The long read: Smarter robots to step up to service


From pv magazine 01/2021

Ecoppia reported more than $220 million of interest in the share price offered, but instead, the company accepted less than half of that in investment. What would you say is the significance in the level of interest in the IPO?

I think it connects to the way the market for robotic cleaning has started to mature. There is a good understanding that it [robotic cleaning] is delivering a lot of value to the developer, and they are the ones who are running these types of sites for 25 years. With that in mind, the valuation is a recognition of the value that we can bring to the market.

The market is one of the fastest-growing among this type of infrastructure investment. Solar plants are growing in terms of the number of sites being deployed but also their size. And when you get to a larger site, then robotic cleaning really is required.

Why was the lesser level of investment accepted? Why not raise more?

There is always some kind of negotiation on quotes from the market, their reaction, and then adjustment. We are very pleased with the outcome and the market showed that there is much more demand at the tender price than we want to offer. In terms of the cash amount we decided to raise, it is in line with our objectives, and we didn’t want to dilute the existing investors more than we have done. We just put a target, we met this target very comfortably, and we say that’s good enough and exactly what we wanted to achieve.

The figure is $83.8 million raised. What are your priorities in terms of investment within Ecoppia?

There are different things we want to achieve. First of all, we would like to develop the next generation of products with more capabilities. These capabilities are leaning toward data collection and analysis – not only [data] about the robots, but from the solar plants themselves.

We are running on a daily, or nightly, basis through the field and are seeing a lot of things that are changing in the plant. And we can provide some valuable insights to the plant owners about what is happening and what can be done to improve performance. So, we are thinking about R&D type investments in this area. I should add that we are not excluding the option of acquiring technologies in this field.

We are also thinking of providing financing models for our robots. This is especially for retrofitting existing fields – that is, after the financial close of a plant, when a developer is then looking to add robotic units. Typically, there is more difficulty financing for the relatively small amount of money [required to add robotic cleaners]. Here we could offer some financial support and solutions – some kind of leasing model.

Eventually, one must bear in mind that the type of clients we are targeting are very large players. The large players are developing sites with hundreds of inverters, thousands of trackers, and millions of modules. As counterparties working with these players, we want to be a partner that will be there for at least 25 years. We are now able to show deep pockets and a robust balance sheet – itself created by a product that is very reliable. We can prove that we can be there as long as is required.

You pointed to solar cleaning as a service. How much demand from the market are you seeing for this?

We are talking about selling the service of the cleaning and providing the means that are necessary, including the robot. We are thinking that this model will be the best fit for retrofitting. When a developer is going to finance a new plant, they are going to get a very competitive financing cost that will allow them to finance the acquisition of robots. But with retrofitting [a plant with robotic cleaning], it does become tricky. Opening again after a financial close or agreement is becoming more complex and, in this instance, we can provide good value and make the decision to adopt our technology easier for the developer.

Could payment for such a service be based on yield?

It is kind of tricky, because measuring the performance includes many more attributes than cleaning alone. We know what we are providing because we leave a few rows as a benchmark to show the customers the value that we bring.

But there can be a lot of malfunctions on infrastructure this size: So, to manage the risk for our shareholders and partners, we are very careful in not promising more than we can deliver.

Being a company based in Israel, how important has the Middle East region been for your development?

We grew up in the Middle East and have gained a lot of experience in this challenging region[…] We have projects in the region celebrating their seven-year anniversary. […] We have been waiting for this region to come, and years ago, we were expected the boom. Now I think we can be cautiously optimistic about it and see more large-scale projects in the Middle East and MENA as a whole, so it is a great opportunity for us.

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