Ben Waters

25 March 2014 — Ben Waters has joined the fast growing Sungevity as a part-time consultant to help roll out the solar energy leasing – and sales – model to the commercial sector and other organisations, after leaving his role at GE late last year.

At GE, Mr Waters was director ecomagination, from 2011, after roles in aviation, starting in 1997 and as commercial director  2008. He initiated GE’s five-year, $20 million strategic alliance with CSIRO and led GE’s sustainable cities initiative locally, among a range of other projects.

Sungevity is understood to have already installed 1000 residential solar systems both leased and through outright ownership, but it’s the company’s plans to tap the lucrative commercial and industrial market that Mr Waters will concentrate on.

“It’s a growing part of the market,” he said on Tuesday morning.

Rising electricity prices would spur growth, so too that demand from commercial and industrial premises was concentrated in the daylight hours when solar energy was at its peak.

The decision was really “not a payback decision” with “80 per cent of homes saving money on Day 1”, Mr Waters said.

This was expected to be the same for the smaller end of businesses, he said.

Potential clients were “anything with a daytime load”. This included schools, medical practices or radiology centres that had high energy intensive machines to operate.

A huge advantage for Sungevity, he said, was the company’s software used satellite imagery to correctly size and position solar units remotely.

“It can triangulate the connection in a 3D model and it gets you pretty quickly to a bankable energy output and price, so you can be in the business of selling electricity rather than equipment.”

There were “any number of people” who were selling equipment, Mr Waters said.

The company had a range organisational partners, including not-for-profits and could also work with large companies and employee programs.

Director of marketing for Sungevity Shannon Everley, who moved from the company in the US to take up her current role, said the company was “growing aggressively”.

It currently had about 55 staff in Sydney and planned to grow to between 75 and 100 by the end of this year.

Staff sought would be a mix of sales staff and for the remote solar design and engineering team, based in Sydney and largely comprising current and graduate students from the University of New South Wales’ PV engineering school, Ms Everley said.

Outlook for solar

Asked if thought political attacks on renewable energy would have a detrimental effect, Mr Waters said, “Not much.”

Loss of the Renewable Energy Target would be a blow, and around Australia the last of the feed-in tarififs had now pretty much disappeared, yet solar was increasingly cheaper while  electricity from the grid was increasingly more expensive.

“There are two major trends you can’t stop,” he said. “I think decarbonisation is under way; the only question is the pace. And a country’s competitive advantage is how quickly it can decarbonise.

“The second is the decentralisation of energy.”

Australia had a “very good and expensive” distribution network, but increasingly it would serve as a demand side storage and distribution network, a “virtual battery” rather than a centralised distribution system, he said.