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From Small-Scale PV to Utility 2.0

Jul 29, 2018

Look at the numbers: In 2017, new solar power projects around the world reached a total of 98 gigawatts. That was more than the net addition from coal, gas and nuclear plants combined. Many of these new projects were small-scale photovoltaic (PV) installations, which are increasing because of lower prices, cheaper equipment, government subsidies and power purchase agreements (PPAs). Take Germany for example. A mature market, the average cost-per-watt has fallen below $1.68. With all of these incentives, shouldn’t every roof have a PV system by now?

ENVIRIA CEO and Co-founder Melchior Schulze Brock points out that current arrangements are flawed: “They target owners of surfaces suitable for PV projects, such as real estate funds, agricultural or manufacturing companies. But the return on investment is low. On top of that, the complexity involved—buying the technology, outsourcing installment and operating the system—simply doesn’t justify such a non-core investment.”

ENVIRIA founders Ronny Thorenz (left) and Melchior Schulze Brock (right)

On the other hand, there are private and institutional investors who are looking for safe ways to invest their money but do not own a space or structure to place a PV system.

“Those types of investors appreciate low yields because cash flows are often guaranteed by the government or a large rated utility. You have different entities with complimentary wishes and objectives, and that’s a lot of untapped potential,” explained Partner Ronny Thorenz.

Using their investment banking expertise, Schulze Brock and Thorenz set up ENVIRIA to bridge that gap. Their revolutionary concept rests on a specialized solar investment manager, who leases a space from the property owner for a fee—typically over a 20-year period—and installs the technology at their own cost, supplies the owner with electricity, while feeding excess power into the grid and making a return.

Under the arrangement, the property owner reaps the benefits without the hassle. All liability lies with the operator, who takes care of the entire process, installs state-of-the-art PV and energy storage systems, delivers ancillary services, such as operation and management solutions, and provides comprehensive insurance for all systems.

In 2014, Schulze Brock and Thorenz founded ENVIRIA’s predecessor, MeinSolarKonzept. With its innovative approach, the company was adept at securing commercial rooftop space and attracting investments from banks and private investors. Last year, they incorporated their preferred engineering, procurement and construction subcontractor and formed ENVIRIA, based in downtown Frankfurt, Germany.

With an established residential portfolio in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, ENVIRIA propelled itself to become an industry powerhouse, with more than 3,000 completed rooftop projects that are generating a total of more than 25 megawatts since the incorporation with its subcontractor last year.

As Germany prepares to shift away from a subsidized feed-in tariff, Schulze Brock and Thorenz are making sure to stay ahead of the game and are expanding abroad to countries where solar deployment is booming. Having opened its new office in Hong Kong last year, ENVIRIA is setting its sights on other countries, such as the U.S., Australia and the Philippines.

In Australia, which has seen a three-fold increase in renewable energy investment and a surge in PV projects in recent years, the firm is in talks with large corporations and city councils attracted by its investment-driven model, and is offering them a pipeline of 10 megawatts worth of projects ready for a quick rollout.

ENVIRIA's Mu?llheim 1 Project in southern Germany

Constantly looking for innovative ways to streamline the business, the two entrepreneurs keep thinking ahead. The firm's rapid expansion of small scale solar systems, most of which have the capacity to store energy, has a far-reaching goal.

Coupling technology with financial expertise, Schulze Brock and Thorenz aim to transform ENVIRIA into a utility in its own right. Their vision is to facilitate direct green energy trade among its customers. They call it “Utility 2.0,” a decentralized system that combines production and storage where customer-to-customer transactions are enabled through blockchain technology.

Within the system, daily electricity surplus produced can be saved for individual future use or directly sold to other ENVIRIA customers. This will create a more efficient electricity marketplace as it provides an individualized solution that allows flexibility based on consumption needs.

Later this year, Schulze Brock and Thorenz are releasing a highly anticipated white paper, which will illustrate the uses of a utility-based cryptocurrency being conceptualized and enumerate its advantages. The cryptocurrency should gain strength with the launch of each new project and simultaneously rebate customers based on production. Funding will go to develop more projects around the world.

The ultimate aim is to offer competitive energy pricing, especially in disadvantaged communities where investment is scarce but whose needs are far more significant.

With its inquisitive mindset, sweeping expansion and visionary digital currency, ENVIRIA is clearly one company to watch.

Germany 2018, Pt. 2 was prepared for and originally printed in Forbes Asia magazine.

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