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Renewable Energy

Empowered Homes Sustainable Communities An exclusive with Ecovest Holdings Managing Director, Christiaan Taaljard By: Tabrez Khokhar


stablished in 2006, Ecovest Holdings has grown to become a key player in Gauteng’s custom home solar solutions market. Recently shortlisted by the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI) for the SANEDI RECORD RERE ENERGY AWARDS 2014,

Aspire Africa spoke with Managing Director Christiaan Taljaard to give us an indepth look at Ecovest’s innovations and discuss the establishment of their Off-Grid Manufacturing Plant (OMP). 2

Ecovest Holdings · South Africa

Renewable Energy off-grid communities pay more for their energy than on-grid households! ” CT

Chris Taaljard, Managing Director

Tabrez Khokhar: Give us a brief history of Ecovest and the company’s values and its mission. Chris Taljaard: The lack of European type marketing, supply chain and distribution channels makes the African market unique in industrialized countries – it also highlights the need for custom African design and inclusivity. Established in 2006 Ecovest commenced to research the developmental value chain that would commercialize and deliver, not evolve, a custom African solar home lighting solution product. There are basically two schools of thought to provide Africans with energy. The first, grid energy, like Eskom does in South Africa to the community and the second, developing point solutions, i.e. product-by-product solutions, thereby powering households.

Ecovest realized that grid would not be possible because of the attitude and the lack of rural infrastructure in South Africa. Hence, we chose to develop point solutions and commenced to design the products. We quickly realised it was a very comprehensive delivery that we were facing, because we didn’t have the grid as well the distribution. To date, we quote our local manufacturing capability as the grid of point solutions into African communities. TK: Highlight Ecovest’s track record and how the combined experience of the team contributes to its success. CT: Well again, if you stand back and the see the magnitude of the market, about 600 million Africans are without energy and probably another 200 million with Aspire Africa · July/Aug 2015


The ECOlite Kit intermittent power supply which is regularly interrupted, plus, it is a huge market.

TK: Highlight the product range and solutions of Ecovest

Our business philosophy is not to partner, is to perish. We integrate capable partnerships into our designs that are supported by community driven manufacturing. Reduced price points and business enrichment modularity by design is followed by a custom African retail distribution network.

CT: If you analyse the need of off-grid unelectrified households, you will note that the primary energy requirements are lighting and cooking. You have to eat! You have to see! Based on these obvious requirements we proceeded to develop our products.

It is one thing to claim the capacity to supply once you’ve developed, but the supply chain needs a consideration. We realised this and knew that we could not do it alone, hence we partnered with capable manufacturers in South Africa, which enabled us to stand next to, promise the capacity, and supply these developed products. That is the theme that has developed as they are committed to us; we have been working together for over 5 years now and each are specialists in their respective fields. We believe that is what makes a company work in a modern world, which is very competitive and for us to deliver competitive products that are capable and sound. 4

Ecovest Holdings · South Africa

Parallel to what we researched, we were going to need a distribution network which would have off-grid manufacturing capabilities and distribution in a custom African network. These factors influenced our product design. After our initial introduction of the solar lighting and cooking products, we identified another primary lifestyle product, the television. If you look at TV in a European context, it is a used for relaxing, but, here in South Africa, we believe, it is an absolute necessity to uplift Africans. Hence, the solar TV is now included in our product range. Ecovest is securing the delivery of lifestyle with the manufacturing of solar home systems (lighting, television, electronic station and multi cell phone charger) and two cook stoves

The money remains within the community without the use of middlemen who are taking out the profits.” Chris Taaljaard

(biomass and biofuel). Those are our primary products that we lead with and have fully commercialized. TK: What are the benefits of the your products? CT: The best way to answer that is if you analyze a typical rural household. The strange thing is that off-grid communities pay more for their energy than on-grid households! Lighting, cooking and communication are recognized to be primary need by both African decision makers and the International Community. Lighting a shed rurally will cost more than lighting a ‘gridded’ house with normal power supply. The rationale here created the opportunity from a business perspective. Offgrid households pay more for their cooking and lighting then others and therefore an excellent business prospect arose. Un-electrified families currently spend 25 to 30 percent of the household income on cooking and lighting – the introduction of eco-friendly technologies can save R275 per month. In South Africa the potential saving on primary energy is 15 Billion Rand pa. This is the real benefit, which is real and tangible. There is an immeasurable social benefit that also follows. Another is the communication capability into these communities; with our products they can enrich themselves with knowledge and not be so exploitable. TK: What impact has Ecovest had in off-grid areas? CT: We are at the coal phase of implementation and are one of the first companies (in South Africa) with this delivery. We never entered the market with irrational claims touting to have found a solution, throw some money at us and will change the world. We have partnered with several companies

