Mobility, Intelligence, Scooters, Reverse Innovation, and More – Our APAC 25 provides us glimpses of the future

Richard Youngman

We released our APAC 25 today, representing 25 leading innovative companies from across the region and across the different industrial spheres. The APAC 25 is a new sister list of the Global Cleantech 100 program that we are releasing ahead of our 1st Cleantech Forum Asia in Singapore on November 13-14, 2018.

No doubt, just as will always be the case with our flagship Global Cleantech 100 program, the final list of companies would not be any one person’s list – just as it would not be mine. Such is the meaning of consensus opinion!

Here are my observations on what I see in this company list. What are yours?

China is the most represented country – to some market observers, there indeed might be surprise that their dominance of an APAC list was not greater. Irrespective of that, the APAC 25 evidences that China is at the forefront of advancing and accelerating the shape of what 21st century transportation will look like:

  • Electrification will be an important part of the future. That idea is represented by next-gen vehicle manufacturer companies, Byton and Xiaopeng Motors. Where is NIO, some might reasonably ask? (Maybe its recently announced IPO plans meant it was less top of mind for players in the market providing input on private and independent companies?)
  • The accelerating growth trajectory of NEVs (New Energy Vehicles, as they are commonly referred to in China) is also evident in the presence of Cnano Technology, a provider of low-cost carbon nanotubes for automotive batteries, and Jing-Jin Electric, a leader in motor systems and electric drive assembly for e-bus, e-logistics and passenger vehicles.
  • The other important trend to notice here – one that I believe is underestimated by most in the West – is how advanced China is already in developing the advanced digital technologies necessary to provide the “brains” behind the future experience of autonomy, connectivity and convenience (and not only in mobility, for sure). Whilst there are many examples I could point to in China, on the APAC 25, this idea is represented by Momenta and its young, talented team building software for an autonomous future.

The vehicle is an interesting question to dwell on for a moment. I am sure that the V in EV for most people in everyday parlance means a car (or equivalent), but the rise of the scooter should not be ignored as of significant consequence – and not just for Asia’s future. Ather Energy is an early entrant in India, and Gogoro has developed and piloted its scooter in Taiwan. I am of the belief that scooters will be an area that the Asian innovation ecosystem will successfully popularize globally, as the next generation rejects – and can’t afford (financially, possibly even socially, in the future) – the transportation choices and habits of their parents and grandparents. “Reverse innovation?”

Important to recognize is that Gogoro’s key innovation – and why in January 2018 our Global Cleantech 100 program named it the 2018 Asia Pacific Company of the Year – is not the scooter at all. It is the battery-swapping infrastructure, and scooters were the first proof point. Books were to Amazon what the scooter is to Gogoro – a starting point. Think bigger, think platforms!

Speaking of platforms – and think taxis, not books or scooters, as the starting point this time – one other key component of the mobility revolution underway, which will offer our grandchildren unrecognizable transportation choices compared to their 20th century versions, is the business shift from a product to a service model. The presence in the APAC 25 of DiDi and Grab (what we at Cleantech Group increasingly think of as platform companies) and their market dominance in China and Southeast Asia, are prime examples of that shift.

Passionate debate rages on how much these service companies (and Uber and Lyft elsewhere) are actually reducing (or increasing) carbon emissions and congestion. I would argue it is too early to make a call on that. What these companies have brought to the transition party is the innovation of TaaS (Transportation-as-a-Service) which, when fully linked up to the power of autonomous and electric, the end result surely has to be greater productivity and less GHG emissions and other precious resources per mile traveled (for goods and people), with a shift towards the economies of scale of massive fleets, and away from the deep inefficiency of individual ownership.

Some similar dynamics and significant shifts underway are also evident in the energy and power segments in the APAC 25 list

On the one hand, we have leaders in building out clean energy to scale, as represented by CleanMax Solar, a leading provider of solar power to C&I customers in India, and Sunseap, the Singaporean company now active in 10 countries across the region. Both provide the one-stop service model, arguably originally pioneered by Global Cleantech 100 graduate SolarCity, that is allowing rooftop solar to now start growing fast in the region.

A very different play within the power landscape is the challenge of bringing affordable power to communities (representing millions of people) in the region who have had no access, or very unreliable access, to grids or power of any sort. Just as is represented by the likes of M-KOPA Solar and BBOXX in Africa within our Global Cleantech 100, so we see the same playing out in parts of Asia, through these three companies named on our APAC 25, for example:

  • Husk Power Systems, the Indian company offering a flexible, 100% renewable energy ‘pay-as-you-go’ service, using a mobile-enabled smart metering system.
  • SolarHome Asia, the developer of residential micro-financed, pay-as-you-go solutions for rural off-grid households in Southeast Asia. Myanamar is the lead market for this Singapore-headquartered company.
  • SOLshare, the creator of a new approach to bringing affordable solar electricity to everyone in Bangladesh and beyond through its peer-to-peer solar energy trading platforms based on distributed ledger technology. This, to me, is another example of developing world innovation that utilities everywhere would be well-advised to take notice of. Another with “reverse innovation” potential for the near future?

Some final brushstrokes to the energy and power part of our landscape are provided by three Australian companies and a cluster of companies (two based out of Singapore, another out of Shanghai) that are applying state-of-the-art data science, including AI and machine learning, to provide their energy management services:

  • GreenSync, Relectrify, and Wattwatchers represent a strong ecosystem of energy innovation in Australia that has been growing in strength and international visibility year on year. GreenSync is tackling Australia’s grid operational issues and pioneering how to integrate a large percentage of DERs onto the grid, from both a technical and commercial perspective. Now that, if world-leading, would be something highly exportable to global markets. Wattwatchers’ highly compact, low-cost IoT data capture platform is looking to shake up the smart meter industry, whilst Relectrify increases the accessible capacity of used battery packs, providing so-called ‘second life’ applications for EV batteries in grid applications.
  • Barghest Building Performance (BBP), Evercomm and Equota are the three smart energy companies previously referenced. BBP optimizes operations of large-scale building cooling systems with existing building equipment and BMS through a plug-and-play retrofit model. Evercomm’s AI-based solution has a wide range of applications including chiller optimization, and solar asset monitoring. Equota is the China-based AI SaaS company delivering energy optimization, predictive maintenance and carbon management for heavy industry, commercial buildings, and distributed utilities.

The final parts of the APAC 25 mosaic are provided by the following five environmental protection companies – some might think of them as “deep tech” companies. Despite the criticality of such for a sustainable future for Asia, the predominance of mobility and energy and power solutions in the APAC 25 is noticeable. The five environmental protection companies are:

  • Avertana from New Zealand is a good example of a waste-to-value company, extracting specialty chemicals and compounds from steel mill waste. It was co-founded by early employees of Lanzatech, a Global Cleantech 100 Hall of Fame.
  • BioGill, on last year’s Global Cleantech 100 Ones to Watch list, has a traction-gaining, low-cost and low-maintenance wastewater treatment solution based on IP that came out of the Australian Nuclear Science organization.
  • Flosfia, a spin-out from Kyoto University, is focused on the development of very low-loss power devices through its specialization in film-formation by mist chemical vapor deposition (CVD).
  • ProKlean’s biochemicals have promise and traction in textile processing, leather processing, and home cleaning applications, reducing the use of harsh chemicals, water and energy for comparable pricing to alternatives.
  • ZWEEC uses video data analytics to monitor changes in fish behavior to detect contaminants in the water supply.

As I said at the outset, I don’t expect everyone (even anyone) to agree that there are not other (and in their view, some better) candidates for their list of 25 leading APAC sustainable innovation companies. Regardless, the list tell us all plenty about key innovation and venturing trends in the region.

In a follow-up next month, as we continue our build-up to November’s Cleantech Forum Asia, I will pick out some others to watch from beyond the 25.

At the time of writing, four of the above companies (Avertana, Gogoro, SolarHome and SOLShare) are among the already confirmed company participants to present at Cleantech Forum Asia in Singapore on November 13-14. More companies to be added.

EQuota will be featured in our Next-Gen Energy & Cross-Border Innovation Summit in Nanjing, China on November 16th. This Summit happening within the 5th CleanConnect conference, and is the second event of our November 2018 AsiaConnect Week.