Victor Dalal, director of business development for Omni Navitas in south-east Asia, tells Sebastian Shehadi why the US-based solar energy company is expanding in the region.
Q: What is Omni Navitas’ USP and vision for the future?
A: The focus of Omni Navitas is to implement solar energy solutions in various markets across the globe. The industry is changing rapidly – in technology advancements, financial solutions and government receptiveness – and we want to be part of this global movement. Our senior staff’s combined experience collectively has more than 200 years of real estate knowledge which uniquely positions us for this industry. We are adept at finding land, understanding the relevant solar programmes in our targeted areas, working with governments and their approval processes, and completing new solar projects.
Q: What is the company’s foreign investment strategy and where are you hoping to expand to?
A: While our projects to date have primarily been in the US, we are currently exploring expansion to international markets. We are particularly focused right now on Asia, more specifically Bangladesh, Cambodia, Malaysia and Vietnam.
Q: Why did the company choose Cambodia as an investment location this year, and Koh Kong province more specifically? What are the challenges and opportunities there?
A: Overall, Cambodia is a very attractive market for solar development with approximately 5.8 hours of peak sunlight a day. It also currently has very high costs of electricity and an ever-growing demand for electricity making it well suited for solar energy.
The three drivers supporting solar development in Cambodia are as follows. First, energy demand is high due to the country’s economic growth for the foreseeable future. Second, excellent solar conditions – the solar irradiation level of 208 W/sq m is higher than the world average of 170 W/sq m. Last, there are high existing retail electricity tariffs, currently between $0.14 and 0.19 kw/h.
The country’s challenges include the lack of a single solar regulatory framework, which means developers have to look at a mix of regulations to determine licences and permits and approach multiple agencies to receive the necessary paperwork. Moreover, there’s no standard power purchase agreement. Last, land ownership is restricted to 49% so there is the need to have local partners in this respect. While we value our local partners, developing these relationships initially can lengthen the process of starting a project significantly
Q: What makes south-east Asia region attractive to Omni Navitas?
A: Much like the aforementioned pros specific to Cambodia, south-east Asia in general is one of the most dynamic regions in the world for the development of the solar energy industry. Rapid urbanisation, fast-growing demand for energy, coupled with excellent levels of solar irradiation make it very attractive to developers. Additionally, the regions’ governments have demonstrated increasing levels of commitment to renewable energy development. The Association of South-east Asian Nations as a group has targeted a renewable energy share of 23% in the primary energy supply by 2025.
Q: Has President Donald Trump had a negative impact on the solar panel industry in the US?
A: The US solar industry had been able to work around the tariffs regarding solar panels quite well. Last year, more than 70,000 jobs were created in the US solar market, bringing the total to about 400,000 jobs, compared with the total number of jobs in the coal industry, which is approximately 70,000.
Q: Is global (or US) demand for solar panels growing well enough in your opinion, and what needs to be done to make it grow faster?
A: Countries across the globe, including the US, are now seeing and embracing the full possibilities of solar energy. The solar industry overall has seen significant advancements in technology and production. We are also seeing creative financial solutions for renewable energy.
In the US specifically, we believe a comprehensive national energy policy would explode the industry and create thousands of additional jobs. Aside from the Investment Tax Credit under the IRS code, there is no programme for renewable energy on a national level. It is up to each state to come up with an individual renewable energy plan, hence only about a dozen states have comprehensive solar programmes.
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