Why energy giant Sonnen chose to invest in SA

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By Belinda Willis

Global energy storage giant Sonnen is producing its first Australian assembled batteries at the former Holden factory in Elizabeth as its workforce builds to some 150 within months.

Operations and finance managing director Marc Sheldon believes South Australia is the ideal place for the German-headquartered company to work toward producing 10,000 batteries a year to meet demand in Australia and the neighbouring Asia Pacific region.

“The energy market as it exists in SA is unique, it is more advanced than any OECD country in its transition to renewable energy,” Marc says.

This, he says, gives the Sonnen company the opportunity to address challenges and be prepared for a market it expects to develop rapidly throughout the region in the next few years.

It also means Sonnen has established itself in a state where it has access to highly skilled workers and companies with a “can do” attitude.

Sonnen’s operations and finance managing director Marc Sheldon, left, Sonnen CEO Christoph Ostermann and managing director for Australia and Asia Pacific Nathan Dunn.

Marc says more than 50 local employees are already on the production line and almost all of them are ex-Holden staff – while another more than 100 are working as installers through the supply chain.

The company is well on the way to creating about 430 new jobs in the state within 18 months, he says, as outlined when the new Liberal State Government announced earlier this year that Sonnen would be moving into the repurposed Holden factory.

“What we do is advanced manufacturing in the purest sense, we leverage the innate capabilities in the market itself,” Marc says.

“We’ve indicated before that one of the key challenges for us when we are choosing a site is around availability of talent and availability of staff to fill those roles, what we’ve now really found is lots of well educated, well trained staff.”

Sonnen is supporting the new $100 million Home Battery Scheme announced by the State Government in September that provides a subsidy of up to $6000 per household to install home battery systems.

From October, 40,000 South Australian households have had access to the scheme designed to reduce electricity costs and demand on the network, in turn delivering lower power prices for all South Australians.

Sonnen CEO Christoph Ostermann, far left, shows Premier Steven Marshall, and Minister for Energy and Mining Dan van Holst Pellekaan, far right, Sonnen systems at the company’s official launch in SA.

The $100 million in State Government subsidies was also matched with $100 million in finance from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to provide low-interest loans for the balance of the battery and new solar if required.

When the scheme was announced, Premier Steven Marshall said priority was being given to qualified system providers who commit to installing approved battery systems that are manufactured or assembled in SA.

Sonnen was the first provider to be afforded the nine-week priority period – meaning their products were exclusively available to households – with additional brands available after the nine-week period.

The company describes its world-leading sonnenBatterie as a high-tech energy storage system that automatically adjusts the energy usage in a household in combination with solar panels to provide clean, renewable energy.

“There’s a reason why we’re going to SA, we’re quite impressed with what the government has been able to put together since its election and the feeling we’ve received from people in SA is really good, there’s a can-do attitude,” Marc says.

“Businesses we meet with say we can do that right now or let’s sit down and see how we can make that happen … that makes us quite happy looking at the future.”

Minister for Energy and Mining Dan van Holst Pellekaan, left, and Premier Steven Marshall congratulate Sonnen CEO Christoph Ostermann, on the company’s establishment in Adelaide.

Sonnen will use Adelaide as its Australian headquarters and shipping centre for the Asian region, and Marc says the first SA assembled batteries to be exported will head to New Zealand in January.

The company aims to assemble and manufacture 50,000 energy storage systems at the site over the next five years, after its plans to establish the battery production plant in Adelaide were initially announced in February 2018.

Manufacturing costs are also now proving to be positive from the initial cost projected in pre-planning as Marc says there already had been an increase in productivity per head by 30% as the process was streamlined.

Sonnen has also appointed a new Australian managing director Nathan Dunn to support growth with Marc, who has worked for Sonnen for the past three years, saying there was much potential in SA.

“I think in South Australia everything is moving in the right direction and a lot of very interesting developments are happening right now that will benefit the state,” he adds.

Header image: The Sonnen Adelaide team. Photo by Danielle Marie.

Industry in focus: Trade and Investment

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