Sun Exchange moves to become solar, battery storage project developer

12th February 2024

By: Schalk Burger

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor


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Crowdsale-financing solar power projects company Sun Exchange will shift its focus to becoming a full-service commercial solar power and energy storage project developer, with all projects to be funded through corporate and institutional funders, but not individuals.

“This enables us to continue serving our core sectors of high-impact organisations including schools, retirement homes, non-profit organisations and agriculture, while expanding into larger commercial and industrial projects as well.

“The incredible momentum we have seen since launching our corporate and institutional funder programme in 2022 clearly signals that this is the best path forward for Sun Exchange to continue making an impact with solar power,” says Sun Exchange CEO Saul Wainwright.

This pivot, however, comes with challenges and mixed emotions, and the most difficult part of this transition is that the company is moving away from the original crowdsale-based model, which has been core to Sun Exchange since its founding in 2015.

“The crowdsale model allowed us to build a global community of solar power supporters and what established Sun Exchange, but the model is no longer a viable business model for Sun Exchange,” Wainwright comments.

The company had its biggest year so far in 2023 and, despite the slower traction of its crowdsales, it funded R92-million of projects, of which R76-million, or 82%, came from corporate and institutional funders. This represents a 114% year-on-year growth compared with 2022.

“In December, we announced the completion of the largest school solar project in the Western Cape, the 470 kW solar plus 700 kWh storage HTS Drostdy solar project in Worcester, South Africa. We are currently installing our largest project across all sectors, a 544 kW solar plus 1 415 kWh storage project powering Vaandrigsdrift, which is a commercial dairy farm in Swellendam, South Africa,” said Wainwright.

Sun Exchange introduced an institutional funder programme at the end of 2022 and has since partnered with a range of commercial companies and financial services firms.

“The growth in funding from institutions stands in stark contrast to the decline in crowdsale demand over the past two years, which we believe is owing to a complex confluence of internal and external factors. Simultaneously, the unprecedented levels of loadshedding in South Africa since mid-2021 have led to a spike in demand for battery-integrated solar projects from our end-users.

“Compared to the standalone solar photovoltaic projects Sun Exchange focused on in the early years, storage-integrated projects require significantly higher capital expenditure and are difficult and slow to fund via crowdsales, which leads to disruptions in development timelines and increased costs.

“However, institutional and corporate funders are able to fund entire projects at once in a defined amount of time,” he says.

“Sun Exchange has deployed solar and storage projects for more than 90 organisations across various sectors and has one of the largest fleets of commercial projects in South Africa. This track record underscores the strength of our project development capabilities, funder network and commitment to ensuring our customers’ solar power journey is seamless and rewarding,” he avers.

“With a sharp focus on connecting a growing network of trusted funders with promising solar and storage project opportunities, we are poised to continue growing our impact well into the future. We look forward to the next chapter on our journey to empower South Africa’s future with clean, reliable energy.”

Sun Exchange was launched with the purpose of creating a better world for future generations with solar power. It now also finds itself playing a critical and unexpected role in responding to South Africa’s energy crisis.

“This brought challenges and opportunities that are bigger and more urgent than we would have imagined in the early days. It is become increasingly clear that Sun Exchange must evolve to continue growing successfully and sustainably.

“We view ourselves as a collective, which includes our employees, solar cell owners, solar customers, development and installation partners, investors and, most recently, institutional funders. Our priority at this time is to ensure the sustainability of Sun Exchange and the best possible outcome for all stakeholders,” Wainwright says.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online



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