Harnessing the power of solar
Rushika Bhatia
SME Stories

Harnessing the power of solar

The UAE’s solar energy sector is shining bright and leading entrepreneurs such as Jeremy Crane are responsible for this progress. Over the last decade or so, solar energy has slowly emerged to the forefront due to its flexibility, cost-effectiveness and environmental friendliness. And, several companies have come up with innovative solutions to harness the potential of this sector. One such company is Yellow Door Energy.

Yellow Door Energy offers solar leasing and energy efficiency solutions to businesses. It manages distributed solar systems end-to-end, which means that it designs, builds, owns, operates and maintains the solar systems. “Founded in 2015, we’ve since signed over 60 megawatts of solar leases in Dubai and Jordan with customers such as Nestlé, Arabian Industrial Gases, Elcome, AMI Middle East, among others,” explains Crane. “Our vision is to power emerging economies reliably, efficiently and sustainably, and we are working hard to reach US$1 billion worth of green distributed investment in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.”

A combination of different factors led to Crane’s entry into the world of solar. His training as a mechanical engineer enticed him to get into a field that would involve creating new solutions. This combined with his personal passion to preserve a pristine environment for future generations attracted him to explore the realm of renewable energy.

The solar leasing model was new to Dubai and the inception of the Shams Dubai Programme in 2015 proved to be a catalyst that launched Crane’s company. “Upon completing my MBA, I became more interested and involved in the financing side of renewables. Shams Dubai is DEWA’s official net metering scheme, which allows solar plant owners to receive credits for the excess solar power they feed back to the grid. It is this regulation that makes solar leasing profitable for us and our customers,” he explains.

Setting a shining example

Businesses today face many challenges, such as doing more with less money and fewer resources, coping with rising and uncertain utility prices, and managing stakeholders’ increased awareness and expectation for sustainable business practices. These challenges are addressed by Yellow Door Energy’s services: solar leases and shared energy savings contracts.

A solar lease is a performance-based contract between a business and Yellow Door Energy which enables the business to go solar with no upfront investment while benefiting from guaranteed solar performance and reduced utility bills. With a lease, customers can continue focusing on their core business while entrusting the solar plant’s design, construction, operation and maintenance to Yellow Door Energy.

Harnessing the power of solar
Jeremy Crane of Yellow Door Energy

From a client’s perspective, working with Yellow Door Energy makes sense because its solutions help building owners make the switch to a cleaner source of energy, reduce utility bills by 10 to 50 per cent, reduce CO2 emissions and enhance sustainability. “We’ve undertaken extensive work with commercial and industrial customers to help them go solar. One of the biggest challenges – from a customer viewpoint – is that they must commit to a single vendor for 10-20 years. This long-term commitment requires a high degree of mutual trust between us and the customer. To enhance the trust, we provide a performance guarantee on our solar systems. We procure quality equipment and work with certified contractors so that our customers can rely on us to deliver excellent service throughout the 10 or 20 years that we’re together. Additionally, we ensure that we’re as efficient as possible with all our resources. Innovation is an integral part of our DNA and we welcome new ideas and new ways of doing things. Lastly, sustainability is also one of our core values because we believe in the triple bottom line approach to sustainability – we want to be a company that is economically, socially and environmentally sustainable,” he explains.

Making sense and cents of solar power

Crane’s solar plants have leading market shares in Jordan and Dubai. Owing to the stellar reputation they currently have in the market, they’ve been making strides. “A big milestone for us was when our first solar plants became operational, generating solar power for our customer, last year. More solar plants have come online this year and we’re excited about having more customers on board. Another proud moment is when we successfully raised debt funding for our projects. It is not an easy task but our strong credentials gave us the funding we need to finance our projects. We have a very strong reputation in the marketplace and thus far have consistently maintained the leading market share of signed solar leasing customers in Jordan and Dubai,” he beams with pride.

Buoyed by improving environmental policies and government mandates, solar energy is becoming more accessible than ever. Yet, we don’t see companies harnessing its full potential. So, what is holding back commercial and industrial (C&I) solar? Is it the lack of access or familiarity?

“There are several challenges that hinder the adoption of solar power. A solar plant requires adequate space and this is an issue in increasingly congested cities. Some regulators get around this issue by allowing for “wheeling”, where solar power can be generated off-site and “wheeled” to the grid, and a customer can purchase solar power even though it is not generated on his building. Another challenge is that traditional energy sources still receive significant subsidies in some jurisdictions. This drives down the cost of traditional energy and even though the price of solar has fallen significantly, it is not enough to compete with subsidised traditional energy sources. And lastly, solar power means changing the way we look at the grid. Some regulators resist change. We are lucky that this is not an issue in Dubai, which is the first emirate to endorse the net metering scheme,” reasons Crane.

Things are heating up…

 All forecasts and trends predict an increased penetration of solar power. Crane already has ambitious plans to seize the opportunities that lie ahead of him: “I’m interested in seeing how smart grids and new technologies such as blockchain play a role in the future. Solar power is on an upward trajectory and new technologies such as storage capabilities will accelerate solar energy transition. In the immediate future, we plan to expand to the rest of the UAE. Currently, we only have projects in Dubai but with (hopefully) upcoming favourable regulations, we will expand to the other emirates. The other side of our business is energy efficiency and there is a huge market to retrofit buildings in Dubai and beyond so we want to invest more in that as well. In the long-term, we want to deploy US$1 billion worth of green distributed investment in the region. This will help us achieve our vision of powering emerging economies reliably, efficiently and sustainably.”

Harnessing the power of solar
An aerial shot of Yellow Door Energy’s installation at AMI Middle East

As an industry veteran, there’s no one better placed than Crane to advise up and coming entrepreneurs about entering this market. “I think business owners must make sure they have sufficient capital because this is a capital-intensive industry. Especially if you are a lease provider, you need to have enough money to purchase all the necessary equipment, hire all the right people and make ends meet. Of course, there’s also the cost of maintenance and upkeep as well as other operational costs.”

“While there is no silver bullet to address all the challenges of climate change, I am proud that at Yellow Door Energy, we’re doing our small part to move the needle in the right direction. The future is bright!” concludes Crane.