Product management for solar systems with Cameron Smith
In this episode, we speak with Cameron Smith from Zola Electric.
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The types of products ZOLA Electric has developed
Challenges of product management for energy solutions
Differences in customer needs and demands across various geographies
(0:30) Introduction to ZOLA Electric
(3:00) Understanding the customer from off-grid to on-grid customer. Primary energy solutions:
ZOLA Flex - core product, DC infrastructure with solar and battery, with DC appliances
ZOLA Infinity - can be a off-grid/on-grid solution, for a customer with some access to grid electricity, able to work with an AC system; modular energy system
Flex Power - a new product to serve both AC and DC customers, that can work also within a distributed grid
(7:40) The product development and management process: collecting demographic data, user needs, comparing with existing market offering. Higher end markets with a greater focus on product differentiation to existing solutions.
(10:30) Expectations management: how to set / meet customers' expectations with regards to electricity availability; limitations with regards to product lifespan, availability of electricity; shifting customers from a power focused mindset to an energy focused (taking into account storage also).
(13:00) Challenges of working with older appliances with higher energy consumption. The 'benefits' of working with newer DC systems where you can also control the energy demand
(14:40) Challenges of developing products that can meet the variability of grid power quality; variable wiring or electrical systems
(16:00) How to manage the power challenges for product development - both operational and technical solutions
(17:00) How to think about hardware, software, firmware developments
(19:00) ZOLA'S geographical coverage, moving towards a distributor model and its ability to help ZOLA expand globally
(20:50) Difference between customer demands by geography - e.g. greater need for air conditioning solutions for East Africa; differing penetration of smart phones
(21:40) Customers benchmarking against a Tesla Powerwall solution
(34:00) Challenges of working in West Africa, greater awareness of fraud, preference of financing solutions to ensure the product is working as expected; differing willingness to provide personal information to banks
(36:00) East Africa: more trusting environment, greater focus on building education and awareness of solar products and solutions
(37:00) Cameron's background and previous interest in global development; challenges of providing energy solutions that can meet customer needs
(42:00) The shifting focus towards peri-urban solutions, more people interested in global systems
(44:30) Customer facing brand changing to "ZOLA" Electric - that resonates across Africa, not just in East Africa and Swahili
(46:20) Future focus of ZOLA: greater focus on Infinity product, greater focus on microgrid systems and distributed grid solution - Infinite Grid product
(50:00) Recommended books: 'Territories of Differences' by A. Escobar for greater awareness of cultural differences
(52:20) Advice: make sure you have a good understanding of the end user
(53:00) Predictions: Greater focus on microgrids, more focus on peri-urban customers