Meet Zolar, the company that is revolutionising the residential solar market
Interview with Alexander Melzer, Founder and CEO of Zolar
Alexander Melzer is the founder and CEO of Zolar. His career has always been dedicated to the solar industry, working as a Product Manager at Solarwatt AG, before moving to Canada and becoming Managing Director at Soventix Canada Inc., a global solar project developer. After travelling and biking around the world, he moved back to Germany where he founded Zolar together with his Co-Founder and friend from university Gregor Loukidis. His vision? Changing the world’s energy generation to 100% renewables.
Alexander Melzer is interviewed here by Tim Schumacher, a German entrepreneur and investor, with a focus on internet and sustainability startups. Tim has founded and/or invested in multiple startups such as Aklamio, Sedo, Eyeo, Goodwall, SaaS.group, Ecosia, as well as solar company, Zolar.
TS: Alex, to start this interview off for our readers: what is Zolar?
AM: Zolar is a platform for residential solar. On the one hand, we are an online one-stop shop, offering residential solar systems at a fixed price through our Zolar Online-Configurator. Homeowners can simply purchase a customised solar system online. On the other hand, we are a digital fulfilment platform. Our Zolar Project Center enables our local installation partners to smoothly install the solar systems at the customer’s home. The PV systems generate clean electricity, which can be used for daily household needs as well as to charge an electric car. In the end, our customers generate low-cost and environmentally friendly energy. Thus, they become more independent from their energy supplier and rising electricity bills.
TS: How did you get the idea for Zolar in the first place?
AM: My Co-Founder Gregor Loukidis and I had been active in the photovoltaics industry worldwide for several years before we founded Zolar. We were frustrated by the fact that there is a huge potential in residential solar, but the complicated customer journey to own a PV system turns people off. We wanted to change that and developed the intuitive Zolar Online-Configurator to make buying a solar system a great customer experience by simplifying the whole process. Installing more private solar systems and producing green energy at every residential home is an important stepping stone to protect the climate. We have known for a few years now that Europe will miss its climate targets for 2020. We did not want to accept this and created Zolar as a platform to enable every homeowner to make a personal contribution against climate change.
“The level of knowledge about solar systems of many homeowners is still based on information from the early 2000s.” — Alexander Melzer
TS: In order to make a real difference, Zolar needs to scale. But what would you require to install 10 times, or rather 100 times, of the systems you’re currently installing per month?
AM: At its core, Zolar wants to create the deepest impact possible against climate change by installing a solar system on each roof. So, the more people we enable to buy solar systems and thus produce their own clean energy, the more impact we have.
Currently, we are building the set-up and infrastructure to build exactly 100 times these systems per month. We do this by building a digital sales and operations platform. Key for us is to have a seamless and convenient customer journey — from the first touchpoint along all the way throughout the next 25 years; the lifetime of the system.
TS: What’s the largest cost in installation and maintenance which decreases at scale?
AM: We define ourselves as a digital pioneer in the solar business and therefore keep our costs to a minimum by digitising and automating every process step. Our operations platform is designed to interact perfectly with our increasing network of installation partners who are small to medium-sized installation companies operating on a local level. The reason behind this is obvious: we want to enable our partners to focus on what they do best and that is installing solar systems. With our operations platform, we take care of the rest, e.g. system design, logistics, and of course customer support.
TS: Why should anyone with an available roof have their own little solar system? And what about additional complementary systems, like solar batteries? Do you have a general recommendation?
AM: The main motivation for homeowners is to supply themselves independently with their own clean electricity. With a solar system they can use up to 35% of their electricity from their own roof; if they add a storage system this goes up to 80%.
Additionally, solar electricity costs less than 10 cents per kWh if all costs are calculated over the lifetime. In comparison to electricity from the grid (which now costs up to 30 cents per kWh), this is a much cheaper way of generating energy.
“Our vision is to change the homeowner’s energy consumption to 100% green energy. The Zolar family will be the centerpiece of this future strategy” — Alexander Melzer
TS: Okay, to me it seems a ‘no-brainer’, but what’s the main reason which keeps interested buyers from becoming customers? And how do you aim to change this?
AM: The level of knowledge about solar systems of many homeowners is still based on information from the early 2000s. Many people still believe that such systems do not amortise themselves and are therefore a high but insufficient investment. But technical development has improved tremendously and therefore the system cost has decreased to a fraction of what it was in the past.
On top of this comes the fact that all homeowners are first-time buyers that have never bought a solar system before. Purchasing such a system is quite a complex project for them where a lot of decision-making is required. With the average solar system costing around 15,000 euros, people feel uncertain and afraid of making that decision. Our mission is to make that purchase and installation as emotional, transparent and simple as possible. With the help of our Zolar Online-Configurator, we can create the optimal system design for every residential house. Homeowners can then simply decide based on their preferences. The positive feedback that we get from our customers really shows that we are on the right track here.
TS: Where do you want to be in five years with Zolar?
AM: I see Zolar on the forefront of a movement to a cleaner and more sustainable future. Our vision is to change the homeowner’s energy consumption to 100% green energy. The Zolar family will be the centerpiece of this future strategy: a movement of like-minded homeowners that want to have 100% green energy, be independent and make a positive contribution to a sustainable future. Connecting and enabling these homeowners is the purpose of the Zolar family.
TS: Are Zolar customers more likely to support a carbon tax? And what’s your personal view on this?
AM: Yes, we need to have a carbon tax as soon as possible. At the moment monetary incentives to reduce CO2 emissions are missing. If a flight between Berlin and Munich is cheaper than taking the train, because kerosene for the aviation industry doesn’t carry any tax, there is something seriously wrong with our system. A carbon tax shouldn’t be viewed as a punishment for CO2 emission, it should rather be seen as a support for clean energy and mobility solutions. I am highly convinced our customers would support a carbon tax because they are already contributing to a cleaner future and making an impact against climate change.
This interview was featured in The Beam #9 — Voices from the Global South. Subscribe to The Beam for more.