The SolarQuotes Founding Story

By Finn Peacock

coal loader

The time is 2007, the place is Newcastle, NSW. I worked 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 days with my laptop plugged into coal loaders like this, trying to get them to move more efficiently so they could load their dirty cargo onto 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 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. 

wind turbine

Renewable energy can and does contribute massively to our energy needs when it is deployed at scale. Last time I checked, wind and solar power in my home state of South Australia contributed two-thirds 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 contribute to the solution in some small way.

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 who knows me knows that I like to ‘just do things’, see if they work, and 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 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…

the loaded up volvo

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 sales referrals. 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 power 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 on solar power systems through the site. I got 3 local solar installers on board and the rest is history.

We now have about 400 clients (and have turned away many, many more), serve over a million page views every month and have a 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 of 15, all of whom work from their homes in Adelaide, Sydney, Auckland, Brazil and Portugal, and collaborate over the internet. 

Most importantly, over 730,000 Aussies (or about 1-in-20 homes in Australia) have used SolarQuotes to get quotes for solar, batteries, EV chargers, or all three. 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, batteries or EV chargers, please consider using my service 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. This includes an extensive database where you can find information on solar panels, solar batteries & EV Chargers.

If you’ve got any questions about solar (or mountain bikes or straw houses) my contact details are here.

By the way – you can also read a bit more about me on – and while you’re here, check out my book, The Good Solar Guide: 7 Steps To Tiny Bills For Australian Homeowners!

May the sun continue to shine on your roof.

finns signature

Finn 🙂

 To get your quotes, please enter your postcode: