Serhii Shakalov of KNESS Group tells us about developing technologies and implementing renewable and traditional energy projects.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Serhii Shakalov: As for many families around the world, the pandemic has become for my family and me a time of reappraisal of values, made us more aware of the responsibility for not only our and relatives’ lives and health but also the people around us. There is a clear understanding that the Covid is an invisible weapon. This understanding forced us to change our everyday habits, make them more meaningful and balanced. At the beginning of the pandemic, a comfortable “safety zone” was organized for my and my wife’s elderly parents. We even began to communicate more with family and friends than before the “Covid times” because we are constantly in touch with them by phone and video chat. And unambiguouslyー, despite the distance, we have become closer and more sensitive to each other.
And under the new conditions, my family continues to see bright colors in everyday things, get positive impressions, simply and sincerely enjoy life.
Tell us about yourself, your career, how you founded the KNESS Group?
Serhii Shakalov: The history of the KNESS company dates back to 2009. My friends, qualified engineers (the best ones in Ukraine, I suppose), founded a design and consulting company in the energy sector and offered me to join the team. At that time, my role in the company was mainly managerial and business, as I had experience in commercial structures and was passionate about the idea of creating an innovative business with non-traditional management approaches. We have combined the competencies of energy engineering, expertise, management, and knowledge of the market and its needs. The market and customers needed new approaches and solutions, and we had ideas, an innovative vision, ambition, a willingness to take risks, and a “hunger” for large and complex projects.
The first project implemented by the company was unique. This was the design and subsequent construction of a 30-megawatt substation to supply electricity to two local factories. We successfully implemented the project – it confirmed that we could be trusted and incited the company’s rapid development. In just one year, we have grown from a consulting company with a staff of less than 10 people – into a powerful team capable of taking on a full range of works with a result guarantee – design, reconstruction, construction, and commissioning of power facilities. In 2012 we started implementing solar power plant projects, and year after year, project by project, there was a growing comprehension of the need and importance of our activities.
By 2015, we had gained enough experience to solve complicated problems in any energy field and, most importantly, had formed common values and visions for the future. The foundation of this future is renewable energy. For the KNESS team, renewable energy is no longer a business. It is more about Values and Mission. And any difficulties or crises have not changed and will not change our direction because it is not based on profit but on a common philosophy and worldview.
In fact, now I am the team leader of high-class engineers, doctors, and candidates of technical sciences, experts in various fields – that constitute the invaluable intellectual capital of KNESS.
In 10 years, we have grown from a local company into KNESS Group ー an international group of companies that provides the entire cycle of solar power supply: from design and construction of solar power plants to equipment manufacturing, service, implementation of innovative developments in our own RnD Center, electricity supply and trading. We are now thinking and moving towards creating new technologies that make the world safer and more comfortable and new solutions that make these technologies accessible to everyone.
Why is innovation the key to KNESS’s success? How does the Group introduce innovations?
Serhii Shakalov: Innovation is one of the main values for KNESS. I am strongly convinced that innovation is not just about technologies, inventions; innovation is largely about the way of thinking. We apply an innovative approach not only in the field of technological development but in the whole range of our actions and decisions.
We clearly see todays and future needs. This allows us to generate ideas and work on technologies and solutions that are already useful now and will be needed in the following decades.
Since 2017, the KNESS Group has been strengthened by its in-house center of innovative developments in the renewable energy sectorー KNESS RnD Center. Currently, our engineers are focused on energy transfer in time – the development of power electronics and battery energy storage systems (BESS – battery energy storage system), flow batteries, hydrogen transportation, and production.
The KNESS team is convinced that soon everyone will have access to clean energy. We are already ready to provide the industrial enterprise with “clean” electricity, which will significantly reduce carbon emissions. In order to implement this, we have developed a practical, innovative model, “Future Of Generation” (FOG), which consists of economically justified decentralization of electricity supply to the consumer by installing a solar power plant connected directly to its internal power grids, to the meter. This will allow all businesses, from industrial to retail, to spend less money on electricity consumption and reduce the impact on the overall environmental situation in the world.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business, and what effective decisions have been made to adapt to such conditions? Have you had to make a difficult choice іn pandemic conditions, and what are the lessons learnt?
Serhii Shakalov: In 2020, we faced not only a coronavirus crisis but also a decline in investor interest in the construction of new industrial solar power plants in Ukraine. This happened not due to the pandemic but to the lack of interest in the RES development in the country. Covid only intensified the process of the industry’s “stagnation.” This is because many international projects have not been implemented and because of the closed borders.
In autumn of 2019, we realized that the market was entering a protracted crisis. We have not come up with anything radically new – the steps we have taken are classic for such situations. The first step is the stabilization of the company’s costs and revenues. The next ー difficult but necessary step ー staff optimization.
However, these difficulties did not alter our course and did not force us to look for opportunities in another field because, as I said earlier, renewable energy is more than just a business for us. Crises happen – and it is natural. After the recession, the rise always begins, and if during this period you have not betrayed your values - there will be even more opportunities for growth. As
KNESS has a Dream Idea – 100% Renewable, Vision and a transparent, clear perspective of the future, any obstacles or problems are perceived only as valuable experience and new knowledge.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to overcome this crisis?
Serhii Shakalov: Currently, we are all working in the office. The company continues to follow generally accepted rules to protect employees from the coronavirus infection spread. Well-established communication plays an important role in the team. In KNESS, internal information flows never stop because it is vital to speak directly, openly, not to hide anything in collective relations.
I clearly apprehend that remote work will never be more effective than working within a team. It is important for us to “keep the wave.” Team performance depends on interaction with the “teammate” who needs to be listened to, heard, and felt. Maybe in other industries, there is no such a need. In our business culture, team spirit plays a very important role, and it is difficult to create it online.
What is even more important in our team is mutual respect and justice; we do not have “closed offices,” the hierarchical divisions are quite conditional, we like to debate in order to determine the right things and effective solutions. We are developing due to unity, teamwork, common actions, and views.
What exactly distinguishes KNESS from other companies operating in the RES sector? What exactly helps KNESS to stay in the game?
Serhii Shakalov: There are two things that are highly appreciated in today’s world. They are reputation and innovation. I am pleased to realize that this vision has been shared by my team. That is why these two values form the foundation of the KNESS Group. We are aware of the value of reputation, so this value is a projection of the thoughts and actions of the founders and the KNESS team. We are convinced that innovation is one of the main criteria for business development and success, so we are looking for the most effective solutions that go through the prism of innovation. And, obviously, an important role is played by intellectual potential, which fills the form with the content.
There is no static position in business, so as to be competitive, you need to move constantly, improve, meet the changes to avoid the status of “one of” or “same as.” There is no other option.