Leading the Solar Charge
Total Solar Distributed Generation has doubled capital investment and ramped up revenues 30 times over the past 18 months, its economical and ecological off-grid power alternative proving a hit in many Asian commercial markets
Writer: Tom Wadlow | Project Manager: David Knott
It is safe to say that 2020 has been far from a straightforward year.
From raging forest fires in Australia to the COVID-19 outbreak which has swept its way across the world, you could be forgiven for craving a return to some form of ‘normal’, a word which is being redefined on what feels like a monthly or even weekly basis.
For businesses in all industries, the safe haven of certainty has been wiped away in recent times. National and regional lockdowns, shifts in mindsets towards remote working and sudden changes in consumer behaviour have forced organisations to adapt in order to survive, the impact of the pandemic already having devastating impacts on revenues.
When Gavin Adda last spoke to APAC Outlook (then Asia Outlook) in March 2019, Total Solar Distributed Generation (DG) was poised to enter a phase of momentous expansion in Southeast Asia.
“We were braced for the worst regarding coronavirus but, thankfully, we’ve continued on our growth journey in a way that has exceeded my expectations,” he says.
“What we’ve found is that customers are choosing to accelerate their adoption of renewables. They may not be able to do anything in terms of the coronavirus situation, so perhaps they are asking themselves what CAN they do – installing our off-grid solar will provide crucial savings on energy with no upfront cost or capital investment required. Furthermore, the security gained from being more self-sustaining in energy needs and the message it provides to the market is invaluable.”
In a time of economic uncertainty and amid an overwhelmingly negative narrative, investments in green power offer not only the opportunity to share some good news, but also a chance to secure long-term energy and financial savings.
For Adda, CEO for Asia at Total Solar DG, the past 18 months have been relentlessly busy with new projects taking off in several markets across the region. Indeed, 2020 so far has seen around double the level of business versus last year.
“When we last spoke, we had around four or five projects under construction – now we are in construction on over 50 projects simultaneously,” Adda says.
“That is a tenfold increase in activity, and we’re also seeing a much wider variety of projects in our portfolio. For example, in Cambodia we have just completed installing a solar rooftop at Royal Angkor Hospital, and are converting an entire island from diesel to solar battery power in what is the largest project of its kind.”
Indonesia has been a particularly bustling market for Total Solar Distributed Generation.
Here, the company is constructing the largest rooftop solar plant in the country for a global sportswear brand manufacturer, part of its plans to roll out renewable installations across all of its Southeast Asian footprint and convert 20 percent of its entire operation to clean power by 2025.
Having travelled to the US headquarters to meet the company, Adda and his team won a Vietnam tender in 2019 and then an Indonesian tender in 2020.
“The site in Indonesia alone employs around 30,000 people, and 15 percent of that operation will be running on solar power, so it is hugely exciting for us,” the CEO adds. “This is an eight MW system, which will avoid around 13,000 tonnes of carbon emissions annually – equivalent to the carbon sequestered by around 79,000 trees.
“For the client, this is not just about making some extra profit – they are here to invest in Indonesia and give something back to the local environment and community.”
This is just one of Total Solar DG’s 12 ongoing projects in the country.
Adda mentions several other developments currently under construction or in operation, including three sites for food and drink multinational Danone which are up and running, a new airport project in Samarinda, as well as an installation for Greenfields Dairy – the largest dairy company in South East Asia.
In the Philippines, Total Solar DG has more than doubled the number of sites it is working on with longstanding shopping mall operator Gaisano Capital – in October 2018, it announced plans to install solar rooftop systems for four malls across the country. In late August this year, the company increased its Gaisano Capital portfolio by six sites, taking it up to a total of 10.
With a combined capacity of 3.4 MW, the installations generate around 4.9 GWh of power annually, equivalent to planting 38,000 trees each year in terms of carbon footprint reduction.
“The Philippines adopted quite an aggressive lockdown strategy when COVID-19 arrived, and Gaisano malls often sit at the heart of communities, especially away from big cities and in the more rural towns,” Adda says.
“That’s where your doctor is and where you go and buy all of your essentials, so we’re delighted that they are continuing to place sustainability at the heart of their plans despite the obvious disruption caused by the pandemic.”
Vietnam is another active market, Adda explaining how many organisations have reached out to Total Solar DG as they look to establish manufacturing hubs outside of China.
Solar gets smart
So, what explains this exponential rise in activity for Adda and his Asia division?
For the CEO, the past 18 months have been defined by an even more appetising cost proposition for customers.
Indeed, such is the viability of its off-grid solar installations, the firm is still able to undercut grid power despite numerous governments offering heavy energy subsidies to foreign investors.
“This is the big factor,” says Adda. “We’ve seen modular prices drop by 15 percent over the past 18 months, while battery prices have dropped by as much as 30 percent. Things that were not possible and markets which just did not make sense are now open to us – the commercial viability is now present in many more countries.”
Another major perk is that solar power is getting smarter.
Adda points to an example with Bolloré Logistics’ Green Hub in Singapore, where the company’s solar system data has been interfaced with the building’s power monitoring systems. “This allows Bolloré Logistics to have a better, more integrated visibility on its consumption and to report better on its energy mix – more insights and understanding means that further steps can then be taken towards its carbon neutrality goals. Bolloré Logistics is really leading the way on driving sustainability through the logistics sector.”
The CEO also highlights a major internal breakthrough with the adoption of Envision software, a result of a new joint venture with a similar solar solutions provider in China.
“This is a real-time monitoring program that tracks key elements on every project to identify potential areas of improvement and any potential warnings,” Adda continues. “This is one of the most sophisticated solar software systems globally. It is extremely valuable, especially when you consider scaling up and being able to manage multiple sites and systems through a single interface and in an autonomous way.”
This underlines the ongoing importance of partnerships to the future success of Total Solar Distributed Generation.
“Our relationships with our suppliers and partners have and will continue to be critical moving forwards,” says Adda.
“We are always thinking about ways to be more proactive and efficient with procurement, working with partners to see how they can reduce their costs as well as ours. We like to bring loyalty to our suppliers and be a part of their growth journeys over the long term.”
And such loyalty between parties will be critical moving forwards, especially if the rapid expansion of the Total Solar Distributed Generation portfolio across the Asia region continues over the coming months.
This is very much Adda’s aim, the CEO finishing this year’s conversation by looking ahead to what the next year has in store.
“Total Solar is on track to at least double investment again next year.
I think we will see major international brands increasingly show the way forward – cutting costs and developing a sustainable future for us all. Whatever happens on the COVID side, we want to help companies achieve those goals and show that they are still open for business!” he says.
“I think the market is also maturing rapidly. Customers are recognising the importance of working with long-term, stable developers. I think our ethical and loyal approach to business partners will ensure that we continue to be the partner of choice for the region. If we can say that we’ve helped our customers convert 10 to 20 percent of regional energy needs to solar, then we’re certainly doing the right thing.”