We had the opportunity to interview the CEO of Greenquest Solutions, who is bringing innovative changes to the way we approach the future of renewable energy. We were curious about the direction of the industry and how the company is preparing for the future.
Bobby’s main ambition through Greenquest Solutions is to provide solutions and use “out of the box” ideas to combat climate change and find new ways to drive towards a cleaner, greener planet.
With impressive and sustained growth, Greenquest Solutions demonstrates how a renewable energy business can thrive.
How did you start your career journey?
I graduated from university with a law degree in the UK in 1994. I always knew that the typical 9 to 5 job wasn’t for me. In those days, it was relatively easy to borrow money and renovate properties. It started as a hobby, but we grew the business as borrowing was easy back then. By the time the business closed in 2008, we had built up a portfolio of 220 properties. Over the years, we renovated various types of residential and commercial properties into apartment blocks and housing estates. We also developed a diverse range of properties, including pubs, hospitals, and petrol stations.
And the move to renewables?
Back in 2009, renewable energy was still in its infancy. I started Greenquest Solutions with the aim of developing utility-scale solar farms worldwide. Thanks to my voluntary work at the United Nations for humanitarian purposes and my network of global contacts, it was relatively easy to source potential projects. Typically, we negotiated bilateral agreements for the development of the solar parks. In those days, we travelled extensively around the world, which led to many interesting trips to far-flung regions. In the early days, we worked with established Spanish companies, providing them with development opportunities. Some of the regions we worked with were Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Japan, South Africa, Lesotho, Mozambique, and Brazil, to name a few. This gave us an extensive understanding of how the international markets worked when financing large-scale solar projects.
More importantly, we have identified the reasons why projects fail. Over the years, we have been involved in over 40 projects, collaborating with over 30 different companies and stakeholders in the development of solar farms.
So, what’s the main focus for Greenquest Solutions today?
Today, we are truly working on an international scale. We typically enter new markets with a local team in place, as it is vital to have experienced locals who can assist us with the permitting process and other administrative tasks. Our local team inevitably becomes our local partners, with a stake in every project we handle. They are tasked with preparing projects for construction.
We have a network of around 40 individuals working in their respective countries, including solar developers, designers, engineers, and financial experts. We currently have around 1 GW of projects under development at various stages in Africa, with interests in Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Namibia, and Cameroon. Further afield, we are in talks with projects in Hungary, Colombia, Bangladesh, India, and Sri Lanka, as well as multiple projects in Kazakhstan.
The nature of solar development means that you need to be working on multiple projects, as some may fail due to circumstances beyond your control. Our local development teams work with various stakeholders, while our in-house designers drive projects forward. We are constantly talking to other developers to share ideas, explore joint-venture opportunities, and discuss potential funds to assist with construction.
So, what would you say is the main obstacle for the progression of renewables in the developing markets?
As I discussed earlier, I believe that financing large-scale solar farms in emerging markets poses several challenges. These include regulatory hurdles, a lack of enthusiasm from the international financial community, and the state of existing infrastructure. However, the complexity of these challenges means that higher margins can be offered by the off-taker, resulting in greater returns.
Having worked with other developers, I saw firsthand how problematic this situation was. That’s why Greenquest Solutions began taking on these challenges head-on.
So, what’s the solution?
For the past 14 years, we’ve taken the traditional route to finance, which works well in developed markets but can be challenging in emerging markets. The challenges faced by solar developers inspired us to think differently and come up with innovative solutions.
The solution is in our hands. While it’s great to hear how the international community is pledging to make a change, actions always speak louder than words. Despite all the goodwill in the world, we are not moving fast enough, and time is running out. Politics and red tape often get in the way, leading to obstacles in project development.
We wanted to support a new way of funding the development and construction of utility-scale solar farms, especially in emerging markets where the need for energy is high and the benefits are significant.
Personally, I believe that if you want something done, you should do it yourself. In that vein, I have been asked to head up a new start-up called Wattcrowd. Wattcrowd is a group of like-minded industry professionals who share the belief that together we can make a difference.
