NrgEdge Editor

Sharing content and articles for users
Last Updated: November 22, 2017
1 view
Business Trends
image

Ko Chuan Zhen is the co-founder and executive director of Plus Solar Systems Sdn Bhd (+SOLAR), a solar company which believes in powering sustainable growth by offering world-class renewable energy solutions. 

uploads1511319766663-Chuan+Zhen+KO+-+Half.jpg

Ko Chuan Zhen, +SOLAR Co-Founder & Executive Director


  1. Tell us about your typical day at work. 
    Usually a week before, I would have already planned out my schedule for the coming week. So, my schedule would be fixed with agendas beforehand, just like this interview. For me, I would be quite focused with communications – internal communications and external communications.
    Internal communications consist of mainly discussions on internal strategies, from HR, marketing, operations etc. I would also spend some time to do “coffee sessions” with my colleagues. I will try to catch up with each of them, asking them how they’re doing, how they’re feeling, if there’s anything I can help them out with, or if there’s anything positive that they want to share. We have about 60 people now so I can still manage to do that quite well. I’m quite familiar with some of them and we don’t need to communicate as often, so I prefer to engage with the newcomers. It’s all about communication. And through communication, you get to listen, and you can also share what the company is doing, why we’re doing it and where we are heading. I think it’s important to get everyone aligned internally.
    In terms of external communications, this is more about networking and building relationships for the business. I like to participate in the sales meetings even though we have a business team, as this is actually part of my interest – I like mixing with different people.
    There’s no fixed timing for working hours in our company. Sometimes, I will be here by 7am, sometimes 9am, it depends on the situation. I find that morning time is the best time to work as it’s less busy. In the evenings, most of the time I would rather spend it with my family. In our company, there is flexi-hour. We leave it up to the employees to decide when to come in and when to leave. Some of them who are parents may come in a little late, but stay a little longer at work. Or there are some who leave at 5pm sharp. Ultimately, it depends on the results they produce. I find that it helps, if they have a sense of control in the work they’re doing, they won’t feel forced to go to work.

  2. You’ve been in the industry for about 10 years now. What was a milestone that was significant to you? Or if there was more than one, do share with us.
    In the first 4 years, I was attached to different companies, Sharp Solar and Phoenix Solar – and without these important experiences, Plus Solar would not have become a reality. I learned a lot in those companies and traveled to so many countries, more than 11 countries and over 20 cities. We developed solar-powered plants in South Africa, to New Zealand, and even Tahiti.
    During this time, the market for solar energy in Malaysia was quite bleak. But I was determined to stay in this industry and I knew that I had to wait for the right moment. And that moment was when the Malaysian government introduced Feed-in Tariff (FiT). That’s when I started my own business with Leaf Energy, then Plus Solar. It was challenging during the initial stage for myself and my co-founders (Ryan Oh & Poh Tyng Huei). Although I had some experience in the industry, I was only 27. When we approached our potential clients, they had doubts about our young company, but we proved with our positive track record that we had the capabilities and experience. And our company began to grow. We’re proud to say that some of the clients whom we engaged with in the early stage of our careers are still with us today.
    Another significant milestone which I think will be important to us in the future, is the realignment of the company foundation and culture which we are currently doing.

  3. As a startup company, what do you look for in a team member? What are the top 5 attributes that are important to you? 
    I can tie this back to our company values, which is being driven by Purpose, Passion and Persistence. We look for team members who know why they are here and understand their purpose. If you don’t know your purpose, then it’s best to figure that out before you join a company. It’s easier to align people when their purpose is the same as the company’s.
    I think there's a cycle – sometimes you may not have passion, but you know your purpose and you are persistent in making it work. When you achieve your goal, then perhaps you will find your passion in the end. Or perhaps when you’re persistent in doing something, you develop a passion for it, and finally discover your purpose.
    Secondly, teamwork is very important. We hire people who can gel with others, and we really look into the culture fit. We care a lot about our people, and we feel that there are times you need to be a leader, but you must also be able to follow.
    Thirdly, we look at those who embrace failure, evolve and excel. We appreciate those who have experienced failure in their lives before and were able to recover and progress from it. We won’t hire someone who can’t face failure, because here in the renewable energy industry, it’s a very new industry and we will always face failures and challenges. So, it’s important to bounce back and evolve from those failures.
    Fourthly, we value integrity, because we are a very transparent and open company. We don’t want to create or force rules to control people, instead we want them to behave in a manner that is ethical on their own. We don’t want to create a ‘factory’ mindset.
    Lastly, we look for that hunger in our team members. Perhaps a hunger to impact the society or hunger for knowledge. Myself and the co-founders, we have the hunger to change the way people use energy.

