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Daniel Zywietz, CEO, Enerwhere
Dubai-based Enerwhere installed the world’s largest solar power rental facility in Abu Dhabi. The company's CEO, Daniel Zywietz, chats with PV Insider about the rental concept and how it has proven ideal for remote construction sites across the UAE.
Q: Enerwhere has been providing off-grid solar-diesel hybrid solutions since 2012. What kind of demand have you seen for your systems so far?
A: The demand has actually surpassed our expectations. In the UAE market alone there are hundreds of megawatts (MW) in capacity of diesel generators that are powering off-grid customers, and nearly all of whom would rather use solar instead. We are now working on converting a significant pipeline of identified projects, largely in the UAE.
Q: Which applications and industries have benefitted the most from your solutions?
A: This being the UAE, the biggest beneficiary of our modular mobile solar power plants is the construction industry. It has the greatest demand for off-grid power. Currently, every construction site and most labour camps, concrete batching plants, and similar facilities in the UAE are powered by diesel generators.
Q: Enerwhere recently supplied its solar-diesel generators to construction sites and labour accommodations in the UAE. What did these projects entail?
A: One project on a remote construction site on one of Dubai’s World Islands was installed and producing 100% solar power in less than six weeks after the order. It was our first 25 kWp system which we put together over the Christmas holidays 2013.
Our largest project is the Saadiyat Accommodation Village (SAV), a labour accommodation facility on Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat island, where Enerwhere manages power supply of 4.5 MW total capacity (solar and hybrid). It is the largest solar power rental project in the world.
With 8,000 workers, the complexity of the project was not to be underestimated: multiple feeds, varying voltage levels, and multiple transmission lines to connect the generator plants and the solar field. We solved for the challenge of synchronizing multiple diesel generators with the solar plant at full, summer peak-load conditions. The results include fuel savings of over 23% for the customer even taking into account high nighttime power usage.
Q: What kind of cost savings can be made by switching to a solar-diesel generator?
A: We typically save our customers 20% to 50% of diesel consumption depending on their specific power needs. With typical rental contracts of two to three years, this can translate into significant cost savings of at least 10-15% for the client.
Q: What about the payback period?
A: We generally offer our systems on a rental or power purchase agreement basis, so that clients can start saving cost as soon as the system is installed on their site. In the cases where we do sell a system to a customer who wants a permanent installation, we work with our customers to target a payback time of about 4 years.
Q: How do you extend the operation of your off-grid solar-diesel generators to 24 hours?
A: We engineer and design our solar power plants to synchronize with conventional high-efficiency diesel generators. This guarantees full power availability day and night with a view on optimizing the use between diesel and solar power sources. The company has invested significantly in R&D and field engineering to perfect this system under tough, actual operational conditions in the Middle East.
Q: Enerwhere is the first company in the region to provide commercial and industrial-scale solar power on a rental basis. Can you tell us about this business model and how successful it has been? Do you also sell the units?
A: This is a region where the installed solar power capacity is underpenetrated compared to other markets such as Europe, the US or China and where customers are starting to get excited about solar power.
Our customers can install solar power solutions without having to invest their own money upfront. They can either rent the solar power plant from us or, as most do, buy power from through a purchase agreement. We do occasionally sell the units, which are simple, reliable and quick to install.
Q: What are the minimum and maximum installation capacities that can be provided through your solar-diesel generators?
A: Our power plants can start at 25 kWp (kilowatt peak) capacity. We can scale up our plants into much larger systems, in the megawatt scale, to meet commercial and industrial requirements power.
Q: How has the partnership with Yingli Solar benefited Enerwhere? Are you considering similar collaborations in the near future?
A: We have a number of important partnerships across the value chain. Enerwhere’s relationship with Yingli began early in Enerwhere’s history when they worked with us to improve the transportability and logistics footprint of their modules. Yingli now sees us as an important source of new sales in the region thanks to our leading position in this rapidly growing market segment.
We continue to look at new R&D partnerships —for example, in the area of off-grid capable battery inverters – and expect shortly to announce a number of distribution partnerships for specific markets.
Q: What is your outlook for the region's off-grid solar-diesel market, especially in light of the plunging global oil prices and the talk about subsidy reductions in the GCC?
The overall outlook is definitely positive. The drop in oil prices is translating into lower diesel cost, but the economics and lowered emissions of solar power continue to attract demand in GCC markets where, as in the UAE, fuel subsidies are less significant.