What are Energetix’s plans for the APAC region during this time of dynamism in the solar energy space?
Going back to our roots, the Energetix founding team previously established Phoenix Solar 15 years ago, which was present throughout the whole region, from Asia to the Middle East. Since the pandemic, we decided to keep a targeted focus in our core markets, Singapore and Thailand, with plans to slowly grow back up in the region, including in Indonesia and Malaysia. There is value in EPC contractors staying local, to best leverage our knowledge and resources.
How are you navigating challenges surrounding regulation in the region, and what are other pressing constraints the industry is navigating now?
The landscape has changed immensely during the past 15 years and the PV industry, which once required a subsidy, is now fully commercially viable. Even during the early years, Singapore’s government never offered subsidies, which at first seemed like a challenge and made the country lag behind Western Europe. However, in the long run, this proved to be a clever approach that made the local industry self-sufficient and resilient. After all, how far can one truly grow in a budget-constrained market? Thailand and Malaysia share a regulatory problem that I believe should be addressed as soon as possible, which is that despite the immense potential of building rooftop PV, they restrict exports of surplus PV electricity into the grid, which means we underutilized available roof space. This is a big wasted opportunity, as rooftops can provide electricity right at the point of consumption, with exported surplus supplying nearby facilities and local neighbourhoods.
For solar farms, the biggest constraints right now circle around infrastructure, particularly grid transmission and distribution. Developers need cheap land, which tends to be remote and grids are weak, to build utility scale solar farms. We need to reinforce such peripheral grids. Secondly, there is the matter of permitting and approvals for land acquisition, often slow, sometimes outright corrupt, tough as it may be to face this reality.
Given Asia’s sheer population, and need to decarbonize in the near term future, how close are we to overcoming these hurdles for accelerated renewable energy deployment?
This brings us to the industry’s third phase, the one we find ourselves in, when everyone is seeing the immense value that renewable energy brings in light of soaring electricity prices. We will look back on 2022 and think of it as the first year where there was worldwide agreement on the need to address climate change with a sense of urgency. Policies will change in Asia. What regulators need to start doing is expand the grid, and build a regional grid like they have in Western Europe, where electricity is traded on a daily basis. For example, Vietnam is already strengthening its grid to accommodate intermittent power. I think the number one priority is to reduce the complexity of doing projects (and not taking three years to approve them and close financing), because the money is available, and the commercial viability is there.
Are Europe and the United States’ recent efforts to onshore manufacturing affecting Singapore's solar panel market in any way?
Not really, we are quite fortunate in that respect - it takes around two weeks for shipments to arrive from China to Singapore and all is working smoothly. Also, the cost of installing solar panels in the U.S. is twice what it is in Singapore, partly because their incentives, subsidies, import constraints and approval processes tend to inflate prices.
What are your priorities for Energetix for the next two to three years?
This year we are looking at tripling our installation capacity compared to the past few years, and also growing our team from 30 to 40 people. In Singapore we are happy to see palpable growth and the vision is to replicate our success in Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. Aside from EPC, which is the bread and butter of our business, we are thinking of investing in some of our own projects, and building a portfolio of assets.
Do you have a final message for our readership?
I have a message for policy makers in the APAC region. When I did my military service in the Swiss army we learned as follows –
To hit a moving target, you should not aim at its current location, but aim to intercept the target’s trajectory. Renewables are moving at a brisk pace, and if you base your policies on last year’s information, you will err in your decision.
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