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COMPANY SPOTLIGHT

Expanding into ASEAN markets and way beyond

Rising regional demand for power helps Sunseap succeed in its ventures overseas.

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Mr Phuan says Sunseap’s mission is to provide clean power and de-carbonising solutions for corporates, governments, and consumers, in a sustainable manner.

In the last two years, Sunseap Group has gone from being a domestic utility company primarily serving the Singapore market to now having a presence in 10 markets.

Leveraging the economic links between ASEAN countries, the company has successfully expanded into regional markets in South-east Asia and beyond.

It is now in nine other markets including Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and the Philippines.

Sunseap is also in non-ASEAN markets such as Australia, India, mainland China, and Taiwan.

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Its portfolio of projects includes rooftop installations of solar panels, floating photovoltaic systems and even solar farming technology.

Sunseap co-founder and president Lawrence Wu said the decision to expand into overseas markets came on demand and supply.

The cost of solar energy has already hit grid parity - it now costs as much or even less than traditional sources of power.

Meanwhile, governments in the ASEAN region have begun gradually cutting fuel subsidies, which has led to a rise in the price of fossil-based generated power and a spike in demand for solar power.

But, apart from the lower costs of solar power, he also credits the firm's successful expansion to the strength of the partnerships it has formed with grid operators abroad.

Enterprise Singapore, the Singapore government agency championing enterprise development, said it supported Sunseap in developing new technologies and building its manpower capabilities in its expansion into South-east Asia. It helped Sunseap connect with industry stakeholders, including local and international financiers.

CLEAN, GREEN, CHEAPER

Co-founder and CEO Frank Phuan added that among all the different sources of electricity, solar power has managed to become one of the cheapest last year.

Prices reached 2 to 3 US cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) in some parts of the world with stronger sunlight like the desert regions of Australia, China, and India, in which the firm has a presence.

He quipped: "We have a number of projects where we have been asked to replace discontinued coal and other conventional power projects with solar power . . . In short, it's clean, green, and cheaper. What's there not to like?"

Sunseap has come a long way since it set up shop in 2011, and is now one of Singapore's largest players in the renewable sector, with clients ranging from giants like Apple and Microsoft, to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and individual households.

It has evolved from providing just renewable energy to also offering fully fledged integrated energy solutions, working with corporates to lower their overall power consumption through improved electricity efficiency.

But Mr Phuan said that its mission has always been the same: to provide clean power and de-carbonising solutions for corporates, governments, and consumers, in a sustainable manner.

Mr Wu explained that the original business model was built around partnering building owners to install rooftop solar panels, which would be owned and operated by Sunseap.

It would then sell this power to consumers at a highly competitive rate, made possible by recent technological advances that drove production costs down.

Mr Wu added: "However, apart from merely providing electrical power to clients, we asked ourselves what else we could do for our clients. This is why we decided to combine our solar energy offerings with integrated energy efficiency solutions to not only help our clients go green, but also help them reduce energy usage.

"This can be as simple as helping clients change their lightbulbs to LED ones, upgrading their heating and ventilation systems, and switching from using conventional gensets to off-grid solar and storage solutions from us. The business model then becomes a question of how much our clients can save, and what fraction of these savings can be shared with us."

Mr Phuan noted that the firm need not only work with existing buildings, but can also work with construction firms to design energy-efficient buildings from the ground up.

But, despite the change of focus to integrated energy solutions, solar energy continues to be a core part of the business, he said.

This is because the company uses the same systems to run both its solar power equipment and its other electrical power management solutions.

For example, the solar generation system uses the same connection points as Sunseap's energy storage systems.

More features can then simply be connected, whether energy efficiency solutions, building management systems, or energy arbitration and frequency regulation systems. In this way, a whole host of urban solutions can be easily deployed to the same building.

"I would say the big change is that we are now no longer just looking at the supply side, but also focusing on managing the demand side of electrical power consumption as well," said Mr Phuan.

Mr Wu said: "For us, there are existing clients that we can deploy all these solutions to as a package. We can essentially provide our energy efficiency, monitoring and building management solutions to complement the solar energy service that our clients sign up with us.

LONG-TERM TIES

"I think it makes a lot of sense to do it this way because we have a long-term relationship with clients who signed up for our solar energy service, typically around 20 to 25 years. Therefore, we are able to offer our full suite of services in terms of our other clean energy and de-carbonising solutions."

Mr Phuan said the firm's next steps were to consolidate its position in the markets it has recently entered by expanding its solar power provision business and by building on new revenue streams like in-house engineering work, system design work, and the development and exchange of intellectual property.

So, it set up three new divisions - engineering, solutions, and energy ventures - on top of its original leasing, energy and international divisions.

The company hopes these new divisions can contribute to its regional expansion and build it up as the dominant solar energy distributor in South-east Asia.

For instance, instead of using only existing technology to offer integrated energy solutions, Sunseap now wants to invest in research and development for its own proprietary technology, to be used in all 10 of its markets.

Without specifying a timeline, Mr Phuan said Sunseap, which has a headcount of about 150, would "likely" be listed in Singapore in the near future.

Engineering is its largest division, but Mr Wu called Sunseap's solar energy service the bread and butter of the firm since its inception, as it remains the largest revenue generator.

"However, we do not discount the fact that other solutions will contribute to the revenue of the group substantially in the next couple of years," he said.