A Venture into Solar Energy

Name: Ahmad Al Khayyat

Contactinfo@suninmotion.com and varsha.t@akigroup.com

Company: Sun In Motion


Position: Key Investor and Founder 

Date: 1.3.2020

Industry: Renewable Energy – Solar

Please tell us about yourself and how or why you have entered into renewable energy? 

“I have been in several different sectors since 1994, including consulting for a company called McKinsey for a few years, also in a range of different sectors. At one point I wanted to reflect on what I wanted to be doing for the next twenty years. I wanted to focus on an area that had a lot of growth and innovation, where I could learn along the way to grow myself. I went through a lot of different ideas and brainstormed possibilities that would include all of my needs and everything that I was looking for.” 

Tell us about your recent venture into renewables with Sun In Motion, in specific the difference between the two pillars of the company: Commercial and Residential, and the different services within the two offerings if more than one? 

“Sun in Motion has been set up as a full suite of services, centred around the key strength, which is engineering. We like to see ourselves as an engineering company devoted to the latter where we design things, looking at the feasibility of our systems and projects. We do not just put things together in the way somebody else wants it put together; we have a view that is always in the interest of the client. We do everything from the two points I mentioned to EPC, which involves procurement and construction and the permitting in relation to authorities and the grid. Finally, we cover operations and maintenance. Therefore, we are a full-service offering. Other than the clients themselves, we are currently working with some great partners including Total and Yellow Door. So far we have built success delivering results on time and to the highest standard, not half-heartedly, which is an issue that contracting has been having in the region. In the last six or seven years, 50% of the contractors are close to bankruptcy. If you look at the wider context of contracting companies, the way that they have been run and managed has led to a lot of problems. Here I would like to quote a conversation I had with one of my colleagues. British and new to Dubai, we were conversing about the costs of electricians and the price inevitably being lower in the UAE than in the U.K. However, we concluded that it would be cheaper in the U.K due to the number of people one has to hire here to get the same thing done, in addition to the number of times you have to do it to ensure it is done to perfection. Therefore, we are approaching it from a different perspective; we are about quality, not quantity. We are focused on feasibility. So far we are on the right track, we are growing with bigger projects and higher budgets. We are catering to both residential and CNI, which is commercial and industrial. To begin with, we were completing more residential projects, which was a very slim audience due to it consisting mainly of expats who own their villas. It is not feasible for an Emirati to install a solar power system unless they have positive ulterior motives, such as going green and eco-friendly. We have done projects in free hold areas such as Arabian Ranches, The Meadows, The Springs and Emirates Hills, in addition to many projects across the industrial parts of Dubai such as Jebel Ali and DIP. In the future, this will be our main focus as they are much larger in scale and open the company up into the area of financing because many customers look for leasing options due to operational demands on the capital. Even though solar can give you very high returns and cost savings in less than five years, many still opt for rental options. 

What are the monetary and environmental benefits of switching to solar energy?

“The benefits for residents and corporations are the same. Firstly, you have to consider how much you are saving the environment by switching to solar. The way emissions are going, life on this planet is not going to be sustainable. It is amazing how the last couple of years have advanced in this direction. It began with countries like Switzerland, Germany and the U.K announcing their goals to be more environmentally friendly. This was all taken over by China, with one of the highest levels of carbon emission, who have leapfrogged with the technology. This is really what makes the difference; because it is digital technology the rate of progression has been so fast. Today, it is much more feasible to set up a new solar plan than it is to continue to operate a coal mine. Many of the coal mines in China have now been shut down since they are simply no longer viable. Experts in the field say that solar will continue to go down significantly and become much more feasible than non-renewable energies, which will accelerate the growth even further.

In terms of the monetary benefits for the consumer, it depends on the type of roof that you have. Ground mounts are typically more expensive, however, most residential locations will be roof mounts. With a roof mount, depending on how much space you have, the installation costs vary. People would assume that the UK has a harder time installing solar due to the slants in the roof, but this region faces hardships in installation as there are often AC vents here, installing the panels proves very tricky compared to houses in Europe. The feasibility also depends on the location of the villa and the direction of the sun. As a general prediction, you can expect to get your money back in under six years. ”

What are the upfront costs of domestic solar power installation for consumers and is there a way to tranche or loan the upfront cost?

“The cost of the system in a residency depends mostly on the size. As we have a huge variety of sizes in this region and Dubai, the price ranges from AED 15,000 to AED 100,000. In terms of finance, what we have seen with most projects is that the price does not faze the client. Is it such a small amount compared to the return.”

What are the other environmental components to take into consideration for the implementation and ongoing operation of solar power in the region apart from sunlight?

“The main factor that plays a role here in the UAE, and not in areas of Europe, is high levels of dust. In the West, you can put your panel on the roof and think of never really touching it again. Here, to maintain a high productivity level you have to clean it once every two weeks. If you do not do this, the efficiency starts to deteriorate. Hence, you need access to the panels whilst taking note of health and safety. The last thing you want is someone to trip and fall when cleaning the system. This is something that we put maximum importance on.” 

Can you explain to our readers about how solar energy is measured? How does the relationship with Sun In Motion and DEWA work and does the implementation of solar energy change the working relationship between consumer and DEWA given the new energy outputs? 