  4. Being a young business owner, what challenges did you face when you started the business at the age of 27? Was age an obstacle for you? 
    I did face that challenge because I was young, and the company had no background, but that was it. You might be lacking in terms of resources and knowledge but that can be overcome. It can also be an advantage to start a business at a young age, because you can accept more risk, be more energetic, and you can work nonstop with little to no rest (although now I can’t really do that anymore!). I don’t think age is an obstacle, because I believe that as long as you always do the right thing, do it professionally, have a deep knowledge in what you’re doing, and not try to lie to people, you will be successful.

  5. How has your professional network been important in getting you where you are today? Also, other than the workplace, where should one start building their professional network?
    Professional network is important. Some say it’s not about technology know-how. It’s know-who. I was a sales manager previously, so that’s where I started building my network. Networking is important because it’s all about the customer or potential customer. In fact you may end up becoming friends because of the relationship that you have built. From there, more and more people will be introduced through your network. You can build the trust and relationship with people through these physical connections, not just via Whatsapp or online media. That’s also important but you need to have the basics of physical networking. You need time to do this, and sincerity is also important.
    You can also build your network through networking sessions. For example, I attended a conference chaired by the Energy ministry recently, where they spoke about the future of energy in Malaysia and I met with a couple of important players in the industry. So I think online and offline networking are both quite important.

  6.  In your experience, what is the awareness level on Renewable Energy in Asia? 
    Now it’s much better compared to when I first started out in the industry. 10 year ago, whenever I mentioned solar energy, people would associate it with electronic-compliance. And now, people can tell the difference between solar photovoltaic (generate electricity through light) and solar thermal (generate hot water through heat). And they’re also aware about the Feed-in Tariff in which you can sell solar energy to TNB. In Asia, Thailand is well ahead of Malaysia in solar energy development. Philippines is growing very rapidly in the past few years. If you compare Malaysia with US and Europe, generally the awareness level is at 60% in Malaysia and in US or European market is at 70% - so the gap is not too far, it will just take time.

  7. You started from just 3 (you and the co-founders), and now you have almost 60 employees. Are there any expansion plans for your company? 
    Yes, we definitely have plans for expansion. We plan to set up more offices in Malaysia. Right now we have offices in Penang and KL, and we’ve also set up a regional office in Singapore. Our projects right now can be found all over Malaysia, excluding Sarawak. We are looking to have projects in Vietnam, Thailand, and Philippines.

  8. What are the challenges you’ve faced in this industry? How did you overcome them?
    We are running a sustainable business in a not quite sustainable way because of policy limitations. We are heavily reliant on policies and government incentives. Without policies in place, the business cannot run. But things are better now. Without the FiT, licensing or quota, we wouldn’t be able to run solar energy business because the price was high compared with TNB price. But now the price of solar energy has dropped the past few years, about 98% lower.
    Now we changed to a new policy called Net Energy Metering (NEM) or Self-Consumption. With this in place, you don’t really need to apply for subsidy from the government but this is more for tax benefits. To overcome these challenges, we work closely with the government and policy-makers in designing such policies to make this industry more sustainable.

