Ecorus is a solar developer serving companies, housing associations and landowners. It has delivered 192 ground and roof-based projects to date which, collectively, produce 75MW of electricity per year. The company was established in 2010, through a partnership between Groep Coenen and Beaurega BVBA, and has branches in both the Netherlands and Belgium. It manages the solar project lifecycle, from development, financing and construction to ongoing operations and maintenance.
Founder and Managing Partner of Ecorus, Raphael Janssens, is an electro-mechanical engineer with a Masters in renewable energy and an R&D background. We spoke to him about what inspired him to set up Ecorus and what he sees for the future of the company and the industry as a whole.
Can you elaborate on Ecorus’ activities?
I founded Ecorus in 2010 after getting hooked on solar and its potential while working on a fully solar powered car. I believe that all cars will be powered by solar in the future although, unlike the one I worked on, they will be powered indirectly, with solar generated externally and used to charge car batteries. Either way, this was what instigated my solar journey and I was passionate about continuing it.
Ecorus believes in renewables. Our mission is to contribute to a climate neutral world and, for us, that means solar because it is one of the most efficient energy resources available to man – inexhaustible, comparatively low maintenance and cheap.
In Benelux, we install solar panels on residential and business properties, as well as deliver larger roof and ground-mounted projects. This year, we will install solar panels on 8,000 residential households but we consider that installing solar panels will be just the first step. Over time, we see the opportunity to offer complementary products and services such as EV charging stations and energy storage. These things together are what will make a sustainable world in terms of environment, climate, and economics. Our role in that is to project manage everything, to deliver solutions using products like Alfen’s.
What are the latest developments in solar PV?
There is a huge amount happening in the solar PV industry at the moment. From a technology perspective, solar PV panels are getting more powerful. We are able to use higher voltages within solar PV parks to enhance efficiency while using fewer materials. At the same time, the cost of solar panels continues to get cheaper and cheaper.
From a project perspective, the scale of projects keeps increasing. Examples of our latest projects include a 10MW solar park in Belgium and 10MW and 17MW projects in the Netherlands.
We are actually co-investing in some of these larger projects to help remove barriers and make them happen, As a result, we now act as developer, EPC (engineering, procurement, and construction), financer and O&M (operations and maintenance). The latter makes us less sensitive to subsidies as it gives us recurring revenues which provide more stability for us as a business.
Additionally, the market is becoming more professional and increasingly focused on quality. In line with this, our own internal quality standards are becoming ever more stringent; for example, we test the performance of all our procured components in-house before sending them to project locations.
What kind of solar PV ecosystem is needed to ensure optimal usage of solar for businesses and homes?
We need an energy system that can cope with the upscaling of renewables generation, the resulting bi-directional transportation of distributed energy and that supports smart trading. These things would optimize energy efficiency and costs across the whole system and remove the reliance on subsidies. While subsidies can certainly stimulate a market, it needs to become commercially self-sustaining to be viable in the long term.
To improve transportation, we need the DSOs (Distributed System Operators) to build and maintain a futureproof energy network – the wires in the ground. For trading, I believe we need a smart short-term energy market – spot market – which promotes use of the grid to optimally serve the end consumer. Such a spot market will create market dynamics that will reduce the load on the grid. At Ecorus, we are currently developing a proprietary trading platform that will allow peer-to-peer virtual energy trading which will enable a customer to make optimal use of self-generated solar energy.
What are the current key challenges in the industry?
In addition to those mentioned in the previous question, we also need to strive for policies that promote sustainability in new build houses. Inclusion of solar panels wherever possible should be an essential requirement for all new housing development projects. In many situations, it is already more cost-effective to construct a roof using solar technologies than using traditional methods.
There is an additional challenge related to the supply of solar panels. Unlike other technologies, solar panels are standard the world over and so don’t require adjustment for different countries and regions. They are also predominantly produced in Asia. These two factors together make the supply chain susceptible to politics; for example, a US decision to raise import tax on solar panels and a Chinese decision to increase the subsidy on them, both created a rapid local spike in demand which left European countries almost empty handed.
What is your ambition going forward?
By 2025, we want to have an installed solar PV capacity equivalent of a 500MW coal power plant. We strive to have a real impact in helping to create a more sustainable world and removing the need for an entire coal plant certainly does that!
We want to continue to increase the amount of solar energy we supply to the grid as a whole, by annually doubling our installation capacity. We have been very successful in this respect so far and we have some stand out projects; for example, we installed a solar park on the island of Saba, in the Caribbean, which powers the whole island and replaces the old diesel generator solution.
Can you reflect on your relationship with Alfen?
As the number and size of solar projects grow, so does the need for micro-grid innovation and Alfen offers that innovation. What I especially like is Alfen’s adaptability – they think along with us, quickly understand the issues and believe in progress; for example, substations for solar PV parks are different than those used for the grid and so Alfen developed a substation specifically to suit our needs. They worked in partnership with us to get this right and delivered what was the right result for everyone, from both an energy optimization and economical perspective.
Dit artikel is afkomstig van Alfen Magazine.