“As one looks at solar systems in terms of power, it is measured in Watts. Therefore, typically a residency is in KiloWatts. In CNI (commercial and industrial projects), it will be measured in MegaWatts. The way it works here is via a net meter regulation. For instance, for Dubai DEWA has a clear program called Shams Dubai, which allows for net metering, which means when you install solar, the energy comes in and if you use it, you use less from DEWA and if you don’t use it, it goes right back into the grid. Effectively anything that you have fed into the grid is subtracted from what you use from the grid. They do not allow users to get credit so there is no feed-in tariff what so ever, which you have in the USA, the U.K or European countries. In UAE it is only net metering and they do not allow wheeling, which is to set up a solar system and then feed it to a client with the intent to sell energy. This concept is strictly not allowed; one can only use energy that is generated on their premises. 

Can you explain the recent restriction DEWA has put in place, has it affected the solar industry and its operators, if so how?

“DEWA has recently put a cap on the size of solar systems or solar projects. In the past it was uncapped and therefore, many of the global top players started to gradually arrive in Dubai. The new regulation puts a cap of 2 Mega Watts. To put this into perspective, this is slightly less than projects valued at AED 4 million. This is a pretty small scale for most international players and most local companies. We are unsure why this limit has been implemented as the grid in Dubai is extremely sturdy and can take a lot more than older systems. We predict this to only be a phase as people need to be encouraged to go green.”

KSA, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and the UAE are all in the top 20 countries of the highest emissions per capita. How far does the UAE have to go before reaching an acceptable CO2 emission? Do you think that the UAE should need to have a lower emissions rate per capita in comparison to countries in the west when being measured for comparison given the abundance of natural access to sunlight? 

“I do not think the natural abundance of natural sunlight here is an advantage as with dust levels, it boils down to not that much more energy than countries with less sunlight. Secondly, due to the sensitively of the panels, Europe will gather energy with just daylight. Therefore panels in Scandinavia will often perform to the same levels as panels here in the UAE. Lastly, the rise in temperature during summer here makes it challenging to operate the systems effectively as the excess heat puts a strain on the components. Therefore, the delivery of energy here is less than the expectation. However, I feel as though all countries need to work towards switching to green, as it is a group responsibility for future generations. We should approach it as a globe rather than segregating. Here in the region, we have ultra-active people with high disposable incomes, so much more can be done towards saving the environment”

Where do you see growth and opportunity in the renewable energy sector within the region?

“There is plenty of growth in the region. Saudi have just come up with a new regulation, which allows for PPAs and feed-in tariffs. Previous to this change in the regulations energy in KSA was not regulated despite the leadership’s vision to accelerate solar, this is a huge breakthrough. With an investment that takes 6 years minimum to see returns, companies need to be covered by regulations which they, in particular, were lacking but now they have taken a step in the right direction. In Jordan, levels of saturation are much higher as the grid is very challenged due to its age. As a country with little natural recourses, there is a huge deficit in energy levels. Therefore solar has helped them to close the gap. We have also been looking at Egypt as it is an area that can be developed hugely. Although there are issues with the currency exchange in that market, we should be able to work around it as we believe everyone should have solar energy.

What does the future look like for Sun In Motion?

Tunisia and Morocco. Oman, in particular, is next on our list as the regulations are very transparent and decentralised, wheeling is also allowed in Oman which is large upside potential for us, the energy output concerning the population is low so there is also added potential for us.”

Carbon footprint is originally defined as the total greenhouse gas emissions caused by an individual, event, product or organization. Carbon gasses and the burning of fossil fuels are the main contributors to climate change. Solar energy does not use any carbon gasses and replaces fossil fuels with natural, renewable energy resulting in a reduction of pollution and climate control damage. Do you believe there are correlations between increased global warming and the Australian/ US wildfire outbreaks this summer? 

“What we are seeing in these regions is indeed incredibly scary. It is devastating and very hard to control. I am not an expert on fires however; they certainly seem to be linked to the fact that they have less rainfall due to rising climates.”

What are the challenges your organization faces in acquiring and retaining the correct talent for the operation and its growth?

“The number one element in a business is the people. It’s not money, bricks and mortar or IT systems. Of course, everyone and everything has to bridge the gap between each other so that all the components work together, but if you have the wrong people, nothing works. We are always actively looking out for talent in solar. We have attracted talent from all over the globe and the team has over 3bil wats of experience combined from US, China and the ME. We have a very strong working relationship with The Greenroom Group that has proved to be successful and we hope to maintain and grow that in the future. We also like to bring AI and psychometric testing to ensure retention and correct data-driven hiring decisions”

What is the best way for our readers to make an inquiry to have one of your professionals walk them through the process/ switch?

“The easiest way is to take a look at our website (please see above). Online we have a map that you can scan through to find your villa, we have already mapped out the villas and every size possibility. Afterwards, our built-in calculator will predict the size of the system appropriate to your home and how much it will cost you to install. Our calculator also includes a post instillation analysis that predicts how much energy you can expect to generate and how much savings you will achieve taking into consideration, shade from trees and buildings and the direction of the sun relative to the villa. The calculation runs at approximately 95% accuracy. Once you have done this exercise yourself and decide you would like to move to the next stage in the process, you will need to contact us through the website to book a consultation with one of our professionals. He/ she will come to your house to walk you through the process and conduct an accurate survey of costs and savings. Some corporates may need to go down the leasing option, we have some leasing companies that we work with that will require zero down payment and zero operational spend from the corporate, just a discount on your DEWA bill which can be upwards of 40% depending on the size of your building.