Sun of a gun

Written on the 17 November 2009

Sun of a gun

ACHEIVING 900 per cent growth in the last 12 months is just the start for solar energy specialist Eco Kinetics. The company has already powered 3000 Queensland homes after clinching the State Government Solar Homes contract last year. As that initiative comes to an end, the company is about to open an office in every Australian state and take renewable energy solutions to the South Pacific, Middle East, US, Brazil and China.

Eco Kinetics chief executive Edwin Cywinski will propel his company toward revenues of around $50 million in the next 12 months as developing nations seek clean renewable energy solutions.

Capturing the sun’s brilliant rays and powering the entire Polynesian island of Tuvalu is just one of the contracts the solar company has in the pipeline. It will also supply solar to a number of schools in Fiji, funded by the European Union.

“Certainly we have had very fast growth but we are in very dynamic, exciting markets,” says Cywinski.

“Growth has come from a combination of exports and the domestic market. We have attracted quite a number of domestic and residential customers. We have duplicated that business model in Victoria where we have set up a subsidiary and we have a similar operation in the Northern Territory.

“The South Pacific has been the initial export market with our systems. We are working on a large solar system for an island in Tuvalu to provide the power for the island and have signed a contract for systems in 38 remote schools in Fiji. We are also shortlisted for projects in Tonga.

“In these nations, energy costs are very high. We are eagerly awaiting policies in Australia to take effect so that larger systems can be implemented here also. It now makes perfect sense for small medium sized enterprises to tap into the Queensland Solar Tariff. You can buy a 30kw system, there’s a significant payback on that and it’s certainly worth doing.”

The German influence
Cywinski was on the verge of something very exciting in his native Germany in the mid-1980s and the relationships developed back then have proved crucial 20 years later. The inverters for the solar systems are manufactured in Germany. The panels are made in China, while the safety glass is made in Australia, exclusively for Eco Kinetics in this part of the world.

“Having worked in the renewable energy in Germany, I was always going to go back to that and I kept an eye on Australia. I thought the time was right, there’s a lot of sun in Queensland,” he says of his move to Australia in 2007, after spending 15 years in New Zealand.

“I actually took a couple of guys from Germany over to China, when I was choosing a panel supplier. I wanted to make 100 per cent sure that we had something that was quality. I was involved in renewable energy in Germany in the mid 1980s and it was a very young industry. There were a handful of guys that were in that space, they are now the leaders in a very highly regarded industry. So that gives us a huge advantage that I can ring up CEOs of companies that employ 12,000 people when back in the day they were working out of their garages. It gives me access to raw technology, products and assistance.”

Eco Kinetics business development manager Rick McElhinney, says in an industry that relies on experience at the coalface, Eco Kinetics is far from an overnight success venture.

“Edwin’s history going back to Germany and his knowledge of the renewable energy systems has actually added a lot of value and a lot of confidence in the company to do things that a lot of Australian companies wouldn’t pursue, because they don’t have the experience,” he says.

International expansion
The key will be how the outfit harnesses its imminent rapid expansion. Fostering organic growth, its systems and engineering finesse is being sought world-wide by simultaneous projects, while domestic demand is also healthy.

Having just signed up a 100kw system for a multi-storey building in Sydney, it is also tendering for projects in the Northern Territory, ’one of the prime locations for solar in the world’ and Victoria on a combination of government funded and commercial projects.

“We’re not acquiring. At the moment we will continue with organic growth. The market is there,” says Cywinski.

“We play it very safe and we know what our capabilities and what our limits are. It’s never boring, but we are lucky that we have managed to find the right mix of capabilities and management team.”

Export channels are pumping and the ink is drying on a deal with the developers of The Palm Jumeirah in Dubai. The Palm is an extravagant artificial island created using land reclamation by Nakheel, a company owned by the Dubai government. It is one of three islands called The Palm Islands which extend into the Persian Gulf, increasing Dubai’s shoreline by a total of 520 km.

“We are also working with solar farm developers in the states ­— $US150 million a pop. It’s not small stuff, it’s of large commercial scale,” says Cywinski.

“We have just been approached by a fairly large operation in the Middle East, who is particularly interested in our engineering skills. We have a very strong engineering team, it’s a strategic advantage.

The components of the renewable energy sector you can buy and put them together and make them work, but making it work reliably is the challenge. That’s the market that we have been asked to participate in, purely on those skills.”

Powered by the Queensland sun
But it was under the radiant Queensland sun where the Eco Kinetics story started to glisten.

McElhinney says that although Queensland is lagging behind South Australia and Western Australia when it comes to enacting change at government level, progress is being made.

“It’s still evolving, it’s jumping all over the place,” he says.

“It has taken a long, long time for the scheme to pass in the Senate. The fact that they (State Government) took the initiative to do the solar homes project at least put us on the map and we have delivered on that project.

“We are comfortably on track in serving those customers and are now inviting the next round of customers to register with us for the Solar Credit Scheme. The customers want to do it, they want the systems, but it has been very frustrating with the delays in government to pass it in the Senate and to take effect. There have been huge delays for the whole industry and now it has been kick-started again.”

State Environment Minister Kate Jones, says in order for the Bligh government to combat climate change, strong partnerships must be nurtured.

“The government has recently announced our new climate change policy with a $196 million investment where we will be actively going out engaging with business and the community to say, ‘what are the new things that we can do to reduce our carbon emissions here in Queensland?’

“To me it deals with the work we are doing and encourages all Queenslanders to get behind new initiatives to reduce their carbon emissions in their homes – we’ve got the ClimateSmart Home Service, with which we almost have 100,000 Queensland homes that have taken advantage of this service and are right now reducing their carbon emissions.”

Increasing market share
While competitors are racing to secure market share, Eco Kinetics are exploring new methods to ensure their systems stack up in cost without sacrificing quality.

“There are competitors left, right and centre but no-one in Australia has been able to match our prices. When we took on the Queensland Solar Homes project we went 35 per cent below the average market price. We are still sitting well below the average market price, at least 10 per cent,” says Cywinski.

“We have extremely aggressive supply chain management. We have spent time and effort finding cost-effective solutions including redesigning and designing mounting systems locally.”

Eco Kinetics is celebrating its latest partnership as the Australasian distributor for Swedish company Climatewell’s air-conditioning units that run 100 per cent on solar energy. There’s a brilliant paradox — powering a device using the sun to repel the heat derived from the same source.

With commercial businesses spending an estimated 50 per cent of power bills on air-conditioning, Eco Kinetics has become the coolest kid on the eco-tech block.


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