Matthew Peloso is a highly-driven entrepreneur whose goal is to establish commercial solutions using technology for a better world.
1. Being named as one of the most innovative companies in 2016 by Fast Company, was surely a proud moment for you and Sun Electric. What is your advice for start-ups and entrepreneurs embarking in the solar industry business?
Be different, really different. Solve real problems. Bring industry problems close to you. Listen to your customers, and get ready for a marathon. Entrepreneurship isn’t a sprint.
2. Do you subscribe to a motto or philosophy in work/personal life?
This has changed a lot from when I started my entrepreneurship journey in 2012. I used to think that I could change the energy industry with innovation – and I was motivated a lot through the potential in knowing that I was doing the right thing, advancing and improving power for consumers and the future power sector. Through this period, I have come to learn that I can’t work through this on my own. I know now that it takes a group to work ahead on the advancement of the energy sector. It is up to us to see the benefits. Through this, I have learnt that we need to be objective and rational in the development of work and life.
3. You’ve been in the solar industry for several years now. Is there a significant achievement or milestone for you personally or for the company?
All around the world, the electricity sector has traditionally been heavily regulated. Despite the barriers to entry in a heavily regulated market, Sun Electric has made a lot of progress on its milestones. To date, we have sealed more than 32 MWp of solar projects in Singapore, allowing previously-underutilised roof spaces in Singapore to generate clean energy for their city. An increasing number of local businesses have taken up clean energy packages from Sun Electric which source their power from their own city’s rooftops. Companies big and small can now play their part for the environment and their city, while saving money off the electricity tariff and making money from their rooftops.
In addition, in June 2017, Sun Electric won the first SolarRoof contract from JTC, Singapore’s leading agency for industrial infrastructure. This 15-20 year contract will allow Sun Electric to install solar panels on the rooftops of 27 JTC buildings and export the solar energy for other users connected to them through the power grid, meaning we have succeeded in marking a new disruptive business model that is transforming the power market. Under existing solar leasing models, power generated primarily served only the building forcing rooftops out of utilisation. The new business model will allow Sun Electric to generate an additional 5 MWp of solar-generated electricity with JTC connecting users across cities. To solve that problem, instead of buildings, we think cities – and that is making all the difference.
4. If you were not doing what you’re currently doing now in the solar industry, what other career option do you think you might have pursued?
Before I set up Sun Electric, I was starting to explore career options in the legal industry and would have been involved in patent law and innovation inside a technology business. I had been a consultant for entrepreneurs, helping them look at ways to register intangible assets or develop them. I was also out in the solar industry looking for work in technology development. Luckily for me, no one made me an offer and I got to become an entrepreneur with the potential to transform the energy sector.
5. The energy industry is in transition at the moment. From the use of hydrocarbons to cleaner renewable energy options. What are your thoughts about when the demand for oil and gas will peak? 2025, 2030, 2035, 2040?
It is notoriously difficult to predict the demand for oil and gas. However, what is driving volumes in the renewable sector is a mix of continued support with the implementation of larger scale installations and price reduction. Outside of the transport sector, oil may already see its peak while gas and renewables come into the mix. However, the demand for gas would not disappear right away. Realistically, renewables cannot cover 100% of what you need unless there are dramatic improvements in storage capacity, so we work towards creating an achievable goal. We believe that most cities (in particular, densely populated cities) can generate about 10% of their power needs from their own rooftops and we are enabling this realistic target through the SolarSpaceTM platform for smart cities. We think setting something achievable is important for our world to look seriously at the renewable power industry to provide the largest benefits to electricity consumers.
6. As Sun Electric expands its presence globally (USA, Australia, Japan, and the Philippines), you will be planning to increase your workforce. What type of skills or characteristics are you looking for in a team member?
Given the heavily regulated nature of the power sector, it requires people with the discipline and patience to navigate through the dense thicket of regulations and the inertia of the sector. At the same time, we require creative individuals with the foresight to see through a new era of energy and to continue innovating. It is a tough mix to balance both skillsets required.
7. Can you tell us the biggest challenges Sun Electric has faced so far, and how did you overcome them?
Given that the energy/utilities sector has always been tightly regulated and that consumers are used dealing with the incumbents, the challenge we face is to give consumers the impetus to switch from their legacy power providers, and to challenge their conceptions around access to clean energy.
8. As Singapore is space constrained, do you see an emerging demand and market for offshore solar farms developing here?
There is some potential demand, which is essentially facilitated by the government. However, the focus on rooftops is still quite important as there are still so many under-utilised rooftops! I believe expertise developed here is much more important in terms of the evolution of the power sector than in offshore solar farms and focusing on rooftop solar provides our firm with capabilities which are significantly scalable and less expensive. Future cities will incorporate energy generating infrastructure within their own architecture. We don’t need to go far from the city to get power from our environment. It is right here already.
