Christian Dries: I have a controlling stake in Activ Solar
Different media in Ukraine have consistently expressed interest in the owners of the Activ Solar company, which builds large-scale photovoltaic installations in Ukraine. Interfax was able to contact with the majority shareholder of company - Christian Dries – businessman and the owner of the Austrian company Diamond Aircraft Industries, an engineer with a passion for new technologies.
Q: Our agency received information that you are the majority shareholder of Austrian-based company Activ Solar, which became one of the biggest investors in Ukrainian renewable energy sector.
If this is the case, can you describe your experience doing business in Ukraine?
A: To answer your first question, yes, I am a shareholder of Activ Solar. I have followed opportunities of new markets in Ukraine and the CIS region with great interest in recent years. Ukraine’s business environment is undergoing dramatic transformation, with many similarities to what I have seen in other Central & Eastern European countries. Institutions and markets are changing and still have significant room for further development to foster growth. This environment and direction opens doors for attractive investments as we have seen in other emerging market countries.
Q: Why did you choose Ukraine?
A: I am a businessman who has worked all my life in the high-tech industry. Cutting-edge technology, microelectronics and innovation are my passion. I have significant interests in aircraft design and manufacturing (Diamond Aircraft Industries GmbH - Interfax), solar energy and soon electrical vehicles. So one reason for the investment was the industry. The reason for the region is easy to explain. Ukraine does not have huge reserves of oil & gas, most of it is imported. Rapid development of renewable energy is currently only possible in countries which import most of their energy.
This is the case in Ukraine and one of the main FIT triggers.
Currently Ukraine produces less than 1% of its electricity from renewable sources. This, specifically is where I see a lot of potential and room for development.
Q: Why didn't you publically announce your involvement in Activ Solar before?
A: Generally I am not interested in raising publicity around myself, but instead leave the floor to the companies I am invested in.
As the company is growing so rapidly and more and more exposed to international markets, I understand the need for additional transparency. But also in the future, I will not comment on any business issue of Activ Solar. As before, this will be handled directly by the company.
Q: Why did you accept our interview request?
A: As mentioned before, the exposure to new remote markets requires additional transparency. I also hope that some negative rumours currently spreading around in various media are now obsolete.
We have nothing to hide, but I think that the general focus should be on the company and not on the investors. It is at least my philosophy that investors should leave the floor to their companies and refrain from doing self-marketing via their stakes.
Q: What is your stake in Activ Solar?
A: I have a controlling stake in Activ Solar. The remainder is held by the management.
Q: There are a lot of rumors that the company is closely connected to Andrey and Sergey Klyuyev. How can you comment these statements?
A: In general, I don’t give much about rumors. I think Activ Solar is doing a good and sustainable business providing many Ukrainian households with what they desperately need: clean energy. As investor I am happy if the company has good relationships on the one hand to the local community and on the other hand to international investors and business people. What I cannot and will never accept is any kind of malpractice or unethical business behavior. As owner I know that no Austrian or Ukrainian official whoever has neither a direct nor an indirect stake in or influence on Activ Solar. International business standards have always been respected. These are general preconditions for my investments.
Q: Do you feel the support of the Government in Ukraine?
A: I think there are enough external comments on politics in the Ukraine at the moment. What I can say is that the introduction of FIT for different kind of renewables has been a milestone for the country. There are definitely many challenges that need to be dealt with, but as we are no politicians we try to do our own homework. We invested a lot in knowledge and technology transfer through staff development programs and we cooperate with several local universities. We also involve Ukrainian employees in our projects in other markets to raise their international experience.
Q: What industries does your companies operate in? Please tell us more information.
A: I am an engineer with a passion for new technologies. I started with development of composite materials. In the 80s, together with my partners I created a company for production of ultra light motor gliders. We were producing light aircrafts for different uses like private transportation and flight training. We achieved leadership position because of constant innovation and development. Our aircrafts became were easy to use, easy to maintain and very safe. For example, about 15 years ago we created diesel single engine DA40TDI that became the most economical 4-seated aircraft in the world that uses only 12 litres of diesel per hour of flight at the speed on 200 km/h. In 2008, Marc Aurel Lehmann together with his colleague flew non-stop from Japan to Alaska on Diamond Star DA40XL (with extra fuel tank). The flight took 16 hours and 53 minutes. This record flight was part of the flight around the world. During the 40-day tour, they flew to Croatia, Greece, Kuwait, UAE, India, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, Alaska and Northern Canada. Overall the flight around the world took 150 flying hours and covered a distance of 20,000 nautical miles. After that, we have many more records. We created a unique 5 seated aircraft with range of 7,600 km and the speed of 570 km/h. For many years, our inventions were used in civil and military aircrafts around the world. For example in patrol aircrafts for police, border control, rescue services and military intelligence. Today, our company has representative offices and production facilities around the world.