  9. Where do you see the industry in the next 10-20 years? 
    I think there will be more self-sufficient energy sources. You may be able to build your own microgrid. From centralized power source, we may be going into decentralized power source. For centralized power source, the disadvantage is the emission energy loss is at 30%, which is quite substantial and inefficient. If you go for decentralized power source, for example you have your own micro grid and build your own solar energy source on your roof top, the way you conserve energy will be much more efficient. The empowerment of people to generate their own energy resources will be much higher than before. Renewable energy, clean energy will be smarter thanks to digital technology. Digitization will help with monitoring, controlling, and analysis of clean energy because then you’re able to use it in a more efficient way.

  10. In this day and age, new technologies are emerging faster than ever before. How is technology reshaping the work that you do?
    The changes in the energy industry is not that fast, compared to the retail industry which has evolved into online businesses. Energy industry is more challenging because there are infrastructure limitations. Large, established oil & gas businesses that have been in the industry for a while may have more resources and the infrastructure is owned by government. You can’t easily disrupt the infrastructure. It all takes time and persistence. Though now I think the progress will accelerate because the digital technology is much better and the grid is getting smarter.

  11. There have been recent studies and articles that say the youths, especially millennials, are not so keen to join the Oil & Gas sector. However, they might be keener on Renewable Energy, as they are becoming more environmentally conscious. Do you see a boom in Renewable Energy job market especially in Malaysia?
    Yes, there is a gradual boom in the job market. It used to be difficult to search for renewable energy companies. But now there is a bigger interest and demand in the industry. For example, we have someone who studied chemical engineering but had little interest in oil and gas industry. So she decided to explore and try working in a renewable energy company, and that’s how she ended up with us. I believe that youngsters nowadays prefer doing something more meaningful in their careers, rather than just focusing on the income aspect. Money is important, but they are also looking for ways to create a positive impact or contribute to the society, and they enjoy being involved in corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. We do encourage this in our company and as a matter of fact, one of our upcoming project involves a village where we will help power up some of the houses with solar energy and we’re quite excited about this.

  12. We all know what they say about all work and no play. What do you enjoy doing in your free time? 
    I really do enjoy my work, so I don’t quite draw the line between work and play. I found this quote that goes: “If you can find a job that you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” This quote changed my perspective. But in my free time, I like to read. I read about the business and the future trends. I also like to attend different events, mix with people from different industries such as IT, FMCG, etc. I enjoy finding out about different business perspectives. I like travelling. But sometimes when I’m travelling I also get ideas for the business! And I enjoy spending time with friends and watching movies.

  13. What is the one piece of advice you wish you knew when you started that you want the next generation of Energy, Oil & Gas professionals to know? 
    Always focus on 3 things. Know what is your passion, know what it is you like to do. Secondly, focus on your strength. You may like to sing, but it doesn’t mean you can sing well. Put more time to focus on your strength so you can be outstanding. If your strength is what you like to do, that’s good. Third, look at the market demand. If there’s a demand for it, you’re able to solve a problem. These 3 things are your foundation. Next, you need to choose which industry you’d like to venture further. And you should also understand the entire supply chain of that field so you can decide where you want to be.
    You should also ask these questions, if you’re an engineer. Do you want to be involved in business, become a Project engineer, or a Technical engineer? If you have no idea, I would recommend for you to start as a Technical engineer. If you have solid technical knowledge, you can move anywhere else. Your knowledge would be more valuable.
    For non-engineers, if you want to join the energy industry, you still need to know everything about the industry.
    For me, I knew that I wanted to be a Business type of engineer. But I started as a technical engineer and was very hands on, and I wanted to learn as much as I could to progress further as a business person.
    It all starts with your mind. Know ultimately where you want to go. You must always start with the end in mind. From there you can plan your career path.


