Sunified’s Leon-Gerard Vandenberg is putting solar on Australia’s map
“In a single hour, the amount of power from the sun that strikes the earth is more than the entire world consumes in a year.” – U.S. Department of Energy.
The sun is a limitless source of energy, but currently just 3% of the world’s energy is generated by solar.
Sunified Founder Leon-Gerard Vandenberg is out to change that by enabling a quantum leap in scaleability, financeability and profitability for solar.
In March this year, Sunified secured $375 million investment to build 28 solar parks across Australia:
“We are building 27 5 MW solar parks across Australia and one 120 MW park with co-located, grid-scale batteries in regional centres around Australia.
“The solar parks will showcase how small-scale solar parks can work within the existing, ageing grid infrastructure, to deliver renewables without the need for expensive grid upgrades – this is something many countries currently require.”
In just 5-7 years time, by 2026 – 2028, Sunified projects a total valuation at exit of $2.6 billion, offering investors a phenomenal 3,000% ROI – solar energy isn’t just a renewable energy resource, it’s an incredible investment opportunity.
Leon–Gerard is well aware of this and has a two-pronged solar mission: building solar parks while providing software to break down barriers to solar investing and make it accessible to anyone from anywhere in the world.
The Canadian-born serial entrepreneur aims to do this by combining his background in FinTech and defence technology with his green techpreneur pivot:
“Effectively what we’re doing is turning solar energy into a FinTech asset class. So this is basically taking a bit of my passion and a bit of what I was good at and mixing them all together.”
“I don’t mind putting a dent in the universe while I’m here on the planet.”
What are you bringing that’s new to the solar market?
We’re bringing smart to solar and making every PV panel a smart panel. Sunified’s UNITY chip is a patented sensor technology that attaches to each solar panel to create an immutable real-time record of power generation. Every 30 seconds, data captured from every panel is stored in an immutable blockchain ledger, providing transparency and security for asset owners.
This is important because it creates green certification processes and provides a new level of accuracy, transparency, and trading opportunities to solar assets.
The virtual power plant and UNITY chip technology also overcomes issues created by Australia’s ageing infrastructure allowing the parks immediate connection and trading capabilities the moment they are built and bypassing years of waiting time typically required for connection approval.
How are you breaking down barriers to solar investing?
A very audacious goal is to bring solar to anyone in the world. So someone in Africa can download an app on a mobile phone, they can pay so many dollars for solar panels and they can earn actual income from that solar panel.
We want to make sure that solar is available to anyone. This is democratisation and accessibility of solar. Right now, even here in Amsterdam, you can’t invest in solar unless you invest in the solar company. If you don’t own a house, how can you invest in solar? So there’s this paradigm and problem all around the world. We want to solve that problem.
How will your solar parks enable the transition to renewable energy in Australia?
Australia has one of the most expensive energy markets in the world. It’s a country rich in natural, renewable resources but also rich in fossil fuels. But they export that cheap stuff and this lifts the whole market price in the energy space very, very high. So we’re bringing cheaper energy to the marketplace, we’re selling energy to communities.
A solution to greenwashing
They offer what’s called green tariffs, but the green tariff doesn’t necessarily mean green energy, because green tariff is saying that over a 24-hour cycle the energy will be mostly green but they’ll be providing offsets.
That’s the difference we’re bringing with our product. It’s not just ‘branded green’ it is truly a green product. We can prove that this energy is all green.
Who will your consumers be?
We are building the parks in areas where we know we have community demand and where there’s actual infrastructure that can deliver the solar energy we generate.
We’re not selling to the average consumer. We’re selling B2B.
Our strategy is to provide that capability from an introduction to a community from a community event. Then we sell the fully green energy through a retailer. What we’re looking to do is provide a better matching for people’s requirement – not just forcing green on people.
We do have some extra costs so this isn’t the cheapest energy on the grid. In Australia, coal, which is subsidised by the government, still provides the cheapest energy on the grid.
What are future solar energy trends?
Solar energy will continue to grow year on year. It will double the next two years and then double again, it’s going to have an exponential growth phase. It’s exciting to be in the industry at the bottom of that hyper growth.
Solar plus storage is really the holy grail. And where we have wind plus solar plus storage, we can capture up to 100% of what the grid requirements are.
What we need to do is to build up to 200% or even 300% renewable energy compared to grid requirements, so that we can totally change the paradigm of the cost of energy and bring a brand new economic engine to bear. We can build new industry opportunities by having this extra renewable power around the world.
What are your top 3 tips for other greentech entrepreneurs?
Persistence. Persistence. Persistence.
Hustle beats talent five days out of seven.
You have to be persistent and that doesn’t mean being weird and scammy. You don’t have to be creepy and trying to push anything, but you just need to be persistent to find a way to make it happen.
Where’s your fit? Where’s the money? And then where’s your scale?
Finding your fit and your timing is the hardest thing as an entrepreneur and making sure you can find your path to money, and then with that being your path to scale.
If you can answer those questions, you can be an entrepreneur. If you don’t have the answer to those three questions then you’re not really working with the right amount of chemistry.
The world is changing so fast, this is as slow as it gets.
We have to learn how to course correct and make decisions with 70% of the information and then course correct along the way. It does require you to make bold moves and you cannot just pontificate around getting the last 2% or even 20% of information together for a decision. So that does mean make sure that you make decisions and get shit done.
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