WHAT was supposed to be a routine work trip to Germany last year unexpectedly led to one of the biggest deals for Vijay Sirse in all his 32 years in the energy business.
The 58-year-old chairman and chief executive of Singapore firm vTrium Energy recalled how, during a series of presentations by some German firms, the one by Dresden-based Heliatek on its unique organic solar film technology caught his eye.
This organic photovoltaics (OPV) film, he explained, is not only light and flexible, but also very effective when used in tropical climates, such as Singapore's. Unlike standard solar panels that tend to produce less energy when the temperature rises, the output for organic film increases as the mercury goes up.
Within five hours of an impromptu meeting with Heliatek's management during that trip last May, Mr Sirse secured an in-principle agreement with Heliatek to work together on a project to test the performance of the latter's OPV technology in Singapore.
After a series of meetings in the months that followed, Mr Sirse and Heliatek CEO Thibaud Le Seguillon put pen to paper on a deal in February in Dresden, during a ceremony graced by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who was visiting the eastern German city for the first time.
Speaking to The Business Times in a recent interview, Mr Sirse hailed the new partnership with Heliatek as a boost, both for vTrium's ambitions to grow its presence in the region and beyond, as well as for Singapore's path towards sustainable city development.
The pilot project - which has just started and will last about 19 months - is funded and supported by JTC Corporation and Spring Singapore.
The plan is to cover parts of the facades of JTC's CleanTech One and CleanTech Two buildings in Jalan Bahar, and the Seletar Aerospace walkway, with OPV film. Once completed, an area of about 226 square metres will be covered with the film - both the opaque and transparent versions and in different colours and orientations - and will generate a combined power of more than 12 kilowatt peak (KWp).
On its part, the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore will carry out an independent monitoring of the project's progress.
In January, vTrium was picked by JTC and Spring as one of six small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the local clean technology sector to receive a total of S$2.5 million for the test-bedding of sustainable solutions in JTC's developments.
"The grant allows us to test this (OPV) technology in tropical conditions. This opens up market opportunities that were previously not accessible to conventional solar panels," says Mr Sirse.
vTrium will also be the exclusive distributor and system integrator of Heliatek's OPV film in Singapore and across Southeast Asia.
Mr Sirse shares that there is a strong possibility that Heliatek, a well-known company in Germany, could establish a manufacturing plant in Singapore down the road, with vTrium coming on board as the equity partner.
This isn't the first time that vTrium has benefited from government funding. Back in 2010, the Energy Market Authority (EMA) awarded five Singapore-based companies, including vTrium subsidiary CPvT Energy Asia, a total of up to S$10 million in funding as part of the first Smart Energy Challenge.
"One thing about the Singapore government is that it is always . . . listening to new solutions and technologies that can help reduce the cost of power here," says Mr Sirse.
"As a company in the cleantech industry, we feel that it is our duty to come up with ways to reduce our consumption and reliance on energy without affecting our productivity and efficiency."
vTrium's business model, he adds, is to continue to explore different ideas and technologies in established markets like the United States and Europe, and introduce the best ideas to Singapore and the region.
The clean technology sector is one that has much potential and there are rich pickings for first movers if they are able to find the best ways to generate and store solar power.
According to the latest figures, the global clean technology sector is likely to more than double from US$2.3 trillion in 2012 to about US$5 trillion in 2025. In Asia, the market potential for cleantech investments is estimated to be between US$20 billion and US$50 billion each year, between 2014 and 2020.
For now, Mr Sirse is focused on establishing his company's brand as a leader in the industry, and he has lofty ambitions for the coming years.
After the signing ceremony in Dresden last month, PM Lee asked him how he ultimately wanted to see the film being used in Singapore.
"To convert every building facade into an electrical generator," he answered. "That phrase has now become our company's new tagline."