ENGIE Factory

Portfolio Series: An interview with Solar AI founder, Bolong Chew

A former consultant for Fortune 500 and startup companies alike, Bolong Chew joined ENGIE Factory to become the founder of Solar AI, a smarter way for solar developers to prospect and sell solar projects using satellite imagery and advanced analytics. We caught up with Bolong to hear more about his journey becoming CEO.

What made you want to become an entrepreneur and start a company?

My broad goal in life has always been to create scalable change, or “make a dent in the world”, as I sometimes describe it. I think entrepreneurship might be the best way to do so – working on something I can dedicate myself to, shape it in a way which maximizes for impact and outcomes. And ultimately – take ownership and responsibility for its failures and successes.

Why did you decide to join ENGIE Factory’s program instead of founding a company on your own?

Well, I came into the program in a bit of an atypical manner (there’s a whole back-story behind this). I was introduced to the team and first joined them as a full-time Entrepreneur-in-Residence with a mandate to help build and scale up the upcoming portfolio of ventures. I’ve always wanted to work on issues which mattered to me – poverty, inequality, climate change – so this was a perfect opportunity, but I came in knowing NOTHING about the industry and wasn’t expecting to jump into any venture, at least in the first six months. But things have a funny way of coming together – after a couple months of building Solar AI, I got extremely convinced of the problem statement we were looking to solve and also felt like this was now a baby I’ve spent so much time grooming that I wasn’t willing to let it go to anyone else. That was when (in May 2020) I told the team that I’d actually like to transition out of my role and take Solar AI forward as a founder.

I honestly wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without ENGIE Factory. The team’s not only given me the support and network to plug my knowledge gap in the industry, but also the seed funding to allow me to build up a technical team for our core products centered around data and intelligence for rooftop solar projects.

What has surprised you about working with ENGIE?

I started off my career in management consulting and have worked with several large corporates on their digital strategy across the region. While there certainly are exceptions, I have become a by-default skeptic of corporate innovation.

But I ultimately decided to join the ENGIE Factory team because I believe they are certainly one of the exceptions, and working with them in the last half year has only doubled-down on that belief. As an entrepreneur, having a set of investors who truly care about the mission of solving climate change, and not just financial returns, is also extremely important to me.

Tell us about your startup? What is Solar AI?

Solar AI Technologies is a software startup providing building intelligence for rooftop solar projects. Globally we’re now past grid-parity (where solar has become a cheaper source of energy than traditional fossil fuels) with tremendous growth potential for solar. However, cost of sales is often as high as 30-40% of total project costs, with some salespeople eyeballing large rooftops on Google satellite images, or driving around industrial estates just to look for new prospects.

We combine geospatial analysis of satellite imagery with big data to provide energy companies with a platform to systematically discover and identify new rooftop solar projects.

How is next generation data analytics and data science transforming your industry?

There’s already a ton (though never enough) being done in monitoring and predicting the production of solar energy, particularly in the context of grid stability, by using weather and satellite data for energy production forecasting.

However, applications of data science can extend far beyond monitoring existing solar assets. With most rooftops sitting empty, the power of data can be immense in helping energy companies identify the rooftops with the most solar potential, or the customers who are the best for solar. At Solar AI, we’re using computer vision on satellite imagery to pre-calculate the solar potential for buildings at scale, and combining that with building and company information to match energy companies to building owners for solar projects.

What advice would you share with future energy entrepreneurs?

Renewables are undoubtedly the future of energy. There’s so much to do and so many opportunities for change – the simplest way to get involved is just to get started.

SustainX

SustainX is a SaaS platform designed to help financial institutions lower the cost of deploying sustainability-linked loans for the SME segment in ASEAN markets. The solution aims to address challenges for both FIs and SMEs by acting as the largest behind-the-scenes facilitator of Medium Enterprise decarbonisation projects.

EnShare

EnShare works with REITs and multiple building owners in Australia to optimize rooftop solar and storage installation, as well as aggregate capacity for participation in Australian energy market. Building owners are able to meet ESG targets and receive revenue share

from energy sale to tenants, who in turn access green energy at up to 25% lower tariffs.

EVDots

EVDots was a startup originally under ENGIE Factory that has now become part of a ComfortDelgro Engie JV that is dedicated to the roll out of EV charging infrastructure and supporting the transition to sustainable transportation. The goal is to provide the entire ecosystem, from renewable energy production to EV charging systems to electric vehicles on the road. ​​

ORkA

ORkA is an advanced digital system that easily allows customers to input their energy information – about their buildings, factories, and businesses – and get a clear and professional improvements report instantly. Then, depending on the ROI of each action plan the customer makes an informed decision to choose the best for them, ORkA also offers financing and deployment of the solution.

PHNXX

PHNXX is a modular microgrid solution that provides customers with reliable, sustainable and cost-effective power on demand to suit their unique energy consumption profiles. PHNXX solution offers multiple sources of renewable energy generation coupled with battery storage and managed by an integrated Smart Energy Management System to meet customer energy demands without relying on the grid. 

Entarctic

Entarctic maximizes energy efficiency in cold warehouses by reducing the electricity bills of cold storage facilities by up to 30% while ensuring safe temperatures. Its solution is quick-to-install and instantly makes customers’ cold room more energy efficient and sustainable. It is installed with no disruptions to operations and delivered on a pay-as-you-save or buy-and-own model.

Solar AI Technologies

Solar AI Technologies is a digital-first solar company in Singapore and is one of the first in the region to provide zero upfront cost, rooftop solar-as-a-service for smaller commercial and residential property owners. Customers now have a way to get instant solar savings without putting any money down, and in a risk-free approach.

Carbon Compass

Carbon Compass is decarbonising the mining sector by aggregating energy-related data from mid-tier mine sites to accelerate their deployment of renewables. Carbon Compass’s digital solution creates different simulations of renewable energy assets to help miners optimise their energy stack with different configurations of renewables.

TablePointer

TablePointer is an energy management-as-a-service for food and beverage outlets. Decentralized facilities like food and beverage outlets in Asia use 4X more energy per sqm versus office buildings and profit margins are hit by over 15% from energy wastages. TablePointer’s intelligent energy and asset manager helps decentralized facilities optimize energy efficiency, monitor assets and upgrade profitability.

BillionBricks

BillionBricks is developing solar housing communities by combining effective technologies for solar houses with renewable energy models. BillionBricks’ innovative design makes it possible to build net-zero homes to foster homebuyer inclusiveness and reduce the carbon emission of the built industry. Projects are being deployed now in the Philippines to create net zero communities.