar power, I quickly came to realise that solar was going to be huge in Australia, with prices of panels falling, their efficiencies rising and grid electricity getting more and more expensive.
But when I talked to people outside of CSIRO who were considering solar, I soon found out that they were craving independent advice and above all reassurance that the prices they had been quoted were reasonable, the hardware was good quality and the installation was safe. Indeed with one mob going round flogging a $10k system for $25k there was an urgent need for people to get multiple quotes from honest installers.
And so this website was born.
Since then it has grown to become the most popular independent solar site in Australia. Which makes me very humbled (and my Mum very proud).
SolarQuotes exists to help Aussies buy solar for their homes or business. It contains over 20,000 genuine reviews of solar installers, solar panels and inverters. It also has heaps of articles, blog posts and tools to help you navigate the solar power market.
We make money by providing a free 'Get 3 Quotes' service. You - as a potential solar customer - get the service for free, but the solar companies in the SolarQuotes network pay us a small fee if we send them your quote request. We get paid whether you buy solar from them or not. That’s how we stay independent.
Another important point that I should make is this: I am extremely fussy about which companies I allow to quote through SolarQuotes. Over the last 7 years I have turned hundreds of companies away (including some huge ones!) because my reputation depends on only referring great solar companies, and I genuinely care that you have a good experience. If I do misjudge, and a company that I have accepted into the SQ network starts to get consistently bad customer reviews - I will remove them from the network. This policy means that, after 7 years of pruning my clients and collecting over 20,000 solar company reviews, I am very confident that all the companies I refer will provide great quotes and a fantastic installation if you choose to accept their quote.
That's the short version. If you want the full story of how SolarQuotes came into being, then pull up a chair and a cuppa (or a cold beer) and I'll begin…
The long version
The time is 2007, the place is Newcastle, NSW. I was working as an "Advanced Control Engineer" for an Engineering consultancy. Basically, my job involved designing and installing industrial control systems around Australia.For those who don’t know what an industrial control system is, it is the software that controls anything that moves in a mine, factory, port, power station, etc. For example I spent many a day with my laptop plugged into coal loaders like this trying to get them to move in a more efficient way so they could load their dirty cargo on to ships bound for China faster.
So most of the time I was helping coal mines either dig coal out of the ground or pile it onto ships more efficiently. This didn't sit well with my conscience. The sheer scale of the mines and coal loading terminals that I worked on blew me away. Now massive things can be quite cool. But when every lump of coal is contributing to climate change, it's bloody scary.
One of the non-coal projects I worked on during 2007 was a software system to help predict and avoid failures in wind turbines in New Zealand. When I saw the scale of the operation that our client, Meridian Energy, had in NZ, and how much power those wind farms contributed to the kiwi grid, I had my 'renewable energy' epiphany.
Renewable energy can and does contribute massively to our energy needs when it is deployed at scale. Last time I checked, wind power in my home state of South Australia contributed 27% of all electricity supplied over a 12 month period. The renewable energy narks (of which you'll find plenty commenting on my blog!) just don't get it. But I did. I decided in 2007 that if I was helping dig coal out of the ground I was part of the problem. I decided to try and earn a living another way. I needed to find a way that might - in some small way - contribute to the solution.
I quit my job that year and defected, literally over the road, to the CSIRO's "Energy Transformed Flagship”. Here I managed to get a job attempting to commercialise renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies that the CSIRO were developing. A great job in theory! In practice, I sucked at it. Why? CSIRO at the time was going through an incredibly bureaucratic and legalistic phase. And I was unable to get anything done without getting legal and top-management approval. Anyone that knows me knows that I like to 'just do things', see if they work, then move on if they don’t. Suffice to say I got incredibly frustrated by the bureaucracy and quit in less than 12 months!
I realised that I was not very good at working for other people. The only solution was to start my own gig. Luckily, a year or so earlier I had created a small online business selling an e-book I wrote for electrical engineers, and that was generating some income for me. Not enough to live on, but I was confident that I could grow it to a full time income if I could just focus on growing that business. However at the time I had 2 kids under 2 and Chantel, my wife was pregnant with a third. Peace was pretty hard to come by, so I came up with a solution…
My solution was to sell our house, put all our stuff in storage, buy a tent and go camping down the East Coast for at least 3 months in the knackered old Volvo in the picture! That was September 2008. I reckoned that a remote campsite after dark with everyone else asleep would give me the peace I needed to focus. I also reckoned that having the ‘gun to my head’ of not-enough-income-coming-in would provide the incentive for me to make my business work!
And, surprisingly, it worked. Three months later after we had got as far as Adelaide, just before Christmas, I had a business which replaced my CSIRO income. Woo hoo!
Even more surprisingly, Adelaide was a great place! Everyone on the East Coast had peppered me with stories of how lame, quiet and dull Adelaide was. I found out the truth. It is the best city in Australia to live with a family. But don’t tell anyone! It’s a secret you know!
We spent Christmas in Adelaide Shores Caravan park in our tent and moved into a rental in Brighton, on Boxing Day 2008.
In early 2009 I decided it was time to start a business that would somehow help promote renewable energy.
So how did I get the idea for SolarQuotes?
When I was doing up my house in Newcastle, getting it ready to sell, I hired a painter. I was pretty skint at the time, and I offered to make a website for him to pay part of his fee. As I talked to him about how he advertised his business he told me about a company he used to get work. The company advertised “Get 3 Quotes For Painting!” and he paid $30 to be one of the painters that quoted. He told me it worked really well for him and his new customers. That’s a great business, I thought!
Four months later in Adelaide, something in my brain clicked and I wondered if this business that my painter told me about would work for people buying solar panels.
At the time, I had no office, apart from a windowless walk-in wardrobe in the rented house, so I was literally working out of Brighton Public Library. Which was very peaceful and the Wi-Fi was free.
So I invested about $100 in some good solar books, and set out to make a website that answered people's questions about solar in an easy reading, straightforward and occasionally funny way. I also put together a form with some free software where people could ask for quotes. If they completed the form I got an email, which I then manually forward to 3 local solar companies that I found in the Yellow Pages!
I built the website and invested a few hundred dollars in Google Adwords which said “Get 3 Quotes for Solar, It’s Quick, Easy & Free!”. Happily people started asking for quotes. I thought "I might be onto something here!”. So I wrote to every accredited solar installer in Adelaide, asking them if they wanted to quote for solar through the site. I got 3 local solar installers on board and the rest is history.
We now have about 160 clients (and have turned away many, many more), have served over a billion impressions (yes you read that right) from our 2 dedicated, solar powered servers in Melbourne and have an small IT team that keeps those servers spinning and writes the software that runs the whole show.
I've moved out of Brighton Library, and have a home office in a 2 storey straw bale house I built in Brighton. I employ a small team, all of whom work from their homes in Sydney, Katoomba, Auckland and Portugal and collaborate over the internet.
And most importantly over 250,000 Aussies have used SolarQuotes to get quotes for solar. And we've got some lovely feedback along the way. I've also had a bunch of legal threats from solar cowboys but that's a story for another time.
So if you want quotes for solar, please consider using SolarQuotes to get 3 quotes from great, local installers. Or if you are not ready to buy yet, have a look at all the resources we have on the site to help you get more informed about solar.
If you’ve got any questions about solar (or mountain bikes or straw houses) my contact details are here.
May the sun continue to shine on your roof.