Sunday, February 03, 2019

Lessons from EV fast charging in Sri Lanka and other stories. Part 1

Now that we consider our mission in Sri Lanka on EV charging is successfully concluded (we may still put a new charger or two but mostly will maintain the existing infrastructure and focus on some new area), thought of sharing some of things we learned about doing business in Sri Lanka especially in the field of environmentally sustainable solutions.

First, two little stories about "patriotism"

I met an old friend of mine who has a university science education as well as some business experience of his own as well. When discussing other things the topic turned towards the home solar energy solutions we do on a limited scale. The Solar Drive project. He asked why we don't try to manufacture solar panels in Sri Lanka. To him, it didn't look like a patriotic enough activity to import panels from another country and install solar systems in here. He actually was willing to postpone thinking about solar energy until the day Sri Lanka start to produce panels of it's own. Perhaps you also have a friend like this.

What should we call this attitude.. naive patriotism, extreme patriotism or is it just a lack of objectivity? While I do appreciate and share his passion to see things made in Sri Lanka, I'm simply amazed at the big picture being missed there. We are already wasting trillions of Rupeess worth of solar energy every year which fall upon our lands! If we could harness that, it could do following things :

1) Save billions of Rupees which would otherwise go to middle east.
2) Prevent environment pollution
3) Contributing to the battle against global warming and climate change
4) health benefits
5) Ability to run our vehicles also from solar power (via use of EVs)
6) Become a nation with near total energy self-sufficiency. (considering the amount of hydroelectricity and wind power resources we have)
7) A strong and stable local economy
8) Many business opportunities and new jobs for our youth in the solar market.

Considering all that and considering the fact that we are now losing all those benefits and wasting billions daily... Isn't it much better to import solar panels from whatever country which do it well and reach our primary goals?

There is the side of manufacturing as well. Solar panels are something which needs to manufacture in very high quantities to be profitable. Sri Lanka is not such a huge market for very large scale production. We also do not currently have the expertise in this kind of high tech products. China has such a stranglehold in the global market for solar panel production that even many US factories had to shut down due to not being able to compete with China on price. It would be naive indeed, to wait until the day we produce our own panels.

This reasoning applies to few other products as well. Electric Vehicles,  computer microprocessors, etc products which help us save money or generate revenue. It does not apply to luxury items, things we can produce in here, things we are already producing or many other products which we can easily do without.

BTW, our take on the future of Electric Vehicles in Sri Lanka can be found on here, if you are interested.

Another side story related to 'patriotism'..

This is a bit long and not all that pleasant as the first one, but gives a strong and useful lesson for someone who is new to business in Sri Lanka.

When we started EV fast charging, two other parties joined us and we together imported few fast chargers. We even got an easy payment option where we could pay some amount of the investment monthly within 6 months. Chinese factory has trusted us and issued chargers. Actually, all three of us got the easy payment scheme due to one party (let's call them A) and we (let's call B) managed to get a very good price quote from them. Both A and B have already bought chargers from this company before. Party C was totally new at this stage, they were just placed to benefit from this collaboration.

Unfortunately, once receiving the chargers, this party C, would not pay up as promised. He has suddenly become a patriot and would say things like "saving Sri Lankan Rupees from going to China", safeguarding people from buying 'low quality' Chinese chargers etc. after more than a year of delay, the Chinese company got frustrated and stopped support services for all 3 of us. Whole EV network in the country was facing a shutdown. Two remaining parties in our collaboration (A and B) then went to China alone and settled payments and got the support and trust back. For us, they even awarded the sole agentship for Sri Lanka. The party which would not pay up was finally forced to pay after a few more months of delay. They also asked for agentships and training etc but the Chinese company who by now knew what's happening didn't give them any. From this day onwards they have stopped any more easy payment schemes for whole Sri Lanka for all their businesses. Ironically, this was the end result for the country which came out of 'patriotism'.

Now, if we bought something from someone and came to an agreement, we have to pay up as promised. It is laughable to think about the country losing foreign exchange only at the time of paying up for the things we already bought.

It did not stop there. When we developed charger automation kits, the same individual asked us to install these on his chargers too. We did and he again did not pay up, to this date, did not even return us our equipment back. Now that he does not have an automated system, he has adopted another tone. His new tone then was that: EV charging automation and self-service systems are bad, manual operators are the best thing, charging networks are bad and not necessary, people should not buy access cards etc..  in short, grapes are sour. Indeed!

These experiences got us thinking... there is a thing called getting fooled by own propaganda. After a  while, liars start to think that they are actually telling the truth!

Patriotism is something one should show by their own actions, no need to advertise it in words. Those who talk about patriotism but do not have anything to show for it in their past actions... well, it's better for others to be a bit careful from such people. Patriotism also is not an excuse to cover up a lack of objectivity or common sense.

Working towards achieving even a little thing is far better than just wishing we have everything but doing nothing towards achieving anything.

Not to say that we do not have real patriots among us, we do. We wouldn't have managed to defeat terrorism and save the country if we didn't have any, for instance. Just that real patriots don't have to shout out loud and advertise it, because they have their own past actions and achievements to show for it.

Until we meet from part two... What's your take on this?

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