9. Other than in Singapore, where else do you think in Asia, has seen significant growth in the solar industry?
Apart from solar energy, Asia has access to multiple renewable energy options including wind, geothermal and hydro. Asia is also home to many densely-populated cities (e.g. Jakarta, Manilla, Bangkok) where demand for energy is high, putting a strain on the nation’s grid and creating the need for a renewable source of energy. However due to space constraints and lack of infrastructure, not all renewable energy sources are feasible.
Solar energy, we believe, remains the most viable renewable energy option for cities across Asia. Our business model has the potential to overcome the challenges faced by densely populated cities, such as space constraints and addresses limitations of intermittent power supply, as the solar-generated power is fully integrated with the grid. We believe that Sun Electric will facilitate the widespread adoption of solar energy, not only in Singapore but in these densely-populated cities across Asia.
10. Where do you see the industry in the next 10-20 years?
We expect major advancements in energy storage capacity (battery) to happen in the next 3-5 years. Tesla recently constructed one of the world’s biggest battery, the size of an American football field, in South Australia to address the country’s energy woes. If the technology proves to be sustainable, this would ease the problem of intermittency - solar will be able to serve not only as a peaking power resource but also be a source of base load power which is currently incapable of doing so. This will potentially change the future of energy globally. Improvements in data connectivity will be a big impetus for new energy technologies. The potential of this will be further enhanced when regulators open up the information systems architecture that traditional utilities companies have access to, to newer and more innovative companies in the power sector.
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According to 2018 data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) for newly constructed utility-scale electric generators in the United States, annual capacity-weighted average construction costs for solar photovoltaic systems and onshore wind turbines have continued to decrease. Natural gas generator costs also decreased slightly in 2018.
From 2013 to 2018, costs for solar fell 50%, costs for wind fell 27%, and costs for natural gas fell 13%. Together, these three generation technologies accounted for more than 98% of total capacity added to the electricity grid in the United States in 2018. Investment in U.S. electric-generating capacity in 2018 increased by 9.3% from 2017, driven by natural gas capacity additions.
The average construction cost for solar photovoltaic generators is higher than wind and natural gas generators on a dollar-per-kilowatt basis, although the gap is narrowing as the cost of solar falls rapidly. From 2017 to 2018, the average construction cost of solar in the United States fell 21% to $1,848 per kilowatt (kW). The decrease was driven by falling costs for crystalline silicon fixed-tilt panels, which were at their lowest average construction cost of $1,767 per kW in 2018.
Crystalline silicon fixed-tilt panels—which accounted for more than one-third of the solar capacity added in the United States in 2018, at 1.7 gigawatts (GW)—had the second-highest share of solar capacity additions by technology. Crystalline silicon axis-based tracking panels had the highest share, with 2.0 GW (41% of total solar capacity additions) of added generating capacity at an average cost of $1,834 per kW.
Total U.S. wind capacity additions increased 18% from 2017 to 2018 as the average construction cost for wind turbines dropped 16% to $1,382 per kW. All wind farm size classes had lower average construction costs in 2018. The largest decreases were at wind farms with 1 megawatt (MW) to 25 MW of capacity; construction costs at these farms decreased by 22.6% to $1,790 per kW.
Compared with other generation technologies, natural gas technologies received the highest U.S. investment in 2018, accounting for 46% of total capacity additions for all energy sources. Growth in natural gas electric-generating capacity was led by significant additions in new capacity from combined-cycle facilities, which almost doubled the previous year’s additions for that technology. Combined-cycle technology construction costs dropped by 4% in 2018 to $858 per kW.
Fossil fuels, or energy sources formed in the Earth’s crust from decayed organic material, including petroleum, natural gas, and coal, continue to account for the largest share of energy production and consumption in the United States. In 2019, 80% of domestic energy production was from fossil fuels, and 80% of domestic energy consumption originated from fossil fuels.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) publishes the U.S. total energy flow diagram to visualize U.S. energy from primary energy supply (production and imports) to disposition (consumption, exports, and net stock additions). In this diagram, losses that take place when primary energy sources are converted into electricity are allocated proportionally to the end-use sectors. The result is a visualization that associates the primary energy consumed to generate electricity with the end-use sectors of the retail electricity sales customers, even though the amount of electric energy end users directly consumed was significantly less.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review
The share of U.S. total energy production from fossil fuels peaked in 1966 at 93%. Total fossil fuel production has continued to rise, but production has also risen for non-fossil fuel sources such as nuclear power and renewables. As a result, fossil fuels have accounted for about 80% of U.S. energy production in the past decade.
Since 2008, U.S. production of crude oil, dry natural gas, and natural gas plant liquids (NGPL) has increased by 15 quadrillion British thermal units (quads), 14 quads, and 4 quads, respectively. These increases have more than offset decreasing coal production, which has fallen 10 quads since its peak in 2008.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review
In 2019, U.S. energy production exceeded energy consumption for the first time since 1957, and U.S. energy exports exceeded energy imports for the first time since 1952. U.S. energy net imports as a share of consumption peaked in 2005 at 30%. Although energy net imports fell below zero in 2019, many regions of the United States still import significant amounts of energy.
