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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Headline crude prices for the week beginning 11 March 2019 – Brent: US$66/b; WTI: US$56/b
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In 2017, Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global – also known as the Oil Fund – proposed a complete divestment of oil and gas shares from its massive portfolio. Last week, the Norwegian government partially approved that request, allowing the Fund to exclude 134 upstream companies from the wealth fund. Players like Anadarko Petroleum, Chesapeake Energy, CNOOC, Premier Oil, Soco International and Tullow Oil will now no longer receive any investment from the Fund. That might seem like an inconsequential move, but it isn’t. With over US$1 trillion in assets – the Fund is the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world – it is a major market-shifting move.
Estimates suggest that the government directive will require the Oil Fund to sell some US$7.5 billion in stocks over an undefined period. Shares in the affected companies plunged after the announcement. The reaction is understandable. The Oil Fund holds over 1.3% of all global stocks and shares, including 2.3% of all European stocks. It holds stakes as large as of 2.4% of Royal Dutch Shell and 2.3% of BP, and has long been seen as a major investor and stabilising force in the energy sector.
It is this impression that the Fund is trying to change. Established in 1990 to invest surplus revenues of the booming Norwegian petroleum sector, prudent management has seen its value grow to some US$200,000 per Norwegian citizen today. Its value exceeds all other sovereign wealth funds, including those of China and Singapore. Energy shares – specifically oil and gas firms – have long been a major target for investment due to high returns and bumper dividends. But in 2017, the Fund recommended phasing out oil exploration from its ‘investment universe’. At the time, this was interpreted as yielding to pressure from environmental lobbies, but the Fund has made it clear that the move is for economic reasons.
Put simply, the Fund wants to move away from ‘putting all its eggs in one basket’. Income from Norway’s vast upstream industry – it is the largest producing country in Western Europe – funds the country’s welfare state and pays into the Fund. It has ethical standards – avoiding, for example, investment in tobacco firms – but has concluded that devoting a significant amount of its assets to oil and gas savings presents a double risk. During the good times, when crude prices are high and energy stocks booming, it is a boon. But during a downturn or a crash, it is a major risk. With typical Scandinavian restraint and prudence, the Fund has decided that it is best to minimise that risk by pouring its money into areas that run counter-cyclical to the energy industry.
However, the retreat is just partial. Exempt from the divestment will be oil and gas firms with significant renewable energy divisions – which include supermajors like Shell, BP and Total. This is touted as allowing the Fund to ride the crest of the renewable energy wave, but also manages to neatly fit into the image that Norway wants to project: balancing a major industry with being a responsible environmental steward. It’s the same reason why Equinor – in which the Fund holds a 67% stake – changed its name from Statoil, to project a broader spectrum of business away from oil into emerging energies like wind and solar. Because, as the Fund’s objective states, one day the oil will run out. But its value will carry on for future generations.
The Norway Oil Fund in a Nutshell