The idea behind Wattcrowd is to put the power of crowdfunding into renewables. Individuals can purchase a solar panel or a number of solar panels. Once purchased, these panels are fully managed by the developer, and the revenue generated is provided back to the panel owner. I believe this is a great idea that will take off exponentially, and I wanted Greenquest Solutions to be one of the first to support the platform.
So how does Wattcrowd work?
It’s two-fold. Firstly, Wattcrowd provides a platform or a marketplace for anyone with money in the bank to be able to invest in a solar panel without all the headaches of upkeep, installation, maintenance, etc. It’s a truly remarkable concept as the power of the crowd, meaning the “power of the people,” can make a real difference, especially where it’s needed most. The idea behind it makes perfect sense. Instead of having your money gathering dust in a bank account, typically bringing back 3 or 4%, the Wattcrowd platform offers a much higher return.
When I say a higher return, I don’t mean just financially. Yes, there is a great incentive with regards to the returns on investment, but I focus more on the non-financial returns, such as seriously reducing climate change on a panel per panel basis. By investing with a higher purpose, the customer now has an option and, more importantly, an avenue to be able to make a difference. The client knows exactly where their money is going and exactly how much return they will receive but also with the added knowledge that they are helping in the fight against climate change. We are providing a platform for the conscientious investor to make a real change.
It’s all about making a direct change by giving the average person an avenue that is not only safe and secure but also beneficial for themselves and for the community at large.
Over and above these benefits, the typical emerging market solar farm provides so much more. Take a case study with regards to Cameroon. Wattcrowd is providing solar energy to remote regions in the country that will provide immeasurable benefits to the local population. Just a moment’s thought about electricity means so much more than bringing light. It’s all the other benefits these projects provide to humanity. Electricity in these remote regions provides the opportunity for water, hospitals, schools, Wi-Fi, and businesses to thrive, the economy to start working, and it’s these types of benefits added to everything else that makes this concept a real winner. In extreme cases, electricity is life-changing and life-saving.
The Wattcrowd platform is placing the tools for change directly in the hands of the general public by providing a win-win solution. The client no longer has to choose between selfish gains but can invest with a higher purpose. If you are provided with an opportunity to earn more than you would in a bank and at the same time fight climate change and help humanity, why wouldn’t you? And this is precisely the reason why Greenquest Solutions is fully supportive of the Wattcrowd platform.
In addition to the panel sales, more importantly, the platform is in talks with a Swiss cryptocurrency exchange. The idea is to launch its own cryptocurrency, the “Wattoken.” This is similar to the panel sales, however, on a much smaller scale, where tokens can be purchased for a fraction of the price of the panel. The token represents a cell of the solar panel, meaning it’s an asset-backed token that generates a steady income. The concept is relatively easy to understand and provides easy entry-level to renewable energy. This is ideal as the crypto space is generally dominated by the younger generation and, therefore, easier on their pockets and provides an avenue for conscientious investment for the younger generations that have more to gain.
So how does Greenquest Solutions fit into the Wattcrowd community?
I love the idea; it’s a win-win situation, and when everybody is getting a piece of the pie, these projects inevitably succeed. Meanwhile, of course, we will continue with the traditional route of funding in the emerging markets.
It just makes perfect sense that why wouldn’t you invest in a token when the rate of return is higher than what you are getting in your bank? You are directly controlling how that investment is benefiting the climate and humanity. When you have a product that provides a better return and a feel-good factor, it just makes sense, and that is why Greenquest Solutions is supporting the Wattcrowd marketplace.
The crypto market is full of confusing and hard-to-understand token raises. By and large, the general public doesn’t understand the complexities of the Blockchain and the value it can bring. The Wattcrowd offering is going back to basics, providing a very easy-to-understand concept. You purchase a part of a solar panel by way of a token, which you own and keep; it generates an income and is stable.
