Solar energy: Innovative start-up puts Fiji ahead on renewable energy

Fiji is making its mark as a leader in renewable energy thanks to an innovative start-up company focusing on supplying energy to the corporate sector.

Sunergise is the brain-child of entrepreneurs from Africa and the Pacific and has attracted investment interest from the World Bank as well as from Australia, New Zealand, North America and China.

Before Sunergise came along, the Port of Denarau Marina looked at installing solar but decided it was too difficult.

“As a marina business we are very intrinsically tied to the environment and climate change and we want to make a difference,” said Nigel Skeggs, managing director of the Port of Denarau Marina.

“But for us to install a multi-million-dollar solar system was not our core complement.”

The installation of the first 700 photovoltaic cells at the marina was completed in 2012, just two days before Cyclone Evan hit, with winds gusting up to 270 kph.

Only one panel was damaged.

Sunergise has since completed two more installations at the Port of Denarau, creating the biggest marina-based solar plant in the world.

Australia ‘well behind’

In Australia, corporate solar is lagging behind residential investment and Sunergise is something advocacy group Solar Citizens would like to see more of.

“Australia leads the world in terms of residential roof-top solar,” Solar Citizen consumer campaigner Reece Turner said.

“Mums and dads have invested $8 billion of their own money in solar panels in just the last six or seven years. But we are well behind in the commercial space; comparatively we are probably 20th or 30th in the world in terms of commercial solar.

“That is where we are seeing some of the growth now but we really need to incentivise that uptake of commercial solar.”

‘We sell energy’

Sunergise’s business model is to focus on blue chip corporate clients and to own and operate the infrastructure they put on their roof.

“We don’t sell solar panels, we sell energy,” Sunergise chairman Bob Lyon said.

“We install the panels, the clients get an instant discount on their power, they don’t pay anything [for the infrastructure].”

Sunergise sells contracts that run for 10 or more years, with the client enjoying an initial saving of about 10 per cent and certainty on their power costs for the full term of the contract.

One of Fiji’s top hotels, the Tokoriki Island resort, uses Sunergise’s solar power technology and has cut its power bill by 50 per cent and silenced its expensive diesel generators.

The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, its private sector arm, made its decision to take a 20 per cent stake in Sunergise based on the skills of its people.

“Certainly for us it was high-risk but we were backing the people,” IFC’s Fiji country director Gavin Murray said.

“The one thing that has struck me continuously across the Pacific is that successful business comes down to people and people who have credibility and are known in the market.”

Sunergise’s advisory board includes Danny Kennedy — a former Greenpeace campaign manager who went on make millions founding Sungevity — and American filmmaker Chris Paine — best-known for the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?

Global interest in solar energy

The company’s business model draws heavily on that of multi-billion-dollar US renewable energy firm SunEdison, which in April filed for bankruptcy.

Like Sunergise, SunEdison was capital hungry to pay the up-front cost of the solar installations it owed but it also went on an asset-buying spree that left it overextended.

Bob Lyon said Sunergise was different to SunEdison due to its innovative funding strategy.

“We had a lot of interest from around the world, places like the US quite a considerable amount, China, Australia, New Zealand,” he said.

“There is certainly an appetite for renewable energy investments and there is quite a growing investment scene for renewables from superannuation funds, ethical funds.”

Source: ABC net. Date: 30 June 2016

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-06-30/innovative-start-up-puts-fiji-ahead-on-renewable-energy/7557594