Sorin Bonciu
Altius Fotovoltaic

12 August 2019

Altius is a Romanian born, diversified renewables company that produces green energy from solar and wind farms. They are also one of Romania’s largest producers of European standard PV panels, from mono-crystalline and polycrystalline solar panels, with a highly diversified range including glass panels. The company’s focus is on the best available technology and a forward looking mentality encouraging a low carbon emission economy. 


How has Altius evolved in the Romanian market since inception and what are the key sectors driving demand nowadays?

I have been working in the energy industry for over two decades, both in a commercial and investor capacity. After building the wind farm at Casimcea, in 2011 we decided it was a good moment to start investing further in renewables, not least of all and perhaps ironically due to the impending bankruptcy United States and Western European renewables businesses were facing. Romania benefits from fantastic natural resources, as well as lower cost labor, which were coupled with a very appealing government incentive scheme back in 2010-2011. Regrettably this was not maintained and with time renewables were no longer competing on an even playing field. 

Altius nevertheless won several of the concession bids organized both by local authorities and private investors around 2014-2015, before the rules of the game were further amended. We upgraded our production line twice and always leveraged our technology which is of the highest standard on the market. It was undoubtedly a challenging process overall, and like many other renewables business out there, we were in a position where we eventually needed to fund it through other business ventures. 


You invested in R&D and have a dedicated team – what is the rationale behind this prioritization?

We are vested in the evolution of nanotechnology and its applicability in our field of work. More specifically there are two areas we are focusing on and pursuing patents in. The first is related to raising panels’ overall efficiency with the aid of nanotechnology, and the second to protection against dust and degradation. There are other markets, such as those in Asia, that are competing with the rest of the world on a price and supply volume basis, however when dealing with solar panels it is essential to bring to the market products that are durable and as energy efficient as possible. Consumers, both private and industrial need to understand that cheaper PV panels are not a bargain, instead investing in high quality panels is to their own advantage as energy producers in the medium and long term. Our panels face some wear and tear as well, naturally, but 6% in five years is not a bad place to be. 

In the global spectrum changes are under way – already we are seeing rapid advancements in technology that are also raising the power of a PV cell and Altius wishes to be at the forefront of new developments. 


Many Romanian companies shy away from international expansion, but this is not the case for Altius – can you tell us about your geographical footprint and plans in this respect?

After roaming various lands in search of new opportunities our sites rested on Senegal, a relatively stable and economically advanced country. This year we are starting a project there meant to provide PV panels to the general community, where the price is 200 Euro MW/h and consequently an enviable ROI. We are working in partnership with a regional bank, and together we plan on extending the same business model and bringing such opportunities for communities in other countries in the region. 

We are also keeping a close watch on Egypt where we have some tentative plans brewing, we feel there is still opportunity there. Furthermore, South America presents very high potential, which we are currently evaluating. 


What do you consider to be the key challenges posed by the Romanian business climate?

In Romania, as is the case anywhere else, when there is a will there is a way. The key is to understand the country’s specificity, culture and regulatory climate. With patience and perseverance you can claim your rights and with them, your success. Romania left the communist era with a total energy capacity of 16,000 MW, to which 4,000 were added through renewables later, and yet at the moment we have only have 11,000 in total, despite growing consumption. We are faced with a few choices, between going nuclear or becoming ever more dependent on gas, or perhaps learning from others’ successful harboring of renewable and green resources.

There are challenges surrounding local authorities, who need to each cherish and respect Romanian capital, as well as the rules of the game. State owned companies also need to make their operations and costs more efficient - this is a great opportunity for them, especially keeping in mind that large consumers such as CFR or Constanta harbor would benefit immensely from an efficient energy infrastructure and production. There are still limitations prosumers face, for instance, as well as an unnecessarily long and convoluted red tape many need to go through, which I hope will change with time. These challenges apply for example to the “Casa Verde”, which is otherwise a fantastic initiative that the government should be applauded for. 


What is your vision for the future and Altius’ plans for the near future?

I am optimistic about Romania’s renewables sector and see recent developments such as the creation and support of prosumers as proof of the positive path we have started taking. Let us not forget that we are a uniquely gifted country, not only from a natural resources perspective, but from the sheer wisdom and determination of our people. We were pioneers in energy, aviation, medicine and there is undoubtedly more where that came from. As far as Altius is concerned, we are committed to our presence in Romania where we have ambitious growth plans, and equally I believe Altius’ international presence will see a momentous evolution.

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