Sign up on NrgEdge to read more articles like these and get connected with oil, gas and energy influencers!
Visit https://goo.gl/a36LfT

renewable energy solar power nrgtalk influencer interview
3
9 3

Something interesting to share?
Join NrgEdge and create your own NrgBuzz today

Latest NrgBuzz

Your Weekly Update: 18 - 22 March 2019

Market Watch

Headline crude prices for the week beginning 18 March 2019 – Brent: US$67/b; WTI: US$58/b

  • Global crude oil prices slipped at the start of the week, as OPEC and its OPEC+ allies met in Azerbaijan to discuss the state of the club’s oil output cuts
  • Crude oil prices had risen prior as on speculation that the OPEC+ group would extend its supply deal, but this was dashed when OPEC+ instead decided to defer a decision until June, scrapping a planned OPEC extraordinary meeting in April because it was ‘too soon to make a decision on extending oil-supply cuts’
  • Observed friction between Russia and Saudi Arabia over the cuts could be behind the delay; Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih is said to be in favour of continue supply reduction through 2019 while his Russian counterpart Alexander Novak said that uncertainty over Venezuela and Iran would ‘make it difficult’ to decide until May or June
  • Other OPEC members have also not expressed any more willingness to extend the cuts, and Saudi Arabia seems to be unusually focused on a united front, rather than strong-arming the rest of the gang to its own aims
  • Some reprieve could be coming for OPEC, as the US Energy Information Administration trimmed its 2019 output forecast by 110,000 b/d to 12.3 mmb/d, seeing a scale-back in smaller shale plays and the US Gulf of Mexico
  • Echoing this, the US active rig count declined for a fourth consecutive week, following up a 9 and 11 rig drop with the net loss of a single oil rig
  • A better prognosis on demand leading into the northern summer and faith that OPEC+ will continue to work towards preventing a major crude surplus from returning should keep crude prices trending higher. We are looking at a range of US$66-68/b for Brent and US$58-60/b for WTI

Headlines of the week

Upstream

  • Eni has announced a major oil discovery in Angola’s Block 15/06, with the Agogo prospect joining the Kalimba and Afoxé discoveries, adding some 450-650 million barrels of light oil in place to the block
  • ExxonMobil has delayed its US$1.9 billion, 75,000 b/d Aspen oil project as Canada’s Alberta province continues to grapple with the pipeline bottleneck that has caused a glut of production trapped in the inland province
  • Lukoil had hit a new milestone with the Vladimir Filanovsky field, which has now reached 10 million tons of crude oil supplied through the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC) system, transporting oil to the Black Sea for transport
  • ExxonMobil is looking to reduce field costs in its Permian Basin assets to about US$15/b, a highly-competitive target usually only seen in the Middle East
  • Eni and Qatar Petroleum have agreed to a farm-out agreement that will allow QP to take a 25.5% interest in Mozambique’s Block A5-A, joining other partners Sasol (25.5%) and Empresa Nacional de Hidrocarbonetos (15%)
  • Successive industrial action strikes have begun in the UK, affecting the Shetland Gas Plant and Total Alwyn, Dunbar and Elgin platforms in the North Sea
  • ADNOC has begun planning for an output drive at its Umm Shaif field, which would increase output at the giant field to 360,000 b/d

Midstream & Downstream

  • Shell is planning to restart the Wilhelmshaven refinery in Germany through a deal with terminal firm HES, which will re-convert the existing tank farm into a 260 kb/d refinery that will focus on producing IMO-mandated low sulfur fuels
  • Petronas is offering first oil products cargos from its 300 kb/d RAPID refinery in April, ahead of planned full commercial production in October 2019
  • Lukoil is now planning to invest some US$60 million in its 320 kb/d ISAB refinery in Augusta, Italy to produce high-quality, low-sulfur fuels to meet IMO standards, instead of selling it as previously considered in 2017
  • The Ugandan government has approved the technical proposal for the country’s first refinery in Kabaale, which will run on crude from the Albertine rift basin
  • Kenya expects to have the Lamu crude export terminal operational by the end of 2019, syncing with the start of Tullow Oil’s Kenyan oilfields

