Driving Sustainability in Malaysia
Ko Chuan Zhen, co-founder and CEO of Plus Solar Systems, discusses his organisation’s journey and details how it became a major force in clean energy solutions
Writer: Sean Galea-Pace | Project Manager: Nicholas Kernan
“In Malaysia, clean energy has increased in terms of adoption and awareness among the public, especially business owners.”
Ko Chuan Zhen is a CEO and co-founder at Plus Solar Systems. Today, Plus Solar believes in the Energy Trilogy - Energy Generation, Energy Efficiency, and Energy Storage which showcases its passion towards providing clean energy solutions for a better future.
Having initially been founded as Leaf Energy in 2011, the organisation became the first solar energy consulting firm in Malaysia. The three co-founders Ko Chuan Zhen, Poh Tyng Huei, and Ryan Oh Zhi Kang had a vision.
The trio wanted to drive the world towards a cleaner and more sustainable future. In 2012, Leaf Energy became Plus Solar and was created with the mission statement of reshaping the way energy is generated and consumed one community at a time through providing turnkey solutions. However, Plus Solar’s journey hasn’t been straightforward.
“When we started, we installed solar on the roofs ourselves, under the rain and shine, whilst our friends were in corporate roles,” says Ko, co-founder and CEO.
“The working environment wasn’t very friendly, and I wondered if I should be sitting comfortably behind the desk as my friends in the corporate world were. I realised that some people enjoy being on-site and sitting at a desk, and at that point, that was who I was.”
Indeed, like so many start-ups, Plus Solar initially struggled with cash flow and Ko explains that his organisation faced many challenges, one in particular being even given an opportunity to have an appointment.
“We even would get scolded for showing up at a potential client’s door. They wouldn’t give us an appointment so we would try our luck by just showing up,” reflects Ko.
“There were many challenges, but we did anything we had to. We were so hungry and determined.”
Eventually, people began to understand the benefits of solar and experience real savings and impact to bottom lines.
“As we gained more experience, we began to get more recognition as a reliable solar solutionist,” he says. “Things really started looking up when we got recognition from big names. Our credibility really grew and leapt from here.”
Now, Plus Solar Systems has completed over 200 Mega Watt peak (MWp) in solar photovoltaic (PV) system installation services all over Malaysia. Its clients include but are not limited to IKEA, Petronas, Sunway, Secret Recipe, Mah Sing Plastics and PKT Logistics. On top of that, Plus Solar is the first solar company in Malaysia that provides AIoT solutions that enable business owners to source smart energy savings at the touch of their fingertips.
And Asia is a region brimming of potential, particularly in the south-east due to its position as geographically closer to the equator. As many countries in Asia Pacific continue to grow aggressively such as China, India, and Australia, nations such as Vietnam are robust and rapidly developing, with over 9GW of rooftop solar installed in the country.
Plus Solar is currently working across a number of different projects and solutions. The local government has recognised solar generation as an important contributor towards the national 31 percent renewable energy goal by 2025. Industry experts have chosen the 1GW solar development tender by the Energy Commission, with an expectation to create around 12,000 new jobs.
“We have had the honour of working with many industry leaders to drive higher adoption of clean energy,” says Ko.
“One of the corporates we were able to work with is AJIYA Group of Companies, where we outfitted a solar photovoltaic (PV) system and an energy performance management system (EPMS) for their factory in Johor.”
Large scale solar (LSS) has been a focus area for Plus Solar as it has outfitted notable projects during the second cycle of LSS such as Leader Solar Energy II (LSEII) with a system capacity of 27.469MWp, Jentayu Solar with a system capacity of 8.976MWp and more.
These initiatives focused on opportunities for local players will stimulate the country’s renewable energy sector throughout the pandemic.
In 2020, Ko was awarded with the Generation T List 2020 for the category of “Engineering, Manufacturing and Energy.” The list recognises 400 young leaders who are shaping Asia’s future and Ko was chosen as being a voice of sustainability and recognised as a driving force of clean energy in Malaysia. As a result of the ever-evolving impact of the pandemic and the change in business environment, it brought higher awareness for clean energy and a better world.
“For us, this title is evident that Malaysia is moving towards a more sustainable era, which is in line with our mission to reshape the way energy is generated and consumed in Malaysia is becoming the reality we envisioned for.”
As a result of the global disruption caused by COVID-19, Plus Solar switched all four of its branches to a remote setting almost overnight. However, Ko acknowledges how challenging the working from home environment was initially.
“It wasn’t easy to motivate 150 people remotely,” he explains.
“To overcome the strain and stress, we kept leaders and their team members in close communications, each individual was accountable in terms of work and shared how they were coping personally. Virtual check-ins were done at least once a day and any gaps that arose were quickly addressed. When there wasn’t an immediate solution, even the ability to share the challenges and to be able to relate to another truly helped every individual to cope better. In the bigger scheme of things, this helped the team stay focused on our business goals.”
Looking to the future, Ko is focused on creating a sustainable ecosystem for Malaysia in order to double the amount of rooftop solar for buildings while doubling the use of smart energy solutions among business owners.
“With the future in mind, we have also set a clear regional growth agenda for our company as we seek to expand our presence in SEA. We already have plans for Vietnam and have put things in motion. Although this has been affected by the pandemic, we have partners in Vietnam who are making headway in spite of the situation.
“Digitalisation of energy will also be our concentration with Plus Solar’s AIoT(artificial intelligence internet of things) energy performance management system (EPMS) called SOURCE which empowers the business owner to turn their building energy data into smart energy savings.
“We rolled out this system last year as we saw how much it would resolve the concerns of business owners where they can gain up to 25 percent energy savings.
“With the recently extended government subsidies till 2023, we hope that solar will be realised by business owners as no longer a luxury but an essential.”