Most U.S. energy trade is from petroleum (crude oil and petroleum products), which accounted for 69% of energy exports and 86% of energy imports in 2019. Much of the imported crude oil is processed by U.S. refineries and is then exported as petroleum products. Petroleum products accounted for 42% of total U.S. energy exports in 2019.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review
The share of U.S. total energy consumption that originated from fossil fuels has fallen from its peak of 94% in 1966 to 80% in 2019. The total amount of fossil fuels consumed in the United States has also fallen from its peak of 86 quads in 2007. Since then, coal consumption has decreased by 11 quads. In 2019, renewable energy consumption in the United States surpassed coal consumption for the first time. The decrease in coal consumption, along with a 3-quad decrease in petroleum consumption, more than offset an 8-quad increase in natural gas consumption.
EIA previously published articles explaining the energy flows of petroleum, natural gas, coal, and electricity. More information about total energy consumption, production, trade, and emissions is available in EIA’s Monthly Energy Review.
Principal contributor: Bill Sanchez
It was an innocuous set of words published in a newspaper in Germany on Sunday. “I hope the Russian do not force us to change our position on Nord Stream 2”, the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was quoted as saying. A day after that, Angela Merkel also issued a single sentence: “The German Chancellor agrees with the Foreign Minister’s comments from the weekend.” Simple words with a bold message. And potentially devastating consequences.
The incident that hardened the hearts of Germany , which had become increasingly isolated over the issue of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline that connects Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea, was the hospitalisation of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Airlifted to Berlin following a medically-induced coma, German doctors concluded that Navalny, who is no stranger to intimidation tactics by the Putin government, was the victim of the Novichok nerve agent. If that name sounds familiar, that’s because it made headlines in 2018 over the attempted assassination of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, UK. A lethal nerve agent developed in the 1970s in Soviet Russia, Novichok is among the deadliest poisons ever developed and is banned under the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The Kremlin, predictably, denies involvement in the alleged poisoning, dismissing the German allegations as untrue.
That this could be the straw that broke the Nord Stream 2 back is perhaps surprising. The Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline has survived many obstacles. Many, many obstacles. The sequel to the original 1,222km Nord Stream that was inaugurated in November 2011, Nord Stream 2 will add 1,230km more pipeline between Vyborg in Russia and Lubin in Germany, with nearly all of the entire 2,452km length already being laid. Championed by former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and inherited by Merkel, the Nord Stream pipelines were developed to meet Germany’s growing energy demand, as it moved away from burning coal and nuclear fission. However, it has attracted criticism from many quarters. From Germany’s neighbours including Poland, Denmark and Estonia concerned over the pipeline that passes through their waters. From the EU, concerned about making Germany too energy dependent from a ‘politically unreliable’ country. From the US, which has threatened and, indeed, imposed sanctions on companies involved in the project. Some would argue that the vociferous US involvement, championed by President Donald Trump is self-serving, meant to allow US energy exports to muscle in, but it still fits neatly into Germany’s Russian dependence issue.
Throughout all this drama, Angela Merkel has stood firm. She, and her centre-right party CDU, have supported Nord Stream somewhat unenthusiastically with the primary concerns being the business element. It will unravel Germany’s plans to become a natural gas hub, as it tries to drive an EU movement towards cleaner energy. Many of Germany’s largest companies, include petrochemicals giant BASF and its energy arm Wintershall are also heavily invested in Nord Stream and the raw gas it will bring. It would also be a reputational risk to pull the plug on a project that is almost complete and set to be launched by the year’s end, and still leaves the critical question on how Germany will be able to address its energy deficit.
The business argument has overridden political concerns so far. But now a moral imperative has arisen through the attempted murder of Alexei Navalny, with his subsequent medical treatment in Berlin. This resonates in Germany particularly, since the country understands the historical consequences of authoritarian governments and the dangers it bring. The shifting of the political landscape, especially the rise of the Green Party has triggered a ferocious debate with high-ranking politicians from both the left and right calling for the project to be scrapped. Some are even arguing that Nord Stream 2 gas supply is no longer necessary, as the country’s energy requirements are now fundamentally shifting in a post-Covid 19 world.
If, and that is a very big if, the Nord Stream 2 is scrapped, that is at least US$9.4 billion down the drain and plenty more in collateral damage from peripheral activities. It will rock the boat when the usual Merkel instinct is to steady it. But the furore over an attempted assassination by one of the world’s deadliest methods no less, might be a stand that Germany is willing to take. After all, it knows first-hand the effects of an iron fist. Berlin has so far stood alone in advancing Nord Stream 2, even after the chorus of critics surrounding it grow louder and louder. If it were to kill the project, Germany could find plenty of supporters for that move and would be more than happy to offer themselves up as a role to scupper this ship. The options are varied, but one question remains that will influence the whole issue: how is Angela Merkel willing to go to take a stand over democratic ideals or business reality?
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