Exporters lead green energy drive to hand power to local communities

May 3, 2014 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

Small, agile start-ups are driving innovation in the sector, with companies
such as MeshPower bringing electricity to those without access to a plug or
a light switch at home or even in their local vicinity.

“Every fifth person in the world does not have instant access to electricity,”
says Lukas Lukoschek, the
26-year-old chief executive of MeshPower.

The four-strong company based in London builds and supplies mini electricity
grids which it places in remote villages in Rwanda and India.

Powered by renewables (primarily solar), MeshPower supplies an individually
metered service to between 10 and 50 customers on a plug and pay basis –
with the aim eventually to enable customers to buy over their mobile phone.

“Despite the lack of electricity, these customers have mobile phones. They
send their kids for hours to cities to charge their phones,” Lukoschek says.
“This pay-as-you-use system is cheaper than the villagers buying paraffin or
wood and reduces the community’s carbon footprint.”

As of this year, MeshPower is testing six systems, three in Rwanda and three
in India, and is a finalist in the Shell Springboard competition to find
revolutionary clean energy companies, which climaxes on Tuesday.

The study from the global energy giant found that 67pc of exporting low carbon
SMEs are already selling their goods and services to emerging economies,
particularly in Mexico, the UAE, Turkey and South Africa, with a collective
market of £15bn.

British renewables consultancy
has been present in South Africa for the past six months. The
business was founded by John Macdonald-Brown and Neil Sinclair – a former
commercial property executive and City trader respectively. It advises
corporates on renewable embedded energy generation – how to create and use
electricity on site, which in turn takes pressure off the national grid.

As well as a string of corporate clients in the UK such as Aberdeen Asset
Management and Land Securities, the duo have worked for Mercedes-Benz in
South Africa. “It is where the UK market was five years ago,” says
Macdonald-Brown. “They are switched on to the concept of green energy. The
issue isn’t cost of renewables but a lack of supply, and Cape Town is having
brown-outs [an unintentional drop in voltage in an electrical power supply
system which results in the lights dimming].”

Commodity prices combined with the global political energy situation, such as
the Crimean conflict, has reinforced the need for nations to control their
own supply, he continues. “Renewable energy is not just about a need to be
ecologically sound, rather hedging prices by paying slightly more now but a
lot less in the years to come.”

But for small businesses global expansion is fraught with problems.

Neil Sinclair, co-director of Syzygy, says: “We have so much work in the UK
that we can’t focus as much as we’d like on overseas business. We are
therefore looking for grants or funding to expand internationally.”

This issue is picked up in the Shell study – SMEs face disproportionate
challenges, it claims. Around 24pc of low carbon SMEs cited a shortage of
working capital to finance exports as the primary barrier to sell overseas,
and early stage funding for such ventures has decreased by more than 50pc
since 2012. “The banks just aren’t there,” Macdonald-Brown adds.

And, according to Mark Jankovich, chief executive of the environmentally
friendly chemicals company Delphis Eco
, global demand for British
services is growing.

He bought the failed business, which makes cleaning products for households,
hotels and catering companies, in 2009 and shut the international arm.

“The recession hurt those who looked at a low carbon strategy and there was
little room for international growth,” he says. “But now every professional
firm has to do it; to win a tender you must be seen to be doing something

Delphis Eco, which is now turning over £2.5m per year, was the first company
in the UK to be awarded the European Eco-Flower and has won a Royal warrant.
Such accolades help the reputation of the British low carbon industry when
winning work from China, where Government and industry are cleaning up
pollution, or the Middle East, where state buildings and hotels in Abu Dhabi
are being retrofitted with low carbon systems to meet new regulations.

It seems one of the star attractions of buying British is the sector expertise
that does not necessarily exist on the ground in some emerging markets. When
it comes to the UK’s low carbon SME industry, knowledge really is power.

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