Renewable Energy and institutions that understand the opportunities of African energy as well as the complexities. This includes The Innovations Hub South Africa and the University of Johannesburg. In our seven years we have delivered our own value systems as well as the opportunity to look into other developments, combined these, and sharpened our own initiatives. That is where we have played a bigger role and have had successful impacts - in partnerships, development fronts, social deliveries, and ultimately entering the market successfully. We started off by delivering our low cost products to homes where they proved reliable. To date, we have successfully installed our commercialized product in 23 informal settlements in Gauteng each with 2000 households on average. TK: Tell us about Ecovest’s manufacturing plant, its use of local labour, and facilitating the socio-economic development of the area? CT: Our Off-grid Manufacturing Plant (OMP) answers the essential question, what about human energy? Ecovest has delivered a unique metals manufacturing technology that delivers an un-electrified off-grid factory (business-in-a-box). As an example, our competitors utilize plastic components for their products, whereas ours are fashioned wholly from stainless steel at our plant. We did this knowing full well, from the outset, that South Africa has limited distribution networks once your product is developed and commercialized. What OMP enabled us to fully rely on our manufacturing capability at the plant without having to rely on poor distribution and supplier networks. Thus, answering our own Aspire Africa · July/Aug 2015


Ecovest at a local exhibition

a 1-day training course in household energy management as well as educate them on offgrid manufacturing rationale, so they can go back to their communities and tell others what they have learnt and seen. The parent OMP plant is vital to us. We are proud of the accomplishment that we can show it instead of just talking about it. We will now be setting up OMP sales offices in Gauteng, KZN, Vereeniging and Witbank. TK: What are some of the company’s major achievements? CT: Having now established our OMP plant, it’s not such a battle to market our solution and products. You cannot blame investors for being sceptical, which they are. Along with the South African government, we are manufacturing 15 plants for installation across continental Africa.

question on how we can design our products so that we can manufacture off-grid, and create our own distribution network. Our labour is wholly local, tools are designed and created within the country, research is done using local partners and it all comes together as a product in our OMP plant. The Ecovest OMP employs and sustains three factory workers, 25 informal retailers and ten sales technicians. Plus, we have a capacity of sustaining 175,000 off-grid end users. TK: Can you tell us about some of your recent projects? CT: The main project, if it can be considered that, is that we have successfully completed our parent OMP plant in Pretoria, which is now delivered; it is fully functional and operational. We bring in communities, put them through 6

Ecovest Holdings · South Africa

Having shown the model of the OMP to the government including its success, an agreement was reached that they will market our solution across Africa on a government-togovernment level starting regionally, and then onwards to East & West Africa. Further, Ecovest has a Mining CSR and CSI marketing initiative using the same model of the OMP plant. We are specifically targeting the mining industry to invite them and show the OMP model and illustrate its benefits and uses. Having put a practical solution forward, we are actively seeking to market our OMP to the American-African Energy Consortium that is spearheading President Obama’s power initiative and investment into the continent. TK: What are the corporate social responsibility activities Ecovest is involved with locally?

Renewable Energy

Products being manufactured at the Ecovest OMP

CT: If you know the African marketing style, then you would also know that the youth always play a big role in the society. We are assisting a Canadian social objective (Solar for Life) to install solar charging stations to support students in 7000 KZN schools with modern lighting solutions. With Solar for Life we have established the Ecovest Schools Project (ESP) Africa. The initiative commenced with the manufacturing of battery charging stations that are installed at schools to support poor students with lighting energy for LED lamps sponsored by affluent students. The working principle is simple and pragmatic – the student returns a used rechargeable battery for a unit that is re-charged in a solar charging station at the school by paying a nominal fee. Everybody wins. The household

saves money and the school earns a perpetual income from the station. We have presented it successfully and are now installing a further 3 stations in rural schools within the KZN province. TK: What can we look forward to in terms of new technology and products? CT: We are looking at increasing the life cycle of our products as well as expanding our product range by introducing solar ovens, water warmers, even home system coolers. We have a 45-55 litre fridge which we have researched and are now capable of commercializing. By the end of this year you will be able to purchase the solar oven too! ASPIRE

Aspire Africa ¡ July/Aug 2015

7 Tel. (Office): +27 11450 0340 (Factory): +27 12 564 5461

Ecovest Holdings | Company Brochure  

Empowered Homes, Sustainable Communities.

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