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In this episode of the PowerPulse podcast series, Deerosh Maharaj, Senior Manager for Natural Resources, Power, and Sustainable Solutions at Standard Bank, joins Alec Hogg to provide more detail on how PowerPulse can benefit its clients. PowerPulse is a new digital platform introduced by Standard Bank that provides alternative energy solutions by connecting clients with appropriate power suppliers. Maharaj says that there are three main benefits to this platform. Firstly, it addresses the challenges that clients experience when they [are] looking to enter this alternate energy environment. Secondly, it solves possible funding issues they may face, and lastly, it simplifies the technical, legal, and regulatory components of this environment. “Essentially what it does is it takes the client from that area where there are a lot of unknowns and equips them so that they are placed into the driver’s seat of this journey,” he says. – Claire Badenhorst
Deerosh Maharaj on Eskom and the need to find other power solutions:
That is why over these past few years in development around the sector, the bank’s kept a very keen eye on how it can step into the role of providing and supporting clients in that journey of reducing their reliance on the grid and on moving into that sustainable environment as well in their operational capacity.
On why big businesses can’t afford to have an interrupted power supply:
It’s the age-old challenge that a business will face when they’re looking at power and it’s through two levers. One is obviously the uninterrupted supply that you mentioned. So you have businesses that need to keep their processes running and especially when you’re talking about big organisations that have manufacturing concerns, foundries, you know, you cannot sometimes fully quantify what effect an interruption power would have on their bottom line, ultimately. So uninterrupted power supply is one lever, but the other lever is obviously security in cost and that’s another mechanism that we’ve seen the business case for solar PV being strengthened through. I don’t think any of us are strangers to the escalations we’ve seen over the past 10 years.
On the pricing of solar PV:
Solar PV is quite a strong contender in that regard. So when you look at the development of the technology, around five years ago, the technology itself was entering what we would refer to as a commercially mature product offering in the market. In specific applications and specific scenarios, it was able to compete fairly well in comparison to grid power. Over this period of time, what we’ve seen develop is the entire technology itself has revolutionised in terms of the output that you’re able to produce per square meter.
The cost has also improved quite dramatically and quite a bit in support of this narrative that we are discussing. So in current day, if you were to take any grid-tied around the country, more than 99% of the time, you’re bound to get a benefit. And whenever we speak, we speak about tier one top-tier equipment. So we’re not speaking about budget equipment. We’re talking about the stuff that solar farms, large utility scale farms are made of. So even at that level of quality, it still competes extremely well with grid power.
On how PowerPulse assists its clients:
The challenges that clients face mainly from a sustainability perspective – being the uninterrupted supply of power as well as the cost security aspects of power – PowerPulse has been developed mainly to address the challenges that a client experiences when they [are] looking to enter this alternate energy environment and consider solutions from that for their businesses. So we’ve done quite a bit of work towards the end of 2019. We started to realise that there’s a lot of opportunity to deliver value to clients. However, the industry reputation was starting to suffer a lot of damage and that’s because there’s low barriers to entry when it comes to solution providers and because this is very much a gold rush environment. And that’s what we refer to it as, especially in the small-scale embedded generation environment. You see solution providers entering the market across the spectrum. So you have highly credible solution providers but at the same time, a majority of that pool are guys that are not actually equipped to deliver a credible solution. So while there’s a lot of value to be delivered, we often see that clients are not receiving that value. In many cases, their experience is not so positive. So that’s the one factor.
The second factor is that when the client does enter the environment and even if they are dealing with a credible operator or three or four credible operators in this space, they tend to find themselves in a thick fog because the main challenges they face are around the funding environment. So how do you procure funding for these solutions? A few years ago, even Standard Bank was not able to wrap their minds around this thoroughly, and we’ve come a long way in that regard in understanding how to actually solution from a funding perspective.