Natural Gas/LNG

  • The UK Onshore Oil and Gas body has published updated figures for UK onshore shale potential based on three test sites in north England, estimating that productivity could be at 5.5 bcf per well leading to annual gas production reaching 1.4 tcf by the early 2030s
  • Eni’s winning streak in Egypt continues, announcing a new gas discovery in the Nour 1 New Field Wildcat, which join its existing assets under evaluation there
  • Conrad Petroleum’s development plan for the Mako gas field in Indonesia has been approved by Indonesian authorities, paving way for development to start on the field with its estimated 276 bcf of recoverable resources
  • Ventures Global LNG is planning to double the capacity of its LNG projects – including the Calcasieu Pass and Plaquemines LNG sites in Louisiana – from 30 mtpa to a new 60 mtpa, having already booked all output from Calcasieu
  • Darwin LNG is set to choose the source of its backfill gas by the end of 2019, with the Barossa field more likely to be taken than the Evans Shoal field
March, 22 2019
Technology may be a game changer for future oil supply

Risk and reward – improving recovery rates versus exploration

A giant oil supply gap looms. If, as we expect, oil demand peaks at 110 million b/d in 2036, the inexorable decline of fields in production or under development today creates a yawning gap of 50 million b/d by the end of that decade.

How to fill it? It’s the preoccupation of the E&P sector. Harry Paton, Senior Analyst, Global Oil Supply, identifies the contribution from each of the traditional four sources.

1. Reserve growth

An additional 12 million b/d, or 24%, will come from fields already in production or under development. These additional reserves are typically the lowest risk and among the lowest cost, readily tied-in to export infrastructure already in place. Around 90% of these future volumes break even below US$60 per barrel.

2. pre-drill tight oil inventory and conventional pre-FID projects

They will bring another 12 million b/d to the party. That’s up on last year by 1.5 million b/d, reflecting the industry’s success in beefing up the hopper. Nearly all the increase is from the Permian Basin. Tight oil plays in North America now account for over two-thirds of the pre-FID cost curve, though extraction costs increase over time. Conventional oil plays are a smaller part of the pre-FID wedge at 4 million b/d. Brazil deep water is amongst the lowest cost resource anywhere, with breakevens eclipsing the best tight oil plays. Certain mature areas like the North Sea have succeeded in getting lower down the cost curve although volumes are small. Guyana, an emerging low-cost producer, shows how new conventional basins can change the curve. 


3. Contingent resource


These existing discoveries could deliver 11 million b/d, or 22%, of future supply. This cohort forms the next generation of pre-FID developments, but each must overcome challenges to achieve commerciality.

4. Yet-to-find

Last, but not least, yet-to-find. We calculate new discoveries bring in 16 million b/d, the biggest share and almost one-third of future supply. The number is based on empirical analysis of past discovery rates, future assumptions for exploration spend and prospectivity.

Can yet-to-find deliver this much oil at reasonable cost? It looks more realistic today than in the recent past. Liquids reserves discovered that are potentially commercial was around 5 billion barrels in 2017 and again in 2018, close to the late 2030s ‘ask’. Moreover, exploration is creating value again, and we have argued consistently that more companies should be doing it.

But at the same time, it’s the high-risk option, and usually last in the merit order – exploration is the final top-up to meet demand. There’s a danger that new discoveries – higher cost ones at least – are squeezed out if demand’s not there or new, lower-cost supplies emerge. Tight oil’s rapid growth has disrupted the commercialisation of conventional discoveries this decade and is re-shaping future resource capture strategies.

To sustain portfolios, many companies have shifted away from exclusively relying on exploration to emphasising lower risk opportunities. These mostly revolve around commercialising existing reserves on the books, whether improving recovery rates from fields currently in production (reserves growth) or undeveloped discoveries (contingent resource).

Emerging technology may pose a greater threat to exploration in the future. Evolving technology has always played a central role in boosting expected reserves from known fields. What’s different in 2019 is that the industry is on the cusp of what might be a technological revolution. Advanced seismic imaging, data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence, the cloud and supercomputing will shine a light into sub-surface’s dark corners.

