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Powering Asia With Singapore Renewables Leader Sunseap

Interview - October 30, 2018

Sunseap Group is leading the solar power charge in Singapore with large international companies as clients and is trading on its reputation to expand across the ASEAN region as renewables become cheaper and more popular.



What are your views on Singapore’s digital transformation and how important is it to remain competitive? What are the impacts that you foresee on the energy sector?

From the Singapore perspective, the government and institutions have taken the difficult path towards digitization and de-carbonization as we have very limited resources. There is one thing that the government and the country did as a very important first step: that no sources of power will ever be subsidized whether it is clean, green or dirty, no matter the source.

People complain about utility bills because we are built around gas and that lends support to having solar compete with traditional sources of power. Today, 95% of energy users are still relying on gas-fired power plants which help reduce pollution. Solar and other renewables make absolute sense because they are cheaper.


How is market liberalization going to affect the energy sector in Singapore?

Residential energy prices will get further discounted, there'll be a lot of independent operators out there offering cheaper power prices for the mass market. We've seen that happening already as the energy market continues to open up for all energy retailers.

A lot of big corporations here like Apple and Microsoft are huge energy consumers and when the energy market is fully liberalized those large consumers will be transferred to the residential energy market.


Can you give us an example of how you serve the big American companies operating in Singapore? 

We’ve covered all the operations here for Apple, for example, and it is a very large company with something like 3,000 employees, two big distribution hubs and a store. We cover 100% of their energy needs through our current solar system and that really is converting the use of renewables into a strength.

With an array of solar panels on your rooftop your investment in power is up front and we can give you a fairly accurate prediction of your energy expenditures for the next 35 years. Oil prices can hit US$1,000 per barrel but that doesn’t bother our solar clients because they have an energy expense fixed for decades.  Companies like Apple and Microsoft understand that and I certainly believe there will be other large companies signing up with us.

I think this big demand will come from advanced, hi-tech manufacturing from the United States and other countries setting up here in Singapore. It's certainly going to have a big impact in terms of our business and that is why we have a U.S. office so we can talk to potential customers there: That is a clear demonstration of our commitment.

But it’s not just the big companies we’re interested in but also the start-ups which will potentially become part of Singapore’s technology ecosystem and if they become customers we can provide them with additional products and services. Even if we don't make any money out of a long-term relationship with our clients we keep showing them the latest and greatest in terms of value-added services to keep them engaged. The last thing we want is to sign a long-term contract with you and then you don't see us for the next 20 years except for maintenance.


Could you tell us in your words how you see your internationalization process and what is your potential in the region?

Singapore's got a pretty good reputation and branding in the ASEAN region and unlike other countries we’re fairly politically neutral and so we’re largely welcome in these places. . 

Right now in ASEAN, we are pretty much carrying out business in every market except Indonesia, Myanmar and Laos and we are hoping to be able to do something over the next 12 months in these markets regarding the solar energy sector. For example, Indonesia is the largest market among the ASEAN members and we still don't have a single project there. That’s primarily because the government is still subsidizing conventional sources of fuel which makes it difficult for renewable sources like solar power to compete.

But it's just a matter of time because at the end of the day, government budgets don't last forever and at the same time solar costs are coming down. Our international expansion is not without hiccups or challenges. For example, legal frameworks in some of these countries are clearly not as robust as what you find in Singapore’s framework regarding finance.

Some governments have taken the proactive step of cutting fuel subsidies so that when oil prices started to stabilize, energy prices started to go up. From an international expansion point of view, as power prices started to go up markets started to be more receptive to cheaper solar. So countries like Vietnam and Cambodia were some of the front runners in this despite them both being emerging economies. In fact, we just came back from Vietnam a couple of days ago where we are looking at new projects. We are also looking at new partnerships as well because no one can do everything themselves.


Can you tell us how you approach partnering in these countries where Sunseap Group wants to set up or expand operations?

When we go to other countries we first look at which companies there have headquarters or regional headquarters in Singapore as that's where decisions are made and so we are talking to the decision makers. We then go overseas and leverage off the same clientele platform with which we have established contact in Singapore.

We clearly want to partner either with the grid operator in the country or someone that's very close to the grid operator. After all, power is a sensitive topic in any country you go to. We want to make sure that we are very close and understand the local regulations very clearly and the local partner, whether is it a grid operator or someone close to them, can help us navigate the local scene and, of course, promote renewable energy together with us. That's our strategy in terms of how we enter the various markets in Asia.