In the third issue of Planet OS Visionary Series
we discuss the transforming energy industry with Matthew Peloso, the founder and CEO at Sun Electric.
Planet OS Visionary Series is a round of exclusive interviews with ten most inspiring professionals in the transforming energy industry.
Q. You’re one of the emerging innovators in solar energy in Southeast Asia. Is there a project or an achievement of your company Sun Electric that you’re especially proud of? What makes it special?
A. In Sun Electric we have developed a trading platform for solar power called SolarSpace. The product is built on an intelligent system allowing buildings to trade energy with power users connected to an electrical network. We tested this technology with Singapore's largest rooftop owner. Only recently were we awarded the exciting opportunity to expand this program to a few hundred factories in Singapore. This will allow us to get more than 120 MW of solar power capacity into the hands of mass market energy consumers.
We’ve also expanded our business to the U.S. and Japan to continue promoting the SolarSpace product, and see ourselves as pioneers in the global solar industry.
Q. If you could leave everything else aside and focus all your time in solving one major challenge in the next few years, what challenge would you choose? Why?
A. The power markets policy. Power is a major hotbed for today’s innovation, and obtaining clean affordable energy is a major goal for the global society. However, archaic rules and old monopolies that were needed a hundred years ago, are now holding back innovation and new technology entrants in the industry. Until governments fail to renew the laws and policies of power markets, new tech providers continue to struggle to enter the market, and renewable energy fails to meet the expectations of the society.
Q. Now let's talk about about solar energy market. Is the current solar panel installation rate supply or demand constrained?
A. In this context, installation rates track fuel prices along with power demand. Solar panel prices have become competitive, but fuel commodities have also entered a new cycle. The growth factors of solar markets from utility to residential, and commercial markets are based on their own consumer segments.
We are currently emerging from a shortage of solar panels in a high-price oil market into an oversupply of solar panels in a low-price oil environment. The effect has been to bring solar costs down even further, though with sector participants making relatively limited profit margins. This is setting the stage for a new cycle.
Q. The price of solar panels and energy storage is falling. In your estimation, when will they become the dominating choice in all new energy generation installation globally?
A. This is a tough question because it’s related to fossil fuel (coal, gas, oil) rates which are fluctuating. Also in the light of the costs of peak power supply vs. base load power supply. For example, arguably, solar is approaching the low cost of coal as a peaking power resource, but without storage solar can’t serve base load power itself while coal on the other hand is not suitable for peak power load. Thus, it’s relative in regard to the fuel mix including renewables and how they address demand.
American gas and Saudi oil are again making fossil fuels quite competitive against solar, even though the cost of solar panels have dropped consistently.
With a small shift upwards in commodities, solar power today is at a lower cost peak power than the resources complementing gas supplies for base load demand which solar can’t meet. I presently count storage on the sidelines in major urban regions, because it’s too expensive. It’s rather tailored for remote power demand.
Q. We know that Big Data can help in making renewable energy more competitive. In your opinion, what are the most important advancements where data and/or technology can help the energy industry move forward?
A. In our experience, it has been about community connectivity. Our AI platform SolarSpace allows users to trade power harvested in their own city. This makes renewable energy accessible beyond utilities all the way by the mass market. Anyone connected to the electrical network can obtain power from their community rooftops, and see where it comes from. Meaning that the power is literally in the hands of the consumer, and those ready to drive forward the new world of sunlight driven cities help spur adoption through a more rapid demand. Meaning that capital keeps flowing toward locally installed clean energy harvesting infrastructure.
Q. There is a hypothesis that the cost of electrons is a race to the bottom, and ultimately energy will become almost free, creating space for a new economy around value-added services in energy. What is your view in this?
A. It’s a decade or two away, but worth thinking about. What will the economics of power markets look like when society has paid off the cost of infrastructure that harvests free sunlight and wind? It’s implicit in the questions of what we will do when the machines provide humankind with all of our needs, and we don't need to work. Of course, solar plants and distribution wires still need replacing, so there won't be a complete free scenario anytime soon. However, the tariff rates and portfolio standards are worth rethinking or more practically, to invest in a solar power plant.
Q. If you could design the future of living, what would it look like 25 years from now?
A. I'm just trying to do my part and get cities to harness their own energy. Space is fuel. Sunlight is abundant. This is our power. That’s our motto in Sun Electric. In 25 years, I hope I can be proud to have played a part there.
Thank you for reading. I kindly invite you to see how we empower large wind farms with data. Stay tuned for the next #VisionarySeries interview by starting to follow our publication or add yourself to our subscriber list to find the next interview from your mailbox.