We have, therefore, pledged, along with other like-minded developers, a number of our projects to the Wattcrowd platform. Our projects are open to the platform at any stage, be it development, construction, and/or operation. Depending on uptake, we may start to see a hybrid situation where we have the Wattcrowd panel owners owning vast portfolios of panels. The opportunities are numerous in that the Wattcrowd concept could expand exponentially working in conjunction with banks and funds, and potentially even having pension funds joining in. Although the idea is in its infancy right now, I do see it working very well in the future.
When will the Wattoken launch?
Presently, as I understand, the company is discussing regulatory and market issues with its lawyers but it is hoped that the launch will happen in 2023 / 2024 when the time is right.
Currently, there are several cryptocurrencies out there in the market. What makes Wattoken unique?
The token launch is unique because it is easy to understand compared to other cryptocurrencies. Simply put, the token represents a cell-based section of the solar panel. Customers purchase a physical part of the panel that generates income and has intrinsic value, ensuring market stability. Therefore, this token can be categorized as a stable coin rather than a highly volatile coin with all the inherent disadvantages.
We know that the extreme volatility in cryptocurrencies often causes consumers to lose interest in them. The Wattoken, however, is less erratic and offers opportunities for profit.
Moving on, have there been any other interesting events in your career span?
Yes, there have been a couple of interesting events in my career. The invitation to serve as an ambassador for the CISRI intergovernmental organization stands out as one of the most unforgettable experiences. In that capacity, I accepted an invitation to the UN in Geneva, where I spoke before the council on the advantages of spirulina and the fight against malnutrition.
We heard that you were invited to Dominica. Would you like to tell us about your experience there?
Yes, opening the “Private Capital Bank” (PCB) in Dominica with the Swiss fund based in Geneva was a unique and memorable event in my career. The nation was thrilled to have a new international fund within its jurisdiction. We were setting up geothermal facilities in the countryside along with another sizable company. As a result of my work there, Dominica invited me to serve as its honorary consul.
I recall obtaining the Spanish government’s consent after the Jamaican high commission suggested it. Sadly, our efforts in the country were turned into collateral damage as a result of political infighting among the local political parties, in an effort to discredit one another. This led to our side withdrawing from all transactions, and my appointment was cancelled. It is unfortunate that so much progress could have been made in the nation, but politics obstructed private enterprise instead of helping the population.
All your career incidents are very interesting. This makes us curious about your challenges. What were your biggest challenges?
The funding for renewable energy in developing markets can be challenging, and we faced this difficulty as well. However, we did not change our minds or give up. Instead, we developed innovative ideas and created a platform where people can participate in the fight against climate change.
So, what makes your organization unique?
We have a unique perspective on business and think outside of the box. Additionally, we are considering new organizational structures to reinforce the foundation of our company and everything we do. We employ a cutting-edge strategy and give people a fresh method to invest, which makes us unique.
We don’t adhere to conventional methods. Our range of services extends from determining a project’s viability to providing guidance once it is launched. GQS’s streamlined business model provides funding for the design, building, maintenance, and administration of utility-scale solar farms. Furthermore, we focus on sustainability and improving environmental conditions considering the current climate changes.
So what’s the future for Greenquest Solution?
Greenquest Solutions is in talks with multiple investment funds and partner governments with the view of increasing its international presence. Additionally, we are set to announce a joint venture with a major European solar developer for a program specifically focused on Africa, where we will be developing projects in Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, and Cameroon.
Furthermore, we are eagerly anticipating test results with businesses in California, where they are creating solar panels based on a less expensive film than conventional materials. We have discussed the concept of thin solar panels with a new startup that has solar panels on films with a concept that saves capital by 80%, while increasing revenue from the panel. If we can reduce our capital expenditures by a large percentage, we automatically increase revenue and cut costs, providing a whole host of new opportunities, especially in the emerging markets.
Lastly, do you see us winning the climate war?
I think we must, there is no option. We need action and we need action now as time is running out, Politics needs to move to the side and good old-fashioned common sense needs to prevail. Easily said but hard to implement.
Difficult question to answer but let’s say yes we will.
Connect with Bobby Wahi on LinkedIn.