We talked to Dr. Andreas Sichert, founder and CEO at Orcan Energy, about the conversion of industrial heat into useful energy, and this is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Dr. Andreas Sichert: Thank God we’re fine. We all had to adapt and find new, creative ways to deal with the crisis. This applies to the company as well as to family life. At Orcan, the health and safety of our employees were very important to us from the start. That’s why we switched to the home office very quickly and introduced even more digitization. Most of the company has been working from home for almost one year. It also affected my family life. I am at home with my family more than I have been in years. For me as a father, being able to spend more time doing everyday things with my boys and just being there at lunch, for example, has a lot of positives.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Orcan Energy.
Dr. Andreas Sichert: I have studied physics at the Technical University of Munich. It was there that I got to know the two co-founders of Orcan Energy. Together we have set ourselves the goal of developing a compact and cost-efficient small power plant for converting waste heat into electricity. We wanted to transfer the ORC technology, which has proven itself in systems engineering, to the product area in order to open up the largest possible market and thus be able to make a relevant contribution to prevent climate change.
In 2008 we founded Orcan Energy. Since then, the company has been developing, producing, and marketing energy solutions that can be used to generate electricity from unused waste heat. The Orcan solutions can be installed wherever waste heat is generated, e.g. in industry, at power generation plants, or in the marine sector. What began at the university in 2008 has meanwhile developed into one of the leading waste heat specialists with over 500 systems sold worldwide.
How does Orcan Energy innovate?
Dr. Andreas Sichert: We are constantly developing our products, opening up new business areas, and working on new sales channels and strategic partnerships. Last year we successfully launched a new, particularly powerful product that can absorb larger amounts of waste heat and produce even more electricity. This is particularly interesting for very energy-intensive industries such as the cement or glass industries. We use agile management methods for this, which we put quite radically on digital feet at the beginning of COVID-19, e.g. digital KANBAN boards. This enables us to quickly convert our technology platform into new products in conformity with CE and ISO and to be able to react quickly to customer requests and opportunities with our strategic partners, e.g. E.ON and MAN ES.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Dr. Andreas Sichert: Germany is undergoing structural restructuring. This also applies to digitalization, but also to areas such as the coal phase-out and the energy transition or the mobility transition. The corona crisis is accelerating this change in that the economic stimulus program launched by the EU and the federal government is to be used to decarbonize the economy. Energy efficiency plays an immensely important role here. We, therefore, assume that this will increase the demand for our solutions. This trend was already apparent last year. Together with E.ON, we have completed a large geothermal project with six efficiency PACKs, we won an order for Taiwan’s largest offshore installation ship with eight efficiency PACKs, and we installed the first modules in zinc processing. For Orcan it was the most successful year in the company’s history. Lowering costs and decarbonizing will be an important driver in the POST-COVID phase.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Dr. Andreas Sichert: We all at Orcan have seen that our team can operate at an unimaginable speed and with a lot of resilience and creativity. We will take this experience and the self-confidence from it with us for the time after Corona. For example, we quickly developed and offered new business models with our partner EON: cost-effective all-inclusive packages for special sectors and branches of industry were very well received by our customers, especially during the crisis. This saves the customer money from day one, which is crucial for many companies in a crisis. But of course, we also made sure that we review and sharpen the focus. This also includes quick and consistent decisions about what we no longer do in the short term and where we do not want to invest resources in order to be prepared for a longer period of crisis.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Dr. Andreas Sichert: I think we all were forced to do a “master” in virtual and distributed work. Regardless of whether Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, Zoom, and other communication tools, we have learned how we can discuss content-related topics and solve problems as well as how to maintain the kit between us as people in a team – even though we don`t have our daily „coffee-break“ together. We have also broken new ground with webinars, virtual product demonstrations, and video-based commissioning of products with external companies on site. Some of it will stay safe and also help us, for example, to master international business more easily, like South America, for example, was as far away as Hamburg at times.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Dr. Andreas Sichert: We are in competition with traditional plant manufacturers such as Turboden or Dürr on special projects. Since we can present a clear customer advantage in our market, this “technological” competition is less relevant for us. It is much more important to open up the still relatively young market of waste heat utilization and to explain to customers the enormous savings potential – both in terms of EUR and CO2 – and to make them aware of it. Due to the constant further development of our products and our patent portfolio, we are well equipped to stay at the forefront with our products and solutions, and with our strategic partners such as E.ON we can offer that additional extra-economic attractiveness that sets us apart from pure products and makes it more interesting for our customers. We are working on that and want to get a little better every day.
Your final thoughts?
Dr. Andreas Sichert: The COVID-19 crisis is a global catastrophe. There is no doubt about that. A lot of suffering has arisen and everyone has or will have had their own personal and painful experiences by the end of this crisis. Economically, this crisis and the aftermath will keep us busy for longer. But I want to believe that in anything bad there is always an opportunity. For example, the EU and other states want to align economic stimulus with climate targets and thus counteract the potentially much greater crisis and danger of dramatic climate change. With “Corona courage” against climate change, I would like to see that we are just as creative and energetic as we were all under Corona, now facing climate change and pushing and implementing long-overdue projects. Because then there is a real opportunity in the Corona crisis.