Energy storage: Senec supports partners in their customer acquisition
Norbert Schlesiger is CEO of Senec.
Looking back, how do you assess your business for 2016?Norbert Schlesiger: The past year has been very successful for us. We experienced about 70 percent of growth, established a Germany-wide concept for specialist partners and brought to market energy solutions such as Senec Cloud as well as a completely new generation of lithium storage. Further, we have initiated our internationalisation process by preparing for our entry into the Italian and Australian markets. Already in 2017, we will be generating 20 percent of our turnover abroad.
Mathias Hammer: In 2016, we sold about 5,000 storage systems, i.e. were able to significantly increase our sales. At the same time, our products and functionalities such as the Senec Cloud have stood the test of time.
What goals have you set yourself for this year?Norbert Schlesiger: For the German-speaking markets, we want to sell between 6,000 and 7,000 storage systems. On top of these, there are the units that will go to Italy and Australia. Also, we are preparing our entry into the US market. We have already checked out various options in a number of locations in the United States. The storage market is showing a lot of promise in many areas. Each of the states in the US have their own regulations, which presents a number of very interesting business models.
Why are conditions for storage on the Australian market so particularly favourable?Norbert Schlesiger: Most of all, this continent has strong solar irradiation and a high rate of home ownership. A very interesting aspect is the difference between night and day tariffs for electricity. Because of the low demand for power, at night electricity is more inexpensive even for end customers. By adding a particular factor to the price for electricity, the Australian system of levies exacerbates this effect even further. With storage units, it is thus possible to buy in the power at night and use it during the day. This is similar to the night storage heaters we used to have.
How complicated is it to enter the market in such faraway and foreign places?Norbert Schlesiger: You need strong and experienced local partners. And we have found one. The fact that Australia now also has an established PV market, which provides an additional incentive for storage, actually works in our favour. And there are a lot of privately owned homes Down Under that will want to become self-sufficient in the future while having enough land around them for solar arrays.
What is the volume of the Australian market?Norbert Schlesiger: Apart from Germany, the Australian market currently is one of the most interesting markets for us. Here we are entering a quite mature market, which has great advantages: We do not have to invest effort into developing it. Italy is also moving for us. We went through the extensive certification processes and already established a network of specialised partner companies. We founded a sales company and are now beginning to hire staff. Leipzig is a good place from where to supply the storage units to the Italian market – by lorry via the alps.
Senec used to be one of the pioneers in energy storage. Now you intend to orient your company more towards the needs of end customers. What is going to change exactly?Norbert Schlesiger: The company Senec grew based on storage technology. Our key objective was to develop storage units and introduce them to the market as a new technology. Furthermore, we established distribution through installing companies, which we are very good at and have a strong position. Our focus was on installing companies as our main target group, and we intend to continue in this vein in the future. But we do want to provide our partner installing companies with better support when it comes to approaching end customers. There is a clear trend: In Germany, we have so far installed 42 gigawatts of photovoltaics and 40 gigawatts of wind power, and we continue to see a strong demand for solar installations and most of all for storage units from our end customers. And so we now want to use this rising approval to encourage even more people to start their own personal energy transition.
Mathias Hammer: The close ties to our installing companies and the fact that we are very well integrated in the specialist community are a unique selling point that we now want to build on. To us, the reaching out to the end customers is a task to be taken on together with specialist companies. Our loyalty to them is important to us, and is what gives us a vital competitive advantage.
What are the issues that you think the installing companies need support to get better commissions from their customers?Norbert Schlesiger: The installing company is and will always be our primary partner when it comes to hardware, i.e. the storage technology, its design and installation. We would like to increasingly use the Internet and social media to promote our energy solutions more directly to our end customers. We have redesigned our website, where we now also provide a customer hotline. There we assist interested end customers and generate customer enquiries that we then pass on to our partner installing companies.
Mathias Hammer: We realised that although the installing companies are good at selling the storage technology, they do not like to be left alone with the new electricity-related products and accompanying services. And in this we will give them support with better structured information and bespoke services to match just the target end customers.
Maximilian von Grundherr: We will hugely expand our web portal, especially so that it can serve as a tool for the installing company. We are currently working on active installation monitoring and setting up an extensive service history for storage units. In the future, we will conduct all our business processes through this, e.g. ordering or the logistics of spare parts. A cost efficiency calculator integrated in the portal will lend our partners step-by-step assistance in their sales negotiations, all the way to placing the order. The cost benefit calculator involves more than just technical parameters for dimensioning a storage unit based on the size of the solar array and the electricity demand of the household. It also takes into account new financing models as well as our cost assumption certificates and warranties. All of this will be included in this tool which will be available to our partner installation company to facilitate their sales.
Norbert Schlesiger: At the same time, we have optimised our brand image to appeal to these new target groups. In today’s storage market, emotional factors are so much more important than they were three or four years ago. Customers want independence, reliability, security and ease of use. Technical considerations play a minor role. Which is why we now have a brand image that is light and friendly. As I said: We want to encourage people to take on the energy transition.
Maximilian von Grundherr: For the end customer, the technical sophistication of a storage unit is less important than financial aspects and the security of the system and, most of all, his investment. For that reason, we are now offering a comprehensive insurance, which also covers the PV array. Even if our company should drop out of the market – which, of course, we assume will not happen – the installation consisting of the PV array and the storage unit will continue to be insured and safe. To that end, we have been able to win over a group of well-known insurance companies. This gives customers the certainty that they can trust us.
How well is the insurance being accepted?Norbert Schlesiger: Not every customer wants it, but it is playing a noticeable role. After all, it indicates that we are dependable and what we stand for.
The interview was conducted by Heiko Schwarzburger.