10 Questions to ZOLAR’s CEO Alex Melzer on entrepreneurship and climate impact

Written by Author: Fabian Heilemann

1. Who are you and what are you doing?

My name is Alex Melzer, I’m the CEO and co-founder of Berlin-based greentech Zolar. We offer homeowners individual photovoltaic solutions for a fixed price that they can plan, compare and also commission with us online. Thanks to the Zolar Online Configurator that we programmed in-house, homeowners are able to configure components of their solar system according to their expectations, all while receiving individual tips and advice from their personal sales agent. Furthermore, clients can upgrade their solar system with an electricity storage or a wallbox for their electric car. Our own broad network of local and specialized partner companies takes care of the on-location assembly.

The protection of the environment as well as taking an active part in protecting the climate are our most important goals. Solar power produced from photovoltaics is a direct and efficient method for replacing the energy generated from fossil fuels—like coal and oil—with a sustainable, clean and regenerative energy.

2. What drives you personally and how did you get there over time?

My main goals are to actively protect the climate and to rapidly mitigate global CO2 emissions. In a time of rising temperatures and environmental disasters, both of which lead to growing social injustice, we need companies that act courageously and think forward, and that define success not only as something in relation to money, but also in relation to their impact on climate protection. The idea that led to the foundation of Zolar came to me while I was on a bike tour through South America. Even in the most remote areas, I saw the results of man-made climate change – still today, I’m unable to get the shrinking icebergs, dry rivers and dead trees I witnessed out of my head. Back then, I had already been working in the solar industry for nine years, including roles as a Product Manager for International Sales at Solarwatt AG as well as as CEO of Soventix Canada Inc., so I started to wonder “What can I do to protect the climate?”

3. Please give me the elevator pitch for ZOLAR

Zolar is the Next Generation Green Energy Company. A future worth living for all people can only be created with renewable energies. With our technological platform solution covering the entire value chain, private households can become their own energy suppliers. Our goal is to become the first stop for solar installations. Looking to the future, we want to build a solar system on every roof in the world, making everyday life CO2-free or CO2-positive. With Zolar, I am not striving to achieve Unicorn status, but believe in the Zebra movement. That is, to make a big impact with growth and profitability. The more systems we install, the greater our impact on climate protection. Every PV system saves CO2, and I want to implement that on a large scale.

4. What makes ZOLAR unique?

Zolar enables its customers not only to plan and configure their solar system online, but also to buy it for a fixed price. When customers ask their local electricity suppliers for an offer, they often receive opaque quotes with a single price. Often those quotes lack detailed information about the components that the customer will get. In our Zolar Online Configurator customers can choose from a variety of products and combine them on their own. They can also upgrade their solar system with an electricity storage and a wallbox, which is useful if they’re planning to get an electric car. The Online Configurator’s algorithm always makes sure that the optimal products are shown and that only compatible components can be combined, which means that customers don’t need a lot of background information in order to find the best solar system for their needs.

We will also take into account special features of the house and individual wishes when finding the perfect system. Something that is extremely important to us is to be in direct contact with our customers. Our big team of Sales agents can be called anytime to answer questions proficiently and indepth. After checkout our nationwide network of electricians takes over the installation; having partners all over Germany allows us to have very short access routes. We simplify and streamline the entire process of acquiring a solar system, and offer technological platform-oriented solutions for all project milestones.

5. Where do you see ZOLAR by 2030?

We will become the leading Next Generation Green Energy Company, focusing on sustainable energy generation and holistic use of solar energy in private households. And we want to firmly establish ourselves as an energy and data provider. This will enable us to accelerate the energy transition and provide customers with relevant energy data. We also want to expand internationally, for example into other European countries.

It is also important for us to continuously develop the centerpiece of our website, the Zolar Online Configurator, and to optimize our partner portal, the Zolar Project Center. We see ourselves as a digital craft business and use the Project Center to support our local craft businesses in digitizing their internal processes. Furthermore, we want to establish ourselves as a leading consumer brand in the energy industry and plan to expand our core business. To meet the demands of each electrified household, we’re aiming to enable the interlinking of energy generation, electricity storage and mobility with our product portfolio.

6. What is your #1 personal or business learning from the corona-pandemic?

Now that many people are spending all day in their own homes, they are thinking about how to make their homes more climate-friendly. PV systems are indispensable when it comes to considerations like this. Year-over-year demand in 2020 increased by an average of 71 percent from June to August. In fact, from July 2019 to July 2020, the number of inquiries nearly doubled. Although each of us has had to make many sacrifices during the pandemic, a certain awareness has emerged from this time of crisis.

Many are rethinking their daily lives, exercising, eating healthier and, above all, becoming more concerned about how their lifestyles affect the environment. In addition, because of the pandemic, air quality has improved significantly and the greenhouse effect has also decreased. All these things are important and right, but we must now work actively to ensure that these positive effects are not reversed after the pandemic, thus undoing the progress that has been made.

7. What are your methods for coping with challenges and stress?

Structure, mediation and my vision of a climate-friendly future. For me, it is essential to firmly structure my daily routine, especially with organizational tools such as Trello, in order to have enough time slots for various tasks and processes. In particularly stressful phases, inner focus helps me, often through meditation. But my main driver is that we can really make a difference with Zolar. The climate crisis is humanity’s greatest challenge, and with our company we are developing real, sustainable and successful solutions to mitigate the effects of climate change.

8. What is the best advice you ever got and from whom?

An early advice I received was to get external coaching to accompany me on my path as CEO and co-founder of Zolar. This is how I learned to develop quickly, reflect on situations and maintain my inner calm, even in very stressful moments as a founder. I aspire to grow faster than the organization I lead, and always keep the perspective and the vision firmly in mind.

9. What is the best book you ever read and why?

Start with Why – Simon Sinek Every person needs a Why in their life. When you find that, everything else will follow by itself and you will find a purpose in life.

10. What makes you optimistic about the future of our planet & society?

We are entering a new solar age; the boom in photovoltaics can no longer be stopped. The growing demand from private homeowners, but also the increasing relevance in the political discussion make me confident. Solar energy has the potential to become the most important energy source in Germany in the coming years. The constant development of the technology makes the installation of PV systems more affordable for individuals, but also for municipalities and cities. The combination of an efficient PV system and electricity storage allows for increased power and storage capacity, which in the future will be able to cover almost the entire demand from households and electromobility.

I am also happy about the growing public awareness of climate protection. People now understand that a livable planet provides a foundation for us all. That’s why we at Zolar have actively supported the activities of “Fridays for Future” from an early stage and are involved in corporate initiatives such as “Entrepreneurs for Future” and “Digital Leaders for Climate Change” to make our common position even louder and more visible.