SME Stories: Andy McKay, Co-Founder of Evergreen Smart Power
Evergreen Smart Power want to unlock the benefits of energy flexibility for consumers. In the future, this could mean using smart technology to change the way heat pumps or electric vehicles operate to increase capacity on the grid and pay consumers for the service.
Co-founder Andy McKay explains how his technology could help deliver benefits for society and the energy system, and how the advice from the Innovator Support Platform enabled the business to refocus its strategy and prepare for new investment.
Business Name: Evergreen Smart Power
Founder(s): Andy McKay, Helen Boothman, Chris Jones, Stephen Critchlow
Year established: 2017
Number of employees: 9
What is the elevator pitch for your business?
We want to deliver a smarter energy system that reduces consumer energy bills by making it easy for people to raise or lower their energy use at certain times to help balance the electricity network and drive savings.
How did you come up with the idea?
The founders of Evergreen Smart Power independently came up with similar ideas before we got together. We wanted to address some of the ‘megatrends’ in energy, particularly on how we can integrate the decarbonisation of both heat and transport into the energy system and reward domestic customers for providing the flexibility required by the future grid.
We wanted to ask: what are the big opportunities for us to do that? What are the big bets that could help us meet the objective of the overall Evergreen group: to create social impact, deliver benefits to society and solve the energy ‘trilemma’.
What is the innovation behind your business?
We can enable an energy supplier to offer their customers the chance to benefit from providing energy flexibility. This could be through charging their electric vehicle or operating their heat pump in such a way that they get compensated for helping balance the grid.
We are really a technology provider that allows loads to be aggregated, dispatched, forecasted, scheduled – it is the intelligent analysis and control behind the scenes that we provide.
What is your background and how did this lead to you becoming an entrepreneur?
My background is in software development, but I have a passion for solving energy-related problems. I got involved in energy indirectly when I was seconded to a start-up working on smart metering.
Two decades ago, we did a 45,000 smart meter pilot for British Gas, which proved the viability of domestic smart metering. Off the back of that, I helped set up a smart metering hardware and software business that we sold to General Electric.
After this, I went on to work for General Electric, as they bought that business to up-scale it and offer metering services and products across the UK. This was spun out into different businesses over several years. The meter and data management platform we built was demonstrated to process 100 million half hourly meter reads in 100 minutes.
What made you so confident that this idea could be made into a successful business?
From my previous roles, including an executive role at an energy company, I understood how the network functioned and the challenges it faced, and I could see how the landscape was changing.
We needed to offer new products and services to people to differentiate ourselves from vanilla energy offerings and to use domestic energy flexibility to solve some of the grid’s problems, and I was confident that was where the sector was heading.
The challenge is, how long will it take? In the case of smart metering, I watched two decades go by before we resolved those challenges.
Energy flexibility has the potential to offer huge benefits to the system. For example, August’s major power cut helped to illustrate the value that millions of EVs could provide stabilising grid frequency when charging or waiting to charge.
How did you secure investment?
It’s been incremental seed investment to prove concepts from a collection of investors, including myself, the Evergreen Group and a few other individuals.
Like many start-ups, we’ve had to prove the concept of what we’re doing and the next stage was to tap into any innovation funding that was available. So, we were really happy to work with the Catapult and others to be successful in the government’s domestic DSR competition. We’re leading that project and they’ve invested £1 million into it.
How did your relationship with Energy Systems Catapult begin?
Prior to starting the business, I attended some of the Catapult’s Future Power System Architecture events. I was aligned with the project’s long-term, future-thinking energy system objectives, so when I set up Evergreen Smart Power I decided to reach out to the Catapult for support.
We were after innovation funding, and the Catapult was interested in partnering with us because we didn’t have the capability to do the consumer insight work for a big project. The Innovator Support Platform allowed us to have people in the team fielding for us and spotting opportunities.
This was helpful because, even though we are relatively well-informed in this landscape, there’s a lot of change going on in the energy system, and the Catapult was able to point us in the right direction and to the right stakeholders. Even simple things like notifying us that industry events were available for us to attend we’ve found incredibly useful.
What was the drive for you to take part in the Innovator Support Platform?
We saw it as an opportunity to enable us to punch above our weight in terms of access, resources and work packages that ordinarily we probably wouldn’t be able to afford or conduct in-house. It was clear to us that the Catapult had lots of expertise that would enable us to achieve a lot more than we could do on our own.
What sort of expertise were you looking for?
It was really the independent analysis of industry, business models and expertise in areas that we didn’t feel comfortable in – such as market and competitor analysis.
It was almost like we were tapping into a consultancy that ordinarily we wouldn’t be able to afford. It allowed us to put much more rigour into areas that we probably couldn’t do on our own.
This has helped us in terms of scaling up and building an investment case for a bigger race, because if you look at some of the activities that the Catapult supported us with – competitor analysis, stacking up business models, those kinds of things – they have been done in ways that we probably wouldn’t have been able to do easily ourselves.
What have been the takeaways in taking part in this programme?
It’s enabled us to get an objective view on the things that we should be focusing on. We can do that internally, of course, but this has created a much better process developing our strategy. It’s also given us the evidence we need to build an investment case with more credibility.
Like many businesses, you are going to need a reasonable amount of money to get things off the ground, and the next stage for us has to be upscaling investment, and the Innovator Support Platform has been instrumental in helping us with that.
What are your hopes for the future?
To be able to access investment and build up, focussing over the next year or two on developing the capabilities that the Innovator Support Platform helped us to identify and prioritise.
We need to focus on a few discrete areas that will allow us to build a business that can access revenues based on flexibility and providing products and services in the energy industry, whether they’re suppliers, the National Grid, or others.
Any advice for other entrepreneurs looking to set up in the energy sector?
It’s not easy, but the system is going through such a period of disruption at the moment that now is probably the best time to do it. Business models are being reengineered, and there are more opportunities than there have ever been – whether that’s vehicle-to-grid, domestic batteries, peer-to-peer services, to name just a few.
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