What is involved in your role at Ingenero?
I look after the commercial, industrial and utility projects group within Ingenero. My role involves identifying and developing medium- and large-scale solar projects, either in response to specific customer enquiries or as investment propositions for Ingenero. We help the customer determine the best solution for their circumstances; we design the photovoltaic (PV) system, supply the components, install the system and can even operate and maintain it for the customer. We also own a number of PV systems and sell the power to a host customer under a long–term Power Purchase Agreement.
What motivated you to become part of the solar industry?
I have a background in commodities and energy trading, including wholesale electricity and renewable energy trading, from my time at Energex before the company sold off their retail customer base.Article continues below…
About four years ago I saw an opportunity to enter the solar industry and focus exclusively on this exciting renewable energy source. That is when Steve McRae – the Chief Executive Officer of Ingenero – and I started the company with some venture capital backing. We really wanted to bring our power utility experience to the emerging solar industry here in Australia and that is why we focussed on the larger scale solar projects, even though it was a little ahead of the demand for the commercial scale projects. This proved to be a good move as we have been well positioned to win some of the most iconic commercial PV projects in Australia so far.
My children joke with me that I’ve come across from the ‘dark side’, having moved from oil and coal trading to renewable energy, but there is a grain of truth to their joking.
What were some of Ingenero’s key achievements in 2011?
Ingenero had a very successful year in 2011. We completed the 1.2 megawatt (MW) rooftop PV system at the University of Queensland, currently the largest in Australia. We also won the 400 kilowatt (kW) Fraser Coast Community Solar Farm project, which is nearing completion now, and the 2.3 MW Cloncurry Solar Farm project, which is due for construction in the third quarter of this year. We also designed and installed a number of 30 – 100 kW commercial systems on rooftops across Australia.
What do you enjoy most about your role, and what do you find the most challenging?
I guess I’m pretty competitive, so I enjoy the challenge of finding the best solution for our customers and competing to win their business. I also really enjoy the technical aspects of the solar industry. There is a constant stream of new developments in panels, inverters, mounting systems, storage devices and installation techniques and it’s very satisfying to see some of those new technology developments finally coming to market as commercially viable products. At times our industry faces massive challenges, such as changing policy and the technical hurdles of integrating solar into the power distribution systems, but it’s very satisfying to be part of an industry that can deal with these challenges and find a way through to continue the growth of solar power.
What top two steps does the solar industry need to take to be cost-competitive with traditional energy generation?
The last few years have seen significant reductions in the component costs of PV, notably for panels and inverters. Now we need to drive down the installation costs by becoming more efficient and employing clever designs.
The second major step is to crystallise the clear advantages that embedded and distributed solar power has over traditional generation sources such as coal and gas. The latter both require expensive and less efficient transmission to transport the power to the demand centres in our cities.
This is no small challenge given the divergent views on how to harvest and value this advantage, particularly in a paradigm where the transmission system was designed for a small number of large generators with power flowing in one direction rather than a large number of small independent solar generators with power flowing in all directions throughout the distribution network. The solar industry needs to get the network service providers on side.
How do you see the solar energy market playing out in Australia over the next 20 years?
Today, solar provides such a small proportion of our energy needs, so substantial growth is the only way forward for solar. Solar must and will become a significant source of energy in Australia by 2030. With the European and American solar markets being more mature, Australia will take its lead from those markets in the short-term. We will see new ways of solar power being sold to residential and commercial customers and we will see a consolidation of smaller players as multinational and mainstream energy companies continue to enter our market. One area where Australia is not following other countries is the level of external incentives – although there are certainly some welcome incentives in place, such as the renewable energy targets and some residential feed-in tariffs, Australia seems destined to leave medium- and large-scale solar projects to largely fend for themselves against traditional energy sources. As the cost of solar power continues to reduce and the cost of non-renewable energy increases, I think we will eventually see a tipping point where Australia’s abundant solar resource will help make Australia a world leader in both the level of solar penetration and the development of solar–related technology and knowhow.