Cover Ko Chuan Zhen on Clean Energy

Ko Chuan Zhen, Group Chief Executive Officer of Plus Xnergy, says solar energy is set to dramatically transform the way we live and work within the next decade

The energy industry is still focused mainly on traditional energy sources derived from fossil fuels. But this is set to change.

Globally, we are facing an unprecedented energy crisis due to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, rising inflation levels and other pandemic-related factors. Oil and petrol prices today are among the highest they’ve ever been in history, due to supply chain disruptions.

On the other hand, solar energy continues to be the cheapest option for generating electricity. The International Energy Agency predicts that annual solar photovoltaic system expansion will reach 162GW this year, a record-breaking amount that will account for almost 55 per cent of all renewable energy expansion this year and the next.

Solar energy is also an ideal way to diversify investment portfolios as clean energy is a viable and scalable form of power that’s built to return value while supporting a net-zero strategy. It lowers carbon footprints and helps businesses move towards achieving environmental, social and governance (ESG) values as well as meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Within the clean-energy industry, most players are focused on hardware like solar farms, wind farms and battery storage. But I believe we need to go beyond that—which is why in 2020 Plus Xnergy developed a proprietary artificial intelligence and cloud-based Internet of Things (IoT) energy performance management system. This allows our clients to monitor, manage and optimise their energy consumption, wherever they are.

Here’s how the smart clean energy revolution will revolutionise our homes and workplaces in the next few years.

AI and industrial automation are critical in maximising clean energy savings

As a clean energy solutionist, we offer a three-pronged approach which comprises energy generation, energy efficiency and energy storage. As of today, Plus Xnergy is the only company offering a smart energy ecosystem in Malaysia, where it is based.

In the building and construction sectors—which are responsible for over one-third of global final energy consumption—digitalisation and industrial automation can mitigate operating costs. Our IoT-powered smart energy management system is like the fitness trackers we wear, but for buildings. Smart metering devices can capture a building’s energy consumption in real time, which clients can use to benchmark against industry standards and their competitors.

Smart energy solutions can help building owners streamline processes and save an additional 10 to 20 per cent off on top of their solar energy savings. One of our clients, an agriculture-based producer, approached us as their traditional method of drying their agriculture product was labour intensive, had a mediocre production yield, and high energy consumption. Getting moisture levels right is critical in drying their agriculture products (too hot leads to more strained product outputs, too cool leads to fungus growth). We introduced sensors to the dryers and built an IoT solution which automatically adjusted the drying process. A dashboard provided real-time data of energy consumption and allowed operators to monitor and control the dryers remotely if needed. After adopting AI and industrial automation, the agriculture producer saw a significant increase in their grade A products and reduced energy costs due to shorter and more efficient drying cycles.

B2C solar systems can reduce bills and improve lives

Because one of our key missions is to make clean energy affordable for all, we recently introduced a “rent-to-own” model where homeowners can rent a rooftop solar system from us for a monthly fee from RM398 onwards that come with five years of inclusive maintenance services. The savings are significant as they can shave up to 90 per cent off each user’s monthly energy bills. Plus Xnergy bears the costs of all maintenance required during the rental period and ownership of the system transfers to the homeowners after five years. Each system has an average lifespan of 25 years, which means several years of free energy. There is potential to convert over four million residential properties with rooftop potential in Malaysia, which is very exciting.

Southeast Asia is not ready to abandon fossil fuels, though significant reductions in its use will occur within the next decade

Moving away entirely from fossil fuels would be challenging as, unlike Europe, Asia is decentralised and not interconnected as part of a larger energy grid system. We will always rely to some extent on traditional fossil fuels like oil and coal. However, I believe we can see significant reductions from the current levels of about 80 to 90 per cent. This can happen in as few as five to eight years, but will depend on government support, appropriate legislation and support from financial institutions such as the larger banks.

Singapore is a good example of how political will can pave the way for solar adoption. Despite being land-scarce, it has placed solar systems across the rooftops of its factories and public housing and introduced floating solar farms to maximise its reservoir spaces. It also recently unveiled the Sembcorp Tuas Solar Farm, which is built on ten hectares of temporary vacant land and has an integrated rainwater collection system as well.

Harnessing solar will create new jobs and business opportunities

The pandemic has negatively impacted the economy and business revenues. Job creation is a key part of building solar systems, as it requires roles in engineering, design, sales, procurement, installation and so on. We wanted to do more to combat pandemic-related joblessness. Our B2C platform trains people to become micro-entrepreneurs—in effect becoming business partners who can now sell, install and maintain our systems. I see this as a win on many fronts: for our clients, for us, for our micro-entrepreneurs and of course the environment.

Ko Chuan Zhen is Group Chief Executive Officer & co-founder of Plus Xnergy, a Malaysia-based clean energy solutions provider. His contributions have driven Plus Xnergy Group to become an industry leader, so much so that he was awarded Ernst and Young’s Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2019. Ko has also been recognised as an Asia’s Most Influential honouree in 2021 and a Generation T honouree in 2020.

Read Ko Chuan Zhen's full profile here.

© 2022 Tatler Asia Limited. All rights reserved.