Product management for solar systems with Cameron Smith
ZOLA Electric)

In this episode, we speak with Cameron Smith from Zola Electric.

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Show notes and related resources

ZOLA Electric: Company Website

Podcast Summary

We discuss:

  • The types of products ZOLA Electric has developed

  • Challenges of product management for energy solutions

  • Differences in customer needs and demands across various geographies

Show notes:

  • (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