The pandemic push to pivot: The reality of a renewable energy leader

By Ko Chuan Zhen, Chief Executive Officer & Co Founder of Plus Solar,

The pandemic was an acid test for companies. Those that were meant to survive – did, and those that did not make the change – were knocked out, without fear nor favour. The pandemic was the kingpin that ruled how businesses must move or face a known end.

At Plus Solar, the pandemic taught us never to be comfortable in our own skin. Yet, ironically, it also taught us how to never waste a crisis. Reacting quickly made all the difference as we raced to ride the crisis. Looking back, the Covid-19 was a push factor for us to pivot and we have indeed come out tougher.

To sustain all 150 headcounts and four branches across Malaysia, we had accelerated our efforts in three main areas. Firstly people safety and security was prioritized, then business models were re-examined and an energy efficiency digital solution was developed, all whilst our management principles were unrelentlessly tried and tested.

  1. Keeping Our People Safe and Secure

Trust, passion, persistence. Core values that we insisted on when we looked for people to join our team. But were we, as employers, able to be trusted by our people in times like this? Were we able to keep our part of our deal – that the team could trust us and that they would have jobs?

To be ready to pivot, we understood that we need to keep the team’s wellbeing a top priority. We did not want to compromise their physical health and placed needful and stringent SOPs from the start.

Next was mental and emotional wellbeing, the management decided to bite the bullet, take the impact and announce that every person’s job was safe. Fortunately, we had our business fundamentals in place and were able to forecast some sustainability during the MCO. No jobs were removed nor salaries affected.

That immediately set the tone and pace – for the rest of our journey. The employees’ commitment soared at this time and we were able to harness great results as we worked together as a tight team with trust at its core.

  1. Optimising Solar FInancing Solutions To Help Bottom Lines

Businesses were struggling with high repayment of loans, running operational costs and shrinking cash reserves.

We talked to our clients who endured pressing pain points,  in specific from the commercial and manufacturing sectors that risk massive overheads. With this segment, the main costs that burden them were raw material, human capital and electricity.

We began to focus on the Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) model which is a zero upfront financing solution, backed by investors who were attracted to this low risk scheme. This solution helped our keen clients to lower energy costs without incurring capital expenses.

Our end goal was to optimise energy spending, yet allow for flexibility in terms of financial commitments as we understood a lot of companies were not able to afford solar investments during this time yet wanted to enjoy lower overheads and increased bottom lines.

We thus focused on solving their high energy or electricity cost by allowing them to utilise solar solutions without hefty upfront payments. Instead they were able to pay back in attractive installments that were equivalent or less than what they would pay to TNB. This was a winning formula as many had little to lose when desiring such a solution.

  1. Fitbits for Buildings – A Truly Smart Energy Solution

The pandemic was a blessing in disguise as it accelerated our digital path. Essentially, akin to a fitbit which tracks vitals such as steps taken, heart rate and sleep patterns, Plus Solar’s digital solution is akin to a heart monitor for a building. It is essentially an Energy Performance Management System (EPMS) which leverages sensors, IoT and AI to track, monitor and analyse energy usage and consumption in a building.

Statistics show that heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) costs can take up to 40% of a building’s consumption – a very considerable pain point.

Using a shopping centre as an easy example, air-conditioning often is not well optimised to suit shifting crowds. Shoppers may feel too hot in one area when it is crowded or too cold when there’s lower human traffic. This means cool air is insufficient in one case, and a wastage in the other.

Through the use of sensors and software which supports machine learning, the EPMS studies patterns and adapts preemptively to channel cool air where most needed and reduce its flow where redundant.

This solution can be used across many industries in more sophisticated settings, and to date, our customers have experienced up to 25% of operational energy savings in their HVAC, which can then be channelled to better usage and add to profitability.

The Storm will Pass and The Sun Will Rise

An upbeat young colleague of ours said this “The storm will pass, and the sun will rise.” And literally so for us here! Harnessing the sun in more efficient ways that people could reap from is the pulse that pivoted our direction in this stormy season.

We are aware that there is much pent up demand for renewable energy – the world is changing and we too must change. Many will look forth towards a liberalised renewable energy market in a digital world filled with never ending possibilities. We must reshape, refine, adapt and most importantly have faith in the process.

I am often left in awe of the capability, creativity and perseverance of the people in our team. I am inspired and believe that there are better days ahead with trust, respect, teamwork and persistence. Swimming in uncharted waters becomes possible when people build a net of resilience and strive together!

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