The German-based KOSTAL Group produces and exports electrical and mechatronic products for 20 countries. In addition to its largest business are, automotive electrics, the group specialized its subsidiary KOSTAL Solar Electric GmbH on the sales of inverters and the intelligent storage and monitoring of solar energy. The ees International invited Markus Vetter, Director Marketing and Communications from KOSTAL Solar Electric GmbH to speak about future prognoses, successful products and partners in the industry.
The Kostal Group follows the philosophy of “Smart connections.” What does that exactly mean?
Put simply, our brand promise voices the high standards we set ourselves to create useful connections between people and for people in their specific living environments. The basis for this the large KOSTAL family and its vast international, technical and interpersonal expertise.
Such expertise allows us to create high-quality and solution-focused connections with all our partners, which create benefits and can be drawn upon whenever we encounter new challenges. In this context, “Smart connections.” is synonymous with the positive emotions that family-owned companies continually produce in society. The second, more technical side of the brand claim can be best understood when it becomes evident that the connections outlined above produce innovative KOSTAL products such as our three-phase PIKO inverters, the PIKO BA storage system based on lithium ion technology and our new PLENTICORE plus battery inverter. Since all these solutions form the very heart or brain of a solar system, our brand claim is also voiced in all our products. It goes without saying that we also live up to this claim in our local social commitments and the numerous partnerships we maintain with schools and universities, where we connect the new ideas of the next generation with the experience of our staff as well as theory and practice.
How do you see the status-quo and the future of the electrical energy storage market?
Even though renewable energies, which of course includes solar power, are making inroads the world over, I will concentrate here on the German market. Firstly because KOSTAL has the greatest experience here and secondly because our domestic market could probably also serve as a blueprint for global development. After only developing slowly over a long period, the storage market in Germany, unlike the case with e-mobility, already seems to have reached the point of critical mass. In line with the outcomes of a number of studies, we are also assuming continuous growth in this market. Recently, we have seen more and more people starting to believe that photovoltaics are worth investing in for numerous reasons. This has certainly been helped by several changes to political support, which now focuses more on cost savings through self-consumption, but also by an increase in competition on the supplier side, which has resulted in a dramatic fall in the price of solar storage systems. All of these factors makes us confident that this positive trend will increase further. Other potential positive influences include the promotion of e-mobility, increasing demands for convenience, as evidenced by the trend towards the Smart Home, and the question of whether the current decentralisation of power supplies will be complemented by central energy storage. The key concept here is what we call “Schwarmspeicher” – clustered storage. This relates to business models in which energy can be distributed to consumers cost-effectively through the intelligent merging of individual storage systems and large central facilities and in which these are mutually streamlined.
What part is Kostal playing in this future scenario? What is Kostal’s role in shaping the future of the electrical energy storage market?
If you consider the future scenario I describe, the role of smart networking can only gain in importance. Going back to our brand claim of “Smart connections.”, it soon becomes clear that we are confident of our central role in this scenario. Let’s take the issue of e-mobility as an example. The KOSTAL Group has been working in this field for a number of years, developing system solutions for chargers both inside and outside the vehicle. One of the main reasons that consumers have until now been reluctant to buy an electric vehicle is that there is not a widespread and standardised network of charging stations. Working with members of CharIN, the initiative set up to introduce a global standard for charging systems for electric vehicles, KOSTAL can, wishes to and will contribute the expertise and culture of innovation it has developed over the decades to help produce and introduce uniform standards for charging systems. The assumed increasing demand for e-mobility will most certainly be accompanied by the desire to produce this power for oneself, e.g. using one’s own solar system with storage, and to intelligently distribute this to various consumers within the home. This is another area in which KOSTAL has been active for a number of years, and there are very few other companies that have years of such experience in so many central locations, understand the system and can offer customers smart connections. Combined with Schneider’s EVLink, the PIKO already enables electric vehicles to be charged using energy generated by the customer. In the future, KOSTAL will therefore continue to primarily offer services where intelligence is needed, as this is what we specialise in
With your product PLENTICORE plus, your company was among the top 10 finalists for the ees Award 2017. What are the distinct USPs of PLENTICORE plus and Kostal in general?
Alongside our clear brand promise, it has always been important to us as a powerful and innovative player on the solar market that all of our products and services reduce complexity for our partners, while at the same time providing further options. We were able to live up to this claim as far back as 2012 when we launched our first solar storage system. This gave customers the opportunity to use their own electricity at any time of the day and to do so very simply thanks to our systematic approach. The PLENTICORE plus is the logical next step for this claim and its name even hints at its various (or plentiful) fields of application. More specifically, we are looking at repowering, constructing a new solar system or combining one with a self-generation system. I will briefly explain where you can find these additional options through construction of a new solar system. Because the PLENTICORE plus has not just two PV inputs but also a combined input, which can be used as either a pure string input or battery connection, customers can be very flexible in terms of whether they want to connect a battery immediately or later on as required. We also offer a huge number of options when it comes to selecting high-voltage battery storage for the PLENTICORE plus. For example, it is compatible with BYD’s storage system and Kreisel’s battery amongst others. I believe that this puts us in a very strong position on the current market.
You are working together with different companies, such as BYD and Kreisel. Would you say a good partnership is the key to success? How much independency is important?
These days we all want simple (system) solutions to complex requirements. Because it is still very rare to find one company that develops and produces the entire solution in-house, partnerships are increasingly a key factor for success. Most recently, we have therefore entered into a development partnership with Steca. For a number of years we have also enjoyed a successful partnership with a battery manufacturer for our KOSTAL solar storage system. Even if the partnership involves values such as reliability in working with one another, trust and willingness to be answerable for one another, each partner must still have a healthy degree of independence and be able to make its own decisions. In contrast to our private lives, these decisions may also include opting to enter into further partnerships, as with our PIKO BA System. However, it is important that new relationships do not put a strain on existing trusting partnerships; along with open communication, we ensure that this does not happen by targeting different market segments with our respective partners. As you can see, it is not that easy to enter into successful partnerships and find the right degree of independence. However, I believe that at KOSTAL we have managed to do so in an impressive way which benefits everyone involved.
Markus Vetter, Director Marketing and Communications, KOSTAL Solar Electric GmbH
Eva Benz, Director Key Account Management, ees International