The technical components of these solutions are also difficult for the client to understand, especially if energy is not core to their business – if they’re not in the energy business. The legal and regulatory environment can also be quite challenging for clients to understand. So fair enough. You may be with a credible operator, but you may not feel like you’re in the driver’s seat as such and that’s what has informed the development of PowerPulse.
So as I mentioned, around the end of 2019, we pulled a number of stakeholders across the value chain, from the regulator to the municipalities to Eskom as well as clients and solution providers into a forum, and we had a discussion and unpacked what the pain points are. That’s what’s guided us to providing this digital solution. Essentially what it does is it takes the client from that area where there are a lot of unknowns and equips them so that they are placed into the driver’s seat of this journey.
On the fact that it is an online platform:
It is accessible online. So the platform has gone live. We have launched in a very controlled environment at this point in time because we are testing the platform with a few selected customers from our existing client base. But it soon will be live and open to market.
On only using credible operators:
We once again thought of that entire ecosystem to understand how each player contributes a part. The major challenge here is that while you may get very credible products being produced by the major OEMs – so the panels and the inverters may be very reputable products – the implementation of that technology, how it’s actually put together is a critical component. So you need to have the relevant expertise, the relevant track record, and the technical know-how is a huge ingredient in getting the finished product. So that’s something that we pay a lot of attention to, and we’ve realised very early in this journey that because you don’t have the assurance that you have when you’re purchasing a motor vehicle, as an example, we have to put in checks and balances to ensure that firstly, if our clients came to us, we could refer them to solution providers that we’re comfortable with, that have the technical expertise, the track record, as well as the visions and values that align with that of the bank in terms of what we want to deliver to our clients. That has been integrated into the PowerPulse experience.
On how it works:
So essentially the client will come on to a digital interface and without any necessary interaction or face-to-face interaction with anyone. There is a concierge team that sits in the background that does support the platform, so for the human touch that is still available or present. However, what we found was that clients would probably find it a lot more effective if they could come onto a platform, register a profile, and with information that they have at their fingertips, already receive or experience a learning moment or an up-skilling or a sharing of knowledge that places them in that driver’s seat from the outset. So what happens with PowerPulse is that the client then is able to do that.
They create a login on the platform. It allows them to then select a site or several sites to create a project or a process for each site and with the information that’s available to them, the system runs a process in the background. There’s an algorithm that runs and then produces a report and essentially that would equate to what many solution providers would refer to as a desktop analysis. What it does to the client is that instead of presenting them with what they would traditionally encounter as a sales pitch, it presents them with facts and figures and an education on what they actually need to look out for when they [are] entering this environment.
On pairing clients with appropriate providers:
What happens is, at that point that the client has engaged with the platform and entered that information and received that report, the client then is given the option to be introduced to these solution providers. So the platform has launched with eight of our trusted solution providers at this point in time. In total, we have a panel of around 40 of them, but we’ve selected what we deem the top eight that we’ve walked a certain journey with. Essentially the client then, if they opt to be introduced to service providers, would be introduced to three of the most appropriate service providers for their need and through the platform, they would be able to facilitate a site visit and then each of the solution providers would go out, carry out a more detailed inspection and get a thorough understanding of what the energy need is and provide a detailed proposal then back to the platform.
The client would then be able to download the actual solutions that’s been proposed by each of the solution providers. But what the platform also does is that it pulls key information from each of those proposals into a comparison report and that report then further equips the client and gives them that apples-to-apples comparison on the key factors that were highlighted in the first process. So it just equips the client a lot better and it facilitates that handholding in uncertain territory to get to the correct solution.
On feedback from clients so far:
We went live a couple of weeks ago. So the first 20 clients have been taken through the process. 15 of them are at the final proposal stage, and we’re very close to getting the first order, I believe, but thus far the feedback from clients has been overwhelming. I think that we [are] in the very early stage[s] of the platform, but we’ve received quite positive feedback in that regard, in that the platform’s on the right track to deliver what we want clients to enjoy from this environment.
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