Solgen welcomes new era of clean energy
When compared to more mature industries, solar is a relatively new sector. This means the amount of opportunity in renewable energy is almost unsurpassed – and the possibilities for the future are endless.
This was the line of thinking when rooftop solar installer Mark Group joined forces with commercial solar business Solgen Energy in late 2015. The merged company became Solgen Energy Group, in a strategic collaboration designed to capture the leading share of Australia’s booming solar market.
Today, advanced technology, engineering and people are at Solgen’s core, says CEO David Brown, who is steering the ship as the business aims to shape a new, participatory era in clean energy.
“The amount of new technology coming online and the pace at which they’re running is exciting, so it’s an extremely interesting time to be a part of this industry,” Brown says.
“We see massive opportunities to match renewable energy solutions with optimal financial packages for our customers and commercial clients.
Restructured around several new divisions, Solgen Energy Group can now offer solutions for a range of clients, including residential customers on a house-by-house basis, through to larger developments, commercial complexes and industrial businesses.
“Our new operating model has a dedicated business model to suit the SME space, given the huge opportunities there, along with a home division and commercial division, which is a comprehensive spread across all segments of the market,” Brown says.
“But our key point of differentiation has been introducing a dedicated new team, our ‘new ventures’ division. This allows us to dedicate resources solely towards developing and researching new technology, so we can stay on the leading edge of the changes that are coming into the industry.”
Sophisticated advancements in solar tech
In recent years we have witnessed incredible growth and change in the renewable energy sector, with solar in particular becoming a huge part of everyday life for an increasing number of Australians.
Indeed, Australia leads the world in household solar panel installations, with the Energy Supply Association of Australia reporting that around 15 per cent of Australian homes have solar panels.
“The Australian market overall is known for being very fast adapters of new technology. The uplift of solar in Australia has been incredible compared to the rest of the world and strongly supported by government subsidies and the like,” Brown says.
Further growth will be made possible through further advancements in technology around efficiencies and output that have been “quite amazing”, Brown says.
“I recently witnessed, first hand, many examples of the latest technological advances from around the globe at Intersolar in Munich. Manufacturers of panels, inverters and of course storage systems are investing heavily in improving functionality, capacity and efficiency and this will all result in better outcomes for our residential customers and commercial clients.”
“For example, we’re now using panels that have up to 25 years’ warranty and operate at 95 percent efficiency. The sorts of quality components that are coming through are really making solar a great proposition and the sophistication in technology is making it more affordable for a broader segment of the market,” he explains.
They’re also enabling operators like Solgen Energy Group to tailor solutions to businesses on a much larger scale.
“The benefit of having a group as broadly based as ours means we have a broad array of opportunities. For instance in the SME space we work with a lot of schools and many local councils across several States,” Brown says.
“We worked with the Redlands School, which is preschool to year 12, where we installed a 25KW system. At the time it was one of the largest installs in all Australian schools, so that will tell you how much times have changed in terms of the scale of projects now.”
Last year they also managed a major solar install for Tyrell’s Wines, which added a 350KW PV system to its site to generate almost 40 percent of the winery’s energy requirements.
“It was one of the first commercial solar installations under a Power Purchase Agreement in Australia and we’re very proud of it. New purchasing models for commercial solar are developing rapidly in the Australian market and we want to ensure we are at the forefront,” Brown says.
The NBN rollout provided another opportunity to demonstrate their expertise on large-scale projects, as Solgen successfully completed a contract to install 1.75kMW across many sites nationally.
Earlier this year, they also completed a large solar project at Adelaide Airport, installing just short of 1.2MW.
“It increased their solar power generation by 10 times and now every time you fly out of Adelaide Airport, you can see almost 4,500 panels glistening on the roof. Our bespoke design was quite leading edge for the industry and our guys did a fantastic job delivering that project.”
Solar storage: A new age in renewables
With plenty of projects both large and small behind them, Solgen are well aware of the next frontier to conquer in renewables, Brown confirms: energy storage.
At present, homeowners and businesses can harness the sun’s energy to power their immediate usage, but any energy they don’t immediately use is sent back to the grid, often for a nominal return.
Solar batteries, which offer the opportunity to capture and store unused energy for later use, are going to be the next game-changer in the industry, which is why Solgen are already trialling a number of products in this space.
“Storage is on everyone’s mind. We have a range of storage options that we’re trialing and testing. Some are batteries, but some are beyond that, and are focused more in relation to the way people manage their power,” Brown explains.
“The main thing that has slowed it down has been cost, but through our strong relationships with financing partners, for example our Classic Finance partnership servicing residential customers, we’re able to offer our customers a very real and solid solution in relation to being able to relieve the burden of a single capital outlay and still reap the financial benefits of solar.”
While there is a lot of activity in the solar storage space at present, Brown expects it will continue, “particularly over the next 12 months”.
“We’ve seen the introduction of the Tesla battery, which has been a very high profile entry in the market globally,” he adds. “We’ve started to put Tesla batteries on houses, which is very exciting.”
Their partnership with Tesla is one of many that is proving to be a mutual success, as Solgen has been successful in helping a number of key businesses across Australia in reaching impressive renewable energy targets.
For instance, they have a strong relationship with councils, including Gosford City Council and the City of Sydney.
