Total Solar is becoming a partner of choice and thought leader in Asia’s vibrant, expansive market, the company being the first oil & gas giant to make serious inroads into this form of renewable power
Writer: Tom Wadlow | Project Manager: Matthew Cole-Wilkin
“Pardon the pun, but solar is a super-hot market here,” muses Gavin Adda, CEO, Industrial & Commercial for Total Solar’s Asia business.
Joking aside, Adda is right. According to a report by Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, Asia-Pacific is poised to install 55 percent of the world’s new solar PV systems over the next five years, increasing its regional capacity by 60 percent by 2023.
The large economies of China, India and Japan will account for 78 percent of this increase, but the allure of solar has caught on in many other Asian countries.
“We are seeing a snowball effect,” Adda adds. “India, for instance, has gone from $30 million worth
of projects annually to over a $1 billion in just a few years, and this enthusiasm for solar has taken off in the likes of the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia, among others.”
So how did Adda, an Englishman with an Archaeology & Anthropology Masters from the University of Cambridge, end up in Singapore leading the regional solar business for one of the largest oil & gas companies in the world?
“I completed an INSEAD MBA in France and Singapore before getting headhunted to work for Samsung in South Korea,” he recalls. “Samsung was quite an early adopter of solar, and it was here I came across the solar industry, developing around $1 billion of utility-scale projects across the US.
“It was actually at a dinner with one of the largest utilities in California where I had a discussion about how Southeast Asia will become the world’s most important solar markets – especially for C&I.
“You’ve got a lot of island countries, new power requirements from people buying air conditioning and refrigeration for the first time, abundant sunlight, expensive power, bountiful labour and problems with connecting remote areas to grids. This all adds up to a massive opportunity for rooftop-based commercial and industrial solar which can typically save customers 20 percent on energy bills.”
After running C&I for REC Solar in Singapore and then selling the company to ChemChina in 2015, Adda founded two startups in the C&I solar space. He brought the team of one of these to Total at the end of 2017.
Adda runs the business as a fully-owned subsidiary of Total Solar, his startup team receiving the sort of multibillion-dollar enterprise backing that will be vital in ensuring solar is adopted meaningfully in both Asia and around the world.
Indeed, Total Solar has several other hubs around the world, making it a truly global organisation and significant part of Total’s business.
“We want to become a billion-dollar organisation and we are nearing that with our teams in the US, Middle East, Europe and China,” Adda says. “I am extremely excited by the opportunity… this is a goliath organisation that is now setting its sights on really increasing access to renewable energy at scale.”
This desire to be part of the global energy mix shift is evidenced by Total’s own adoption of solar.
For example, Total is installing solar on 5,000 facilities around the world in a $400 million investment. In Singapore, Total Solar is installing solar on a Total lubricant blending facility in Tuas and developing a visitor centre designed to showcase solar to commercial clients.
Singapore is one of four Asian nations where the company currently has projects under construction, the others being Cambodia, the Philippines and Indonesia, where two months ago Total Solar signed one of the country’s first C&I solar projects.
Adda expects the company to be operating in eight or nine countries in the region within the next year, pointing towards its unique position to provide the full suite of services on a global and regional basis. Most importantly though, Total is a natural partner for local firms and a long-term operator of assets.
“We are unique in that we don’t look to just flip our project,” he says. “Total owns assets for decades at a time and solar needs a 20-year contract to make the required return. We are comfortable with these long-term relationships and many of our clients we have already been working with for many years.
“This means we build for the long-term unlike some others who are focused on re-selling the projects in the short-term. Total has a unique approach to HSE and system quality which many customers prefer.”
Total Solar’s ability to form long-term partnerships and commit to the whole lifecycle of solar developments is made possible by its team of experts.
Adda expects to double the headcount on a yearly basis as more projects are taken on.
“Finding the skills we need is a big challenge,” he adds. “When bringing a new product to a new market you need to reskill local people, so passing down knowledge is absolutely essential.
“It took us a long time to find our Head of Tech because we wanted someone with experience of working in Southeast Asia, who knew the challenges facing us and had a network he could bring into the business. We also needed someone who could teach our own internal project managers.”
This knowledge transfer exercise ties into the company’s engineering hub in the Philippines, while continuing partnerships with local firms will also help to impart skills more widely across these emerging solar markets.
And it is this element of partnership that will be crucial to realising Adda’s ambitions for the year ahead. On track to become a regional leader and opening up at least two new markets during 2019, Total Solar is determined to become a trusted partner of choice and thought leader in the industry.
The company is at the forefront of a seismic shift in power generation across the region, and Adda is buoyant about the future solar has both here and across the world.
He concludes: “The future will be solar. There’s a huge appetite for it and I think anywhere between 10 and 20 percent of the power we use will come from solar in the not too distant future.
“Given we’re sub one percent currently, even less so in this region, that implies a massive growth story ahead. The future will see much more of a balanced energy mix, and solar has a huge part to play in that.”