In an exclusive interview with SolarQuarter ASEAN magazine, Mr. Allen Himes – Managing Director, Indigo Energy talks about the evolution and journey of Indigo Energy and their unique offerings. He also speaks about their major projects in the South east Asian region and project performances.
Since the inception of Indigo Energy in 2012 please tell us how has the journey been? What has been your biggest challenge so far?
I came to Myanmar in 2012 to explore the possibility of developing renewable energy projects. While I looked through a number of potential opportunities including large scale wind farm development and biomass gasification, Indigo Energy invested early in the Myanmar electricity sector by developing, designing, building, and operating some solar micro-grid pilots in Ayeyarwaddy Division in 2013. Even though Indigo Energy at that time was a small organisation – just five foreign and local employees plus an intern, Indigo Energy successfully piloted the microgrid projects. However, on the other hand, it was early to the market for micro-grids in Myanmar. As such, investors were not comfortable with the early stage risk and Indigo Energy was not able to raise money to scale the operations. So, I wouldn’t say there’s been any real windfall on the way, the journey’s been pretty tough going.
Following these micro-grid projects, I focused on consulting projects in the solar and infrastructure space, both locally and in the region. In early 2017, Indigo Energy refocused on rooftop solar projects for C&I customers. Now, Indigo Energy has completed 35+ projects and has been able to offer various kinds of services with two business models not only in Myanmar but also around the globe.
To reach these global clients, we had to pivot the business to focus on outsourcing our solar engineering skills and knowledge to international customers. When the political shift happened here in February of this year, we knew that the coup would disrupt the local market drastically. As a result, we knew that we could not rely on local projects only, so we began to focus on exporting Myanmar solar engineering to the rest of the world.
There are two main challenges that I met here in Myanmar. One of the main challenges that I have faced has been human resources. Finding people who understand what we’re doing and have the capability to pitch in and contribute to the company has been very difficult. The education system here was basically dismantled in the 1980s and hasn’t really been restored so it’s been a struggle to get passionate, educated staff. We have spent a lot of time creating a process to find good people.
What first got you interested in solar power? Could you brief us about your products offerings & services?
I found my way to starting the business when I was reading a book about John D Rockefeller. After reading that book I am really confident to start my own business. When I arrived in Myanmar, three out of four (75%) people here do not have access to electricity and those of us who do suffer from frequent blackouts, even in the biggest city, Yangon. I’ve not traveled outside the commercial heart of Myanmar, but people tell me that power is even less reliable. When I arrived, I held the idea that Myanmar could skip the dirty power sources (natural gas, coal) the same way they will be able to skip land-line telephones. Unfortunately for renewables, coal, natural gas, and petroleum based fuel supplies are still too cheap, abundant, scaleable, and quicker to market than cleaner sources. I do believe that renewable energy projects will be viable here in the medium to long term and at a village/community level. For a solo entrepreneur, the other options such as wind power are much more expensive than what we are doing right now. And finally, I chose solar, which also seems a natural fit for Myanmar.
There are three business areas in Indigo Energy.
1. Engineering Services
2. Engineering, Procurement, and Construction of Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Systems
3. Project Development.
We provide these services for various industries such as factories, hospitals, resorts, offices. residential buildings and schools under the diverse sectors of Commercial and Industrial Rooftop Solar, Mini-Grids, Residential and Utility Scale Solar.
Please tell us about your recent successful contributions in terms of major projects to the SE Asia region?
We have installed a 372.4 kWp solar PV system on the rooftop of the well-known Junction Square car park area located in Yangon. Despite the Covid-19 Global pandemic and technical challenges in installation due to the rainy season, Indigo Energy managed to deliver the project to the owner in time. This is our biggest accomplishment in 2020. The solar system will reduce costs for both the backup diesel generator and the existing grid.
We have expanded our business model to offer engineering services to regional solar developers due to the political situation in Myanmar. We have human resources who
are capable of doing design work for solar projects and we apply our proficiency in a different business model. Now, we have shifted our focus on Engineering Services and done a number of projects around South East Asia in rooftop and utility scale engineering.
How have your projects performed, financially and technically? Has the ROI been up to your own expectations?
Technically speaking, our projects have performed well, sometimes even surpassing expectations. We take care of the operations and maintenance for our projects and have fewer technical problems than anticipated in our financial models. Financially speaking, the electricity price has increased in Myanmar in the last couple of years, so the return for our clients is even better than anticipated. Since the technical output is correct, our clients enjoy significant reductions in their electricity bills.
Tell us about how better and smarter technology is making its way into the Myanmar solar industry?
The electrification rate of Myanmar is still low compared to neighboring countries and solar can fulfill the needs of Myanmar people. Nowadays, the prices of solar panels decrease and the solar module efficiencies increase. More people and business owners can install solar projects and reduce their electricity bill. That’s why, I believe that the Myanmar solar industry seems to become brighter because of better and smarter technologies.