Combining these and other new applications to enhance recovery beyond tried-and-tested means could unlock more reserves from existing discoveries – and more quickly than we assume. Equinor is now aspiring to 60% from its operated fields in Norway. Volume-wise, most upside may be in the giant, older, onshore accumulations with low recovery factors (think ExxonMobil and Chevron’s latest Permian upgrades). In contrast, 21st century deepwater projects tend to start with high recovery factors.

If global recovery rates could be increased by a percentage or two from the average of around 30%, reserves growth might contribute another 5 to 6 million b/d in the 2030s. It’s just a scenario, and perhaps makes sweeping assumptions. But it’s one that should keep conventional explorers disciplined and focused only on the best new prospects. 


Global oil supply through 2040 


March, 22 2019
ConocoPhillips vs PDVSA - Round 2

Things just keep getting more dire for Venezuela’s PDVSA – once a crown jewel among state energy firms, and now buried under debt and a government in crisis. With new American sanctions weighing down on its operations, PDVSA is buckling. For now, with the support of Russia, China and India, Venezuelan crude keeps flowing. But a ghost from the past has now come back to haunt it.

In 2007, Venezuela embarked on a resource nationalisation programme under then-President Hugo Chavez. It was the largest example of an oil nationalisation drive since Iraq in 1972 or when the government of Saudi Arabia bought out its American partners in ARAMCO back in 1980. The edict then was to have all foreign firms restructure their holdings in Venezuela to favour PDVSA with a majority. Total, Chevron, Statoil (now Equinor) and BP agreed; ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips refused. Compensation was paid to ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips, which was considered paltry. So the two American firms took PDVSA to international arbitration, seeking what they considered ‘just value’ for their erstwhile assets. In 2012, ExxonMobil was awarded some US$260 million in two arbitration awards. The dispute with ConocoPhillips took far longer.

In April 2018, the International Chamber of Commerce ruled in favour of ConocoPhillips, granting US$2.1 billion in recovery payments. Hemming and hawing on PDVSA’s part forced ConocoPhillips’ hand, and it began to seize control of terminals and cargo ships in the Caribbean operated by PDVSA or its American subsidiary Citgo. A tense standoff – where PDVSA’s carriers were ordered to return to national waters immediately – was resolved when PDVSA reached a payment agreement in August. As part of the deal, ConocoPhillips agreed to suspend any future disputes over the matter with PDVSA.

The key word being ‘future’. ConocoPhillips has an existing contractual arbitration – also at the ICC – relating to the separate Corocoro project. That decision is also expected to go towards the American firm. But more troubling is that a third dispute has just been settled by the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes tribunal in favour of ConocoPhillips. This action was brought against the government of Venezuela for initiating the nationalisation process, and the ‘unlawful expropriation’ would require a US$8.7 billion payment. Though the action was brought against the government, its coffers are almost entirely stocked by sales of PDVSA crude, essentially placing further burden on an already beleaguered company. A similar action brought about by ExxonMobil resulted in a US$1.4 billion payout; however, that was overturned at the World Bank in 2017.

But it might not end there. The danger (at least on PDVSA’s part) is that these decisions will open up floodgates for any creditors seeking damages against Venezuela. And there are quite a few, including several smaller oil firms and players such as gold miner Crystallex, who is owed US$1.2 billion after the gold industry was nationalised in 2011. If the situation snowballs, there is a very tempting target for creditors to seize – Citgo, PDVSA’s crown jewel that operates downstream in the USA, which remains profitable. And that would be an even bigger disaster for PDVSA, even by current standards.

Infographic: Venezuela oil nationalisation dispute timeline

  • 2003 – National labour strikes cripple Venezuela’s oil industry
  • 2005 – Hugo Chavez begins a re-nationalisation drive
  • 2007 – Oil re-nationalisation, PDVSA to have at least 50% of all projects
  • 2008 – ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips launch dispute arbitration
  • 2012 – ExxonMobil awarded damages from PDVSA
  • 2014 – ExxonMobil awarded damages from government of Venezuela
  • 2018 – ConocoPhillips awarded damages from PDVSA
  • 2019 – ConocoPhillips awarded damages from government of Venezuela
March, 21 2019