When Mark McClurg paddles out for a surf and looks back at solar panels dotted on roofs, he sees more than the work of his small business.
Business owner Mark McClurg lives with his family on the picturesque coastal city of Coffs Harbour, in northern New South Wales, and has always had a passion for the outdoors.
He studied Environmental Management at university, and after spending a decade working as an estimator in the building industry to fund his love of travel, he was looking for something new. Given his affinity for nature, working in clean energy “just made sense,” he says.
It was while Mark was working as a manager in the solar hot water industry when he found himself unexpectedly unemployed. So, he took a calculated risk and founded his own business, Coffs Solar Energy, sensing the potential in the rooftop solar PV industry.
“I could see that there was this great opportunity with solar panels,” he says. “I could see that it was going to be a growth area, and I ended up just taking a chance and starting my own company, just before the industry really took off.”
The company started installing rooftop solar systems on local homes and businesses in 2010, employing three people. Now Mark is the Managing Director of a company with a staff of 15, and they have installed over 2700 solar systems.
“We love Coffs Harbour,” says Mark. “For me, it was always my plan just to take ownership of this local area. Coffs Harbour is quite a nice sized regional city so there’s plenty of work within my local area and I’ve seen my business grow as a result of that.”
Mark enjoys both the marketing and sales side of the business, and with his growing team, he gets a sense of fulfilment from helping his local community to shift to clean energy.
“I’m still somebody who has a natural affinity with the environment, especially the ocean. Just knowing that I’m in this clean industry, and I’ve got employees who are in this clean industry - I get a lot of satisfaction, especially driving around town and seeing all the solar systems that we’ve installed.”
“I’ve donated solar systems to charitable organisations in the local area, including the local lifesaving club,” says Mark, who is a keen surfer. “You can imagine me in the ocean looking back at the surf club and seeing my solar panels on the roof and how I’m helping them reduce their power bills and carbon emissions – it’s great.”
Mark says it brings him satisfaction to play his part in tackling climate change.
“My view on renewables is that it’s absolutely inevitable that the whole world will transition to 100 per cent clean energy, it’s just a matter of when that’s going to happen.
“I’m happy that I’m involved in an industry where I can be a small cog helping to make that transition quicker. Even though it’s just little old me in Coffs Harbour, I’m still part of that bigger picture.”
The business has also helped Mark and his wife and two young daughters to have financial security.
“We are fortunate being in this industry at the moment. There is a demand for solar PV because the cost of power is so expensive in Australia, and it enables businesses like mine to do quite well.
“And there’s most definitely a benefit to the local community. [My employees] are earning an income in Coffs Harbour and spending their money here. Knowing that this booming renewable energy industry that we’re in is helping my staff to fulfil their own cost of living expenses and household debts, provides me with a lot of satisfaction.”
He is optimistic that the industry will continue to grow at a stable pace, and that his team will continue to install, service and fix solar systems into the future.
“This is still a relatively new sector that we’re in, and it’s going to continue to grow and get better,” he says. “Solar panels are very well constructed and should last decades, but we’re dealing with electronics, and we’re still dealing with the Australian climate. These are harsh conditions, so there’s always going to be a maintenance side with solar, too.”