1000 Solutions — March 20, 2018
MEET A MEMBER: Ludovic Deblois, CEO of Sunpartner Technologies
Ludovic Deblois is the CEO of Sunpartner Technologies, a company that manufactures transparent windows and facade structures with integrated photovoltaic cells. With its headquarters based in France, Sunpartner Technologies is among the first companies to design transparent windows capable of collecting energy from the sun.
What inspired you to start Sunpartner Technology?
In 2005, after having worked six years in the automotive industry, I decided to transition to a company that was involved in ocean observation and protection. I was in charge of developing new solutions for Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia to protect the resources and oceans. During this experience, I had to establish new telecommunication centers and in some countries they had no access to the grid. So I had to imagine an energy autonomous building in order to implement a telecommunication system, which is where my interest in solar energy started. As I got more interested in the details of the existing technology, I realized that there was a lot more to do and a lot of potential for change in the field of solar energy for the future. That’s why I decided to create Sunpartner Technologies.
What does Sunpartner Technologies do exactly?
Sunpartner Technologies is developing transparent and aesthetic photovoltaic modules in order to apply it to all surfaces we find around us. It can be on a display, on a connected watch, on the roof of a car, or even the facade of a building.
Your main activity is integrating photovoltaic cells into windows, how does that work exactly?
Our company developed a new technology that enables us to reduce the size of the solar cells so that you don’t see them anymore, allowing you to see through the glass. This can be integrated into the facade of a building and add a new source of renewable energy to the building or any other applications integrated in the building.
Can you explain the term ‘energy autonomy’ and how this concept was important when conceptualizing Sunpartner Technologies?
I think that throughout the past century and the beginning of this century, we relied mostly on a centralized model. This world is now behind us because we have at once more of a global vision and a local vision that can also be applied to energy. I decided to center my company on energy autonomy and on local consumption because the more you think local, the easier it is to adapt the type of energy to your environment. I think that more and more we have to have both, a global solution for large consumers, such as big cities and local solutions for the direct use in the autonomy of a car, of a building or even a smartphone.
Has there been a mentality shift in our society that has pushed people to want to gain energy autonomy?
Through education, citizens are more and more aware of renewable energy and there is a lot of interest in the different applications of energy. In some places you have a lot of wind, in others you have a lot of solar energy and to use the energy source that is the most efficient and the most economic is something logical at the end of the day, and people have become more and more sensitive to that.
How has regulation evolved with your solution?
What has been very interesting since a few years is that we have regulation in Europe that is pushing new buildings and existing buildings to reach the positive energy building. That’s something very important for us and to encourage renewable energy off-grid. You also need to have a solution that is accepted by architects but also by promoters, and by clients. One of the key things for architects is that you need to have aesthetic and transparent solutions, and until now, these solutions have not been available. Thanks to our technology we have strong feedback from architects. We really see that times are changing and that architects want to apply our technologies to all kinds of spaces, such as company buildings, hotels, train stations, and even swimming pools.
How long did it take you to come up with your solution?
We invested more than seven years of research and development to create this technology and we raised about 72 million euros to bring the technology from inception to industrialization. We started with small surfaces for connected objects and since September, we have our manufacturing line for large surfaces in buildings. We also want to reach the transportation market soon thanks to our transparent and flexible photovoltaic glass surfaces.
Where have you already deployed your solution?
On the building market, we started in France with some company headquarters. We now have a distribution company in Switzerland, we are building partnerships in Germany, and we have started some companies in Italy and Holland. Outside of Europe, we are having discussions to create joint ventures for manufacturing and selling our product: mainly in Japan, the Middle East and the United States.
Where do you manufacture your solution?
To reduce the transportation cost and consumption and because the glass market is inherently a local market, we decided to create a small manufacturing line that can be set up everywhere in the world. When we go to the United States, we will have our manufacturing line there and the same goes for Japan. We thought of this on purpose, as it also spurs employment because it enables us to create value everywhere.
Why is it important for you to have an economic angle to your solution?
As you probably know, we are still investing a lot at the moment because when you create a joint venture, you need to invest in new equipment in all the regions you want to produce in. We will therefore not reach profitability this year, but we will reach it at the end of 2019, beginning of 2020. We are raising 50 million euros this year to create all the joint ventures around the world. At first we will make slow returns - but with a production of about 50,000 square meters, we already have a profit. That’s quite close to the potential we have. We plan to reach 1 million square meters by the end of 2021.
Where does your interest in the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions come from?
We know that citizens are ready now for new changes that protect the environment and change our behaviour today. But we also know today that everything is fragile, that you have different ways of thinking in other parts of the world. We are expecting strong support from the World Alliance to promote renewable energy and continue to support new regulation. The World Alliance shows the world that these solutions are renewable and have economic benefits. They can bring employment and business for all countries that try to target new objectives in terms of renewable energy. We would also like to increase our network and our market potential through positioning in other countries, both in Europe and outside of Europe.