At the latter, they have very ambitious energy targets of a 70% carbon reduction, and producing 25% of their energy needs from renewables, by 2030.
“We have a comprehensive relationship with them and we’ve installed solar solutions over 30 sites, including sporting grounds, community theatres and office blocks, to help them achieve these targets,” Brown says.
“There’s an array of projects like this that we’ve undertaken over the last couple of years that really display our broad range of engineering capabilities. But the great thing about the industry is that while the technology is extremely high tech, it’s getting better and better all the time. We’re leveraging our engineering expertise and our breadth across the country with a great team behind us to take an active role in the direction of the industry. As it matures, we intend to play our part – it’s definitely an exciting time to be in solar.”
Carbon dioxide removal revenues worth £2bn a year by 2030
Carbon dioxide removal revenues could reach £2bn a year by 2030 in the UK with costs per megatonne totalling up to £400 million, according to the National Infrastructure Commission.
Engineered greenhouse gas removals will become "a major new infrastructure sector" in the coming decades - although costs are uncertain given removal technologies are in their infancy - and revenues could match that of the UK’s water sector by 2050. The Commission’s analysis suggests engineered removals technologies need to have capacity to remove five to ten megatonnes of carbon dioxide no later than 2030, and between 40 and 100 megatonnes by 2050.
The Commission states technologies fit into two categories: extracting carbon dioxide directly out of the air; and bioenergy with carbon capture technology – processing biomass to recapture carbon dioxide absorbed as the fuel grew. In both cases, the captured CO2 is then stored permanently out of the atmosphere, typically under the seabed.
The report sets out how the engineered removal and storage of carbon dioxide offers the most realistic way to mitigate the final slice of emissions expected to remain by the 2040s from sources that don’t currently have a decarbonisation solution, like aviation and agriculture.
It stresses that the potential of these technologies is “not an excuse to delay necessary action elsewhere” and cannot replace efforts to reduce emissions from sectors like road transport or power, where removals would be a more expensive alternative.
The critical role these technologies will play in meeting climate targets means government must rapidly kick start the sector so that it becomes viable by the 2030s, according to the report, which was commissioned by government in November 2020.
Early movement by the UK to develop the expertise and capacity in greenhouse gas removal technologies could create a comparative advantage, with the prospect of other countries needing to procure the knowledge and skills the UK develops.
The Commission recommends that government should support the development of this new sector in the short term with policies that drive delivery of these technologies and create demand through obligations on polluting industries, which will over time enable a competitive market to develop. Robust independent regulation must also be put in place from the start to help build public and investor confidence.
While the burden of these costs could be shared by different parts of industries required to pay for removals or in part shared with government, the report acknowledges that, over the longer term, the aim should be to have polluting sectors pay for removals they need to reach carbon targets.
Polluting industries are likely to pass a proportion of the costs onto consumers. While those with bigger household expenditures will pay more than those on lower incomes, the report underlines that government will need to identify ways of protecting vulnerable consumers and to decide where in relevant industry supply chains the costs should fall.
Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sir John Armitt, said taking steps to clean our air is something we’re going to have to get used to, just as we already manage our wastewater and household refuse.
"While engineered removals will not be everyone’s favourite device in the toolkit, they are there for the hardest jobs. And in the overall project of mitigating our impact on the planet for the sake of generations to come, we need every tool we can find," he said.
“But to get close to having the sector operating where and when we need it to, the government needs to get ahead of the game now. The adaptive approach to market building we recommend will create the best environment for emerging technologies to develop quickly and show their worth, avoiding the need for government to pick winners. We know from the dramatic fall in the cost of renewables that this approach works and we must apply the lessons learned to this novel, but necessary, technology.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency estimate a global capacity for engineered removals of 2,000 to 16,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide each year by 2050 will be needed in order to meet global reduction targets.
Yesterday Summit Carbon Solutions received "a strategic investment" from John Deere to advance a major CCUS project (click here). The project will accelerate decarbonisation efforts across the agriculture industry by enabling the production of low carbon ethanol, resulting in the production of more sustainable food, feed, and fuel. Summit Carbon Solutions has partnered with 31 biorefineries across the Midwest United States to capture and permanently sequester their CO2 emissions.
Cory Reed, President, Agriculture & Turf Division of John Deere, said: "Carbon neutral ethanol would have a positive impact on the environment and bolster the long-term sustainability of the agriculture industry. The work Summit Carbon Solutions is doing will be critical in delivering on these goals."
McKinsey highlights a number of CCUS methods which can drive CO2 to net zero:
- Today’s leader: Enhanced oil recovery Among CO2 uses by industry, enhanced oil recovery leads the field. It accounts for around 90 percent of all CO2 usage today
- Cementing in CO2 for the ages New processes could lock up CO2 permanently in concrete, “storing” CO2 in buildings, sidewalks, or anywhere else concrete is used
- Carbon neutral fuel for jets Technically, CO2 could be used to create virtually any type of fuel. Through a chemical reaction, CO2 captured from industry can be combined with hydrogen to create synthetic gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel
- Capturing CO2 from ambient air - anywhere Direct air capture (DAC) could push CO2 emissions into negative territory in a big way
- The biomass-energy cycle: CO2 neutral or even negative Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage relies on nature to remove CO2 from the atmosphere for use elsewhere