Together with our partners we continue to improve efficiency of aircraft engines. We receive orders to develop innovation solutions from major aviation conglomerates like Boeing. This is how we reached the development of hybrid motors and use of solar energy in aviation. In addition the company created an R&D centre in Wiener Neustadt to develop new products for photovoltaic industry. One of the results of this joint effort is integration of photovoltaic cells in uneven surface of an aircraft wing. This product has been presented on Paris air show last year.
Q: How does the cooperation between Activ Solar and Diamond Aircraft Industries go? Is there any news from the field of scientific cooperation?
A: The company’s work together on important projects together. Primarily the development of ultra-light, integrated modules. The JV has applied for a patent and waiting for approval. As soon as all the legal work is complete, we will start rolling out this product in the market.
Q: Why did you decide to invest into solar and not in wind for example?
A: I believe that solar energy has the biggest potential for development. It is also a technology I am very familiar with and I normally prefer to invest in a business that I understand.
Q: What were the main reasons to invest into Semiconductor Plant?
A: While following new markets, I discovered two key opportunities in Ukraine. First, very good conditions for development of solar energy given the countries ongoing energy problems and high solar irradiation.
Second, there is an availability of skilled engineers and polysilicon production traditions in Ukraine. During the soviet period, Ukraine was among the leaders in the industry and supplied a significant portion of electronic grade polysilicon to the global market. Above the ruins of Semiconductor Plant, Activ Solar built a state-of-the art production facility using modern, world-class technologies. Today, I can confirm that this project has been a success. I am also very proud that Activ Solar has used unique technologies that have never been used anywhere in the world before.
Q: For how much is "Semiconductor plant" loaded? How many products are scheduled for release in 2012?
To whom and in what country you are selling products?
A: Today, Semiconductor Plant is working close to its full capacity, 2,500 tons of Polysilicon per annum. The factory exports its Polysilicon to the global market.
Q: How much is invested in the plant’s upgrading, how much will be invested this year and beyond? What actions are planned at the plant in 2012?
A: Approximately UAH 4.5 billion has been invested into Semiconductor Plant. The plan for 2012 is to improve cost, quality and finalize the expansion plan. In a challenging market, quick decisions should not be made. TCS and Polysilicon production is a very complicated process. Time is needed to get it right with expansion from the first time.
Q: What are the company’s plans in building new stations? What new projects are planning to be built or are already building by Activ Solar on Crimea Peninsula?
A: All I can say right now is that the company has very interesting projects in the pipeline in Ukraine and in other regions of the world. You will hear more about it from the management in the coming months.
Q: Do you have any plan to develop solar PV in other markets? For example Austria?
A: I own wind and solar installations in Canada, which is also a growing market for renewables. Today Canada offers one of the world’s highest feed in tariffs (up to 40% higher than in Ukraine) for solar energy. Austria is very much focused on Wind and Hydro because of its geographical location. Austria has many small & large rivers and has strong winds across the country. Solar is also being developed across the country but only in small installations <20KWp. Austria is also relatively small country with population of only 8.5 million.
Today, Activ Solar exploring opportunities in the US solar market.
Q: How do you think the global solar market will develop in the future?
A: The world understands that the price for natural resources will only go up. This is the reason why most of the countries around the world try to use their capabilities to develop renewable energy.
Europe installed nearly 80% of global installations in the last 5 years. Only Germany and Italy together installed 14.5 GWp of new solar capacity in 2011. Same year, Germany made a decision to phase out all of it's nuclear reactors (20 GW) by the end of 2022, so Germany certainly will remain a very big market for solar in the upcoming years. Other solar markets are developing very fast like China, India, US, Africa and Latin America. Solar is becoming more and more competitive around the world every day.
Global company Activ Solar has made the greatest contribution to the development of the Ukrainian renewable energy industry. During 2010-2012, the company has constructed four solar power stations in the Crimea. One of them is Perovo solar park with a capacity of 105.56 MW which became one of the largest in the world. Within a short period Activ Solar has become one of the major investors in Ukrainian energy sector. In total into the projects of group of companies in Ukraine almost UAH 12.6 billion of investment was raised from which more than UAH 8.1 billion – for the construction of solar power plants in Crimea and more than UAH 4.5 billion – for fundamental reconstruction of Semiconductor Plant in Zaporozhye. The plant in Zaporozhye has now become a producer of Polysilicon, the basic raw material for solar power and semiconductor industry, which allowed Ukraine to become the third country in Europe after Germany and Norway, which has its own high purity Polysilicon production.
Diamond Aircraft Industries company is one of the world leaders in research and use of composite materials in various industrial sectors from the production of ultra-light aircrafts to renewable energy. Divisions and production facilities are based in Europe, North America, Asia and Australia. Diamond Aircraft - is the largest manufacturer of single engine aircraft in Europe, as well as in Canada, and the third largest producer in North America. Research of new types of hybrid and electric engines for aircraft and automotive industries is also important business direction of the company. In recent years the specialists of Diamond Aircraft Industries GmbH are devoting more emphasis to solar energy.