Innovative start-up puts Fiji ahead on renewables

Sunergise project, Fiji
Sunergise project, Fiji

Fiji is making its mark as a leader in renewable energy thanks to an innovative start-up company focusing on supplying energy to the corporate sector.

Sunergise is the brain-child of entrepreneurs from Africa and the Pacific and has attracted investment interest from the World Bank as well as from Australia, New Zealand, North America and China.

Before Sunergise came along, the Port of Denarau Marina looked at installing solar but decided it was too difficult.

“As a marina business we are very intrinsically tied to the environment and climate change and we want to make a difference,” Port of Denarau Marina managing director Nigel Skeggs told ABC News.

“But for us to install a multi-million-dollar solar system was not our core complement.”

The installation of the first 700 PV cells at the marina was completed in 2012, just two days before Cyclone Evan hit, with winds gusting up to 270 kph.

Only one panel was damaged.

Sunergise has since completed two more installations at the Port of Denarau, creating the biggest marina-based solar plant in the world.

Sunergise’s business model is to focus on blue chip corporate clients and to own and operate the infrastructure they put on their roof. It doesn’t sell solar panels, it sells energy – specifically contracts that run for 10 or more years, with the client initially saving about 10 per cent, with certainty over their power costs moving forward.

One of Fiji’s top hotels, the Tokoriki Island resort, uses Sunergise’s solar power technology and has cut its power bill by 50 per cent and silenced its expensive diesel generators.

The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation, its private sector arm, made its decision to take a 20 per cent stake in Sunergise based on the skills of its people.

Sunergise’s advisory board includes Danny Kennedy — a former Greenpeace campaign manager who went on make millions founding Sungevity — and American filmmaker Chris Paine — best-known for the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?

The company’s business model draws heavily on that of multi-billion-dollar US renewable energy firm SunEdison, which in April filed for bankruptcy.

Like Sunergise, SunEdison was capital hungry to pay the up-front cost of the solar installations it owed but it also went on an asset-buying spree that left it overextended.