Founder Spotlight: Sergius Santos of Exora, Revolutionizing the Energy Industry through Technology
by Ysa Lauta
Energy supply is vital in sustaining the country’s plans of infrastructure growth and industrialization. With the growing population and the rising trend of automation and electric vehicles, the demand for power will only increase in the years to come.
However, the Philippine energy industry is infamous for its expensive power, having the highest electricity costs in Southeast Asia. This has forced big industries to relocate to other countries to lower their operation costs, despite some raw materials being sourced locally.
Exora comes in to provide solutions that result in transparent, streamlined processes aimed at making energy more affordable to the Filipino people. Exora Technologies is an end-to-end energy solutions platform that aims to lower energy costs using technology and digitalization.
TechShake talked to Exora’s CEO and Co-Founder, Sergius Santos to get his take on revolutionizing the energy industry through technology:
What has your journey been like before Exora?
I first studied abroad in an exchange program in Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. It was my first time living abroad. I was the only Filipino delegate in my batch, so it took a lot of adjustment. It was very overwhelming considering that I am unable to speak my native language, and there is no comfort zone to revert being that I do not know anyone from there.
Although, after that experience, I could say that I really grew a lot. I have changed from being an academically inclined student to looking at growth areas in value-driven organizations. I grew from interacting with people, and knowing their stories. I learned how big the world is, and there are really a lot of opportunities for collaborations.
After that, I took an internship in Taiwan, and joined short programs in San Francisco, Switzerland, South Korea, and Thailand. Then, I took masters in Japan. My experiences abroad and in Japan allowed me to have a broadened perspective.
Can you share with us how you came up with Exora?
I attended an annual ideation boot camp in 2015 focusing on the energy sector in the Philippines. After that, I served as a mentor in the boot camp for two years. I became heavily familiarized with the energy industry through this, and this is where the idea came from.
I met my other co-founders, Matt Tan and Enzo Bautista while studying at the Ateneo De Manila University. Then Matt introduced Bradley Cua to us and he joined a few months later. Our vision as a company is to provide affordable and accessible electricity to Filipinos. I want to see this through, but I would always be grateful knowing that we are trying.
How does Exora provide its services?
Exora has two primary products which are Source and Analytics. Exora Source is a specialized marketplace platform designed to help you select the fittest electricity contract. While Exora Analytics is a supplementary tool for contract optimization through market-based adjustments, and energy management through our proprietary IOT solution.
Exora Technologies has developed a policy-oriented energy technology that responds to the industry implications of deregulation and electric power industry reform. We make it easier for both consumers and electricity suppliers to take advantage of Retail Competition and Open Access (RCOA) and Green Energy Option Program (GEOP), thus fostering market efficiency and reduced transaction costs.
Retail competition allows electricity suppliers to directly transact with end-users with an average monthly peak demand of 750kW or approximately 2.5 million pesos. While open access allows these customers to choose their suppliers of electricity whom they deem offer the power supply agreement that best fits their energy requirements. The government aims to trickle the regulation down to the household level after establishing a good proof of concept in the commercial and industrial sector.
Meanwhile, the GEOP functions in the same way as RCOA but customers can only choose from a pool of green energy resources. The advantage of this program is that the threshold is much lower at a minimum of 100kW average peak demand or approximately 250,000 pesos. Moreover, Exora’s services have been designed to facilitate energy efficiency and conservation within their facilities.
The centerpiece of Exora Technologies is the Exora Source. What it does is it connects qualified energy consumers to retail electricity suppliers through an online platform which is the first of its kind in the Philippines. Through this platform, consumers’ visibility of available options increases, and the suppliers’ market reach expands which eventually provides growth opportunities to small and new players. Through a blind bidding process, we allow retailers to see customer energy profiles, needs, and preferences, while customers can choose from competitive power supply offers. A 5-star ranking system is also in place for retailers to be aware of where their offer stands in comparison to their competitors. Taken as a whole, consumers reap the benefits of competition through lower power rates; at the same time, the national policy providing for retail competition and open access will gain more traction and wider adoption, thus, encouraging more players to come in and more consumers to exercise greater freedom of choice and save more.
Complementary to Exora Source is Exora Analytics, which is a subscription-based energy monitoring and reporting system tailored to their business and operational needs. Currently, we are developing Intellex through a partnership with the Department and Science and Technology, an advanced threshold management and machine-learning driven feature of Analytics. We use the gathered data and analytics to further improve the fit of supplier offers to customer needs. These also serve as a basis for advice we give to our clients and energy efficiency and conservation solutions we may recommend.
Exora Technologies Inc. Team. (Photo from Exora)
What are the challenges you have encountered while growing Exora and how did you overcome them?
Exora’s value is tied to the existing regulations in the energy sector. Hence, one of the biggest hurdles is the slow movement in the regulations in our country due to political volatility. Besides that, there is also a lack of consumer education and this limits the acceptance and interest of the technology from people. We address this through the conduct of numerous masterclasses, seminars, and university visits with the goal of familiarizing consumers with the Retail Competition and Open Access (RCOA) regulation in the Philippines.
Another challenge is the people’s hesitation to transition to digital transactions despite the Philippines having one of the most numerous access to social media and smartphones. Filipinos still rely on cash transactions. Adding the fact that we are an energy company, so consumers are more hesitant to try procuring their energy needs through online means.
Lastly, there are a lot of times that we were thought to be a group of college students doing market research on the energy industry whenever we go to meet clients. Our age is both to our advantage and disadvantage. It becomes easier for us to meet with clients since they are very intent on listening because they are very curious about what we have to offer. Closing the deal is a different story.
But my experiences prior to starting Exora helped me in a lot of ways – dealing with pressure, internal management, strategic planning, risk assessment, relationship building, etc. I was a part of different organizations and programs and I could say that my biggest growth in joining organizations, attending training programs, and studying abroad is perspective - seeing young innovators, young leaders, and very motivated individuals who are doing their very best in their respective fields.
Who are your competitors in this space? What is your competitive advantage?
We currently do not have any direct competitors. The status quo distribution utilities and electric cooperatives are our indirect competitors. Retail electricity suppliers who prefer to course their sales channel through traditional marketing means are also our competitors. Our main value proposition is our digital energy procurement process. We cut down what used to be a 3 to 6-month process to 2.5 weeks. We were regarded as the first and fastest digital energy procurement in the Philippines. Our data-driven technology also allows consumers to choose the best-fit energy portfolio for them.
What do you think is Exora’s impact?
We help clients select the fittest energy contract for them. We enable the first and fastest digital energy procurement in the Philippines at 2.5 weeks instead of the usual 3 to 6 months. We save clients an average of 10 to 15% of their energy cost. Just recently, we helped three malls in Bicol procure a new energy supplier. They are expected to save approximately 12 million on their 2-year energy contract.
During this time of uncertainty, can you share how Exora managed to adapt to the “new normal”?
COVID-19 has actually helped us gain more value in terms of convenience and ease of use. Adapting to digital technologies is one of our key drivers. Recently, we managed to close several clients in this pandemic where everything is done remotely and digitally.
How do you see Exora in the next 5 years?
The Retail Competition and Open Access will eventually trickle down all the way to the residential level which would mean a spike in the demand for our market. In fact on February 26th 2020, the threshold was lowered from 750kW average peak demand to 500kW average peak demand. In 2023, we can expect it to be lowered to the residential level. We see ourselves positioning firmly in the Philippine market and helping the energy industry here achieve grid efficiency through more active consumer participation. This proof of concept will allow us to expand to other emerging markets abroad that have yet to deregulate their energy market like Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and others.
Click here for more information about Exora.