In the present crisis of energy in the developing world, the harnessing of the solar energy has become urgency. The following is an interview with Mr. Ashar Aziz –Founder and Chairman, SkyElectric
PAGE: Why did you choose to start SkyElectric, and launch the Solar System in Pakistan, considering your long history of building global companies out of Silicon Valley, USA?
Ashar Aziz: I have spent the better part of my life as an entrepreneur, building products mostly for developed countries and the IT departments of the Global 2000. My last company, FireEye, is a global cybersecurity company, managing business globally, but primarily in the US, Europe and developed countries in Asia. However, as an entrepreneur who was born in the developing world, I was motivated to solve problems that are endemic to the developing world. The issues of the developing world are not sufficiently addressed by the entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley, California, where I have lived for most of my life.
My goal was to utilize Silicon Valley innovation and technology and apply it to some of the most pressing problems of the developing world. When I was pondering over the problem that I wanted to address, it became clear that the energy crisis of the developing world was one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. Solving the problem of chronic lack of power and also in a way that may be both reliable, affordable and may use clean sources of energy would be a tremendous endeavor to embark upon. So, this is what I am resolved to do.
PAGE: You have already established your credential in ICT Sector, please tell us briefly about your company SkyElectric?
Ashar Aziz: I am happy that after a tremendous collaboration between technical design and manufacturing resources in Silicon Valley, California and a software development team based in Pakistan, over many years, and after numerous years of development efforts, we have now launched the world’s most sophisticated and advanced solar and battery energy system in the cities throughout Pakistan. The company began development activities at the end of 2014 and finally launched the products in early 2017. We launched the company and product at an event in Islamabad in February 2017, and since then we have been very busy in sales, marketing, and product installation activities in cities throughout Pakistan.
SkyElectric is the first solar energy company which has experience towers all over Pakistan, where customers can get a live demonstration of the Smart Solar System. Customers’ queries regarding the installation and functioning of the solar system are entertained by technical staff present in the experience zone. We have now sold over a thousand systems in 30+ cities of Pakistan, including major cities i.e. Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. So far we have successfully deployed 4+ MW, and 16+ MW deployment is under execution, and our sales growth rate is doubling in every quarter.
PAGE: There are many companies which are working in the field of solar energy, what unique and different services are offered by SkyElectric?
Ashar Aziz: There are a number of key differentiators of our Smart Solar System as compared to commonly available solar systems. The first is the Smart Energy Inverter, which is a unique cloud-programmed inverter that combines the traditional functions of an inverter, namely converting solar DC to AC power, with unique Artificial Intelligence-based energy management that incorporates predictions about solar energy, grid outage schedules, and tariff structures, with the home load prediction. It uses this cloud AI updated knowledge to continuously compute and run optimize power management plan for the home or business. The second differentiator is Lithium-ion battery technology as compared to traditional gel lead-acid batteries. Lithium battery technology has a much longer life cycle as compared to commonly available battery technology. Gel or any other types of commonly available batteries have a shorter life cycle, which means they need frequent costly replacements. Lithium battery technology is slightly more expensive initially as compared to other battery technologies, but their much longer life, typically more than ten years, more than offsets the initial expense.
Lithium batteries have many other advantages as well, including a much more compact physical space requirement, and highly efficient storage of energy. In fact, the first two differentiators combine to provide a 3 to 5 times lower overall cost over the first ten years in comparison with commonly available solar systems that lack energy intelligence and use commonly available gel or dry batteries.
Moreover, the system gives complete visibility and control over all the energy sources of buildings, including the main grid, solar energy, and battery energy using a simple touch screen console and a smartphone app. Using and accessing your energy architecture is now as simple as using an app on your smartphone. Finally, while the system is easy to use and manage, it is still remotely monitored 24×7 over the Internet by a Network Operations Center (NOC) which always has a team of skilled technicians who can not only monitor the health and fault status of the system, but also can take remote corrective action proactively in case of any power related issues or faults. The remote monitoring team can also be reached 24×7 by phone or email or text messaging.
We believe non-stop power is a critical part of a business or residential system owner’s life, and that it should come not just with the best and most reliable technology, but also with the best customer service. For this reason, customer service was built into the product itself; via the continuous connection to the cloud for relaying system health and fault status and creating the sub-systems inside the system that allow for complete remote management over the Internet from our Network Operations Center (NOC). Due to the features mentioned above, SkyElectric has embarked now as the number one solar solution in the entire country.
PAGE: The experts in the field of energy have been underlining the importance of an energy crisis in the near future. How do you plan to meet this crisis with your services, especially in terms of integrating solar energy to housing needs?
Ashar Aziz: I believe that energy infrastructure build-up in Pakistan is a long journey, given increasing power demands and population size as a whole. So, from a national perspective, Pakistan needs to commission as many different energy projects as possible. My own preference, of course, is for a clean energy infrastructure, but in order to achieve economic prosperity much greater availability of energy is required, and the country needs to ensure that all economical energy projects are encouraged and also to ensure that the private sector is actively engaged in helping sort out the energy crisis.
I also believe that distributed rooftop solar coupled with intelligent energy storage and 24×7 remote internet monitoring is the right long-term architecture to solve the energy problem in developing countries. This is with all due respect to the people building large coal power plants. The reason is that central power generation will always have to deal with a loss-prone, theft-prone, and unreliable grid Transmission and Distribution (T&D) infrastructure. In developing countries, the losses on the grid T&D can easily reach 30 percent, which is a very high price to pay for T&D. While we will continue to innovate on our unique energy and battery management technology, the system is already more advanced than any solar and battery system anywhere in the world. So, our main focus for the future is to increase our market presence, primarily by embarking on an education and awareness campaign using all media channels available. Once people learn more about solar and battery technology, and especially its advanced manifestation in the SkyElectric Smart Solar System, they become enthusiastic adopters and persuaders of the system.
PAGE: Many think that the use of solar energy is quite expensive? What is your opinion and how can we use it in houses in the most economical way?
Ashar Aziz: A distributed rooftop-based solar system can bypass the Transmission and Distribution (T&D) grid and has zero percent losses and no distribution bottlenecks. And of course, it is easier to add energy intelligence and management at the scale of buildings as opposed to, at the scale of the entire country-sized grid. And with the kind of solar and battery technology we have pioneered, the per unit electricity cost is far cheaper and more reliable than any coal-based electricity production. This removes the last barriers for clean solar energy adoption, namely an affordable levelized cost of electricity (LCOE). In fact, our larger systems are more economical on a per-unit basis than the main grid itself. And all of our systems are cheaper than generators or commonly available solar systems on per unit basis. This takes into account the cost of the entire system, including solar panels, inverters, and battery packs. These systems pay for themselves over a period of 3-5 years and are far more economical and easier to manage as compared to diesel generators or even UP systems. So, the perception that solar is a more expensive solution is a dated perception, since modern Solar systems such as SkyElectric systems provide better economics than the main grid.