Interview with a Solar PV Entrepreneur

By: Ariane Desrosiers; Milton Academy

Interviewee: Hugo Desrosiers, CEO of Symbior Energy 

What prompted you to start a solar business (in Asia)?
A significant lack of innovation, a very large demand, and billions of dollars in investment interests were the three main criteria I used in 2009 to find a new business to work in. The energy sector in emerging Asia turned out to match all three. Then the cheapest and easiest technology to get going in the energy sector was solar photovoltaic power cells, and thus I selected solar PV power generation as the rough business objective to plan for and start a new venture.

2. What’s the economy in Asia like right now regarding sustainable businesses? Is it flourishing? 
Asia is a very big, very populous and pretty old place.  It is difficult given the complexity of Asia to simplify the state of the economy into a few sentences, much less in a few qualifiers. The activity that’s going on in the 5 largest economies of Asia, which counts for a third of the world GDP, is based on old models that were focused on immediate impact and subsistence and didn’t care for or even are harmful to a sustainable future. Yet with the aging population problems now very obvious in Japan, and with the riches generated by innovative companies of Silicon Valley and the recent socio-economic research being applied nowadays in fast-moving countries like Singapore, governments are revising their economic policies with a higher emphasis on all aspect of sustainability, not simply environmental. It is still early to say that sustainable development models will flourish in Asian economies... but there are a lot of stars aligning and given the local dynamics, it is the place in the world with the highest likelihood of building a large scale sustainable framework in its economy.

3. How much interest is being shown in the energy sector for renewable energy? For solar power specifically?
Little interest is shown in the energy sector for renewable energy; but then again the energy sector is composed primarily by Goliath-sized prehistoric conglomerates that will most likely get displaced almost overnight by David-sized innovative ventures. In that little amount of interest, solar power is the largest attention grabber.

4. Summarise the technological process of how a PV cell works in 5 sentences. 

Electromagnetic radiations in the visible light spectrum hit a small plaque.  That plaque is covered with a chemical substrate in which a compound has electrons that are easily displaced by the radiations. Further chemical compounds in the substrate give the electron movements a direction and push the energy from the radiations into the electron potential. Small amounts of conductive material on both side of the plaque provide junction points to eject the electric current into wires where it will be collected and transported toward a power-hungry consumer. Overall, it is the same process that happens in LED lights, but in reverse (did you know that your LED lights could act as tiny solar cells?).

5. Do you believe that solar is a feasible future for the rest of the world? 
Electric power generation from nuclear fusion is the future for the world! Today solar photovoltaic power generation is a temporary solution achieving very low conversation rates and using the Sun to be the fusion reactor and light for the transmission. The solar photovoltaic and battery technologies are progressing rapidly and together will in the next decade or so be cheaper and more convenient than the conventional sources of electric generation, thus doing away with the development of further fossil fuel power plants.  But that is only one part of the energy equation. The other part is all the non-electrical energy systems, such as the explosion engine and heating furnaces, that will require significant technological discoveries to be replaced by non fossil fuels devices. It is nuclear fusion or related atomic nanotechnology that will most likely be able to break the storage and efficiency barrier that keep today oil and gas a necessity and energy prices in the way of much faster economic development in Asia and Africa.

Hugo DesRosiers is the CEO of Symbior Energy, an incubator of energy ventures in emerging markets. Established in 2010, Symbior has provided funding, mentoring and operational resources to startups throughout Asia. Symbior Solar Siam, its first graduate, has developed 32MW of utility and commercial solar power plants in Thailand, and is now expanding in Bangladesh, Malaysia and Mongolia.