We caught up with Mati Bavli, CEO of Magen Eco-Energy at the recent SPLASH! Trade Show on the Gold Coast.
Magen Eco-Energy has been manufacturing solar for nearly 30 years, and is the largest manufacturer of solar collection systems in the world. The company supplies products in every continent and has a whopping share of the giant US market. It is best known in Australia through its Heliocol brand.
Guesstimates suggest the company controls about 35 percent of the US market - perhaps more - and perhaps as much as 15 percent of the Australian market.
Mati Bavli, CEO of Magen Eco-Energy and Itzik Amar, VP of Marketing, came to Australia recently to attend the SPLASH! Trade Show on the Gold Coast. We caught up with them, as well as Heliocol's Kelly Dancer and Peter Haddon, and asked a few questions about the world solar market and Heliocol in particular.
As appeared in SPLASH! Magazine, 2010
Despite the GFC, 2010 has been a good year for Magen both globally and via the Heliocol brand here in Australia.
"The environmental consciousness of the consumers has been a good driver in sales," says Mati Bavli. "We've seen great positivity in Australia and also somewhat positive effect in the US. It looks like the US is coming out of the global downturn. 2010 has been good, and we're hoping 2011 will be even better.
"And compared to other parts of the world, the growth in Australia is amazing. In Australia, we really feel the potential."
As well as residential solar pool heating, the company has been growing sales through the commercial pool market, pre-heating and other non-pool markets.
Itzik Amar says that they use the same collector for the industrial markets as for swimming pools. "We use it as a pre-heating system for a hotel for example. They can save a lot of money, and the return on investment will be faster than if they use some other product - like a glazed collector - for domestic hot water. Maybe it will not reach the same temperature, but still it will bring a lot of benefits.
"I think we can see the potential here in Australia in the field of pre-heating systems and also in commercial pools."
Dancer says that Magen products have a market advantage for pre-heating, as they're the only medium temperature collector that can take mains pressure.
"That enables us to be able to do joint functions. A lot of places in Mexico and South America are heating pools in the swimming pool heating season, and then when it's hot in the summer they switch over and do other heating such as showers with them. So it's enabled us to sell a project that can do both, and the economics work out very well."
Bavli says Magen spends millions of dollars on R&D to ensure they keep their place at the head of the market. "We have a big R&D department with 15 engineers. It's a lot of money to invest, but we feel that every two or three years we have to go to the market with new products or improved products. I think we are number one in quality and in sales because we invest in the R&D all the time. We are not going to sleep."
The growth in the commercial sector has been a big part of the sales growth in the US, and it is also starting to have an impact in Australia.
"In Australia, we've in put hundreds of commercial systems in the past couple of years," says Peter Haddon. That started with smaller jobs, such as caravan parks and holiday parks, but has since started to move on to much larger jobs.
"We've just completed a job in Caboolture which is one of the biggest solar pool heating jobs in the country - a straight solar pool heating system heating the Caboolture Aquatic Centre which has just had a big refurb done," says Haddon. "The installation is 460-odd panels which is 2,000 square metres of product."
Haddon also says they're starting to do more and more combined systems.
"A lot of commercial pools already have gas or heat pump systems in place, and with the rising costs of gas and electricity, solar's playing a bigger and bigger role in reducing those energy costs, both from the dollar savings but also because councils are becoming more green, and are looking at their carbon footprint. They are getting energy auditors in so the ratepayers will be better off, but also so they can be environmentally responsible themselves."
Bavli says that heat pumps are potentially complimentary with solar and there has been a great deal of success combining them in the sunbelt of Europe, which is basically south of Lyon to the Mediterranean coast.
As well as Australia, South America and the USA, two other markets that show great potential are South Africa and India.
Amar says that what is unique in South Africa is that until now, a lot of swimming pools had been heated by heat pumps. "But what they have now is a huge problem with electricity. So the government gives incentives for people who use any solar system. It's making it easy for our distributors over there, and in the last two years our sales to South Africa have grown almost 40 percent."
The problem with India, however, had been a lack of market knowledge about solar.
"We established distributors over there a year ago," says Amar. "Two young Indian nationals from the US. They knew Heliocol and used the same methodology and thought it should be easy. But once they got there, they discovered no one knew about solar collectors for swimming pools. So they needed to build the market. They published a few articles and went to some shows, and after a year we saw the results and no from the belief they get from over there, in a few years this will be one of our major countries."
Amar says the potential in both the residential and commercial segments in India, and their R&D department is working closely with the Indian distributors.
Bavli says they don't see in China what they see in India. Kelly Dancer agrees: "With a middle class of 300 million; and six million multi-millionaires - that's a lot of swimming pools!"
Dancer also says there are new markets opening up in other parts of Asia that had previously been put into the too hard basket, such as Burma.
Bavli made a point of saying that the people at Heliocol in Australia are doing an excellent job and investing a lot of time and effort. And as a manufacturer, he is not taking that for granted. He sees a great future for the Australian business.
Haddon agrees that the Australian business has a great future, and credits the favourable outlook to lifestyle change.
"Long gone are the days of putting a pool in and tolerating cold water," he says.
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