Carl Benfield chats to Kevin Appleby and Graham Arrowsmith about renewable energy.
About Carl Benfield
Carl is Managing Director of Prescient Power, a business he set up in 2009 as a renewable energy company. He is also the presenter on business podcast Twentisphere. Carl is a military man who served in the Royal Engineers for 16 years.
Twentisphere was created from Carl’s own business experience with challenges. He has discovered that everyone has problems in business!
After a chequered academic career, he joined the Army. He became interested in energy. As part of his MSc he looked at two challenges – generating energy in a clean way or saving energy in an efficient way. For example, would you generate it with a Solar Panel or would you save it by putting in LED lights.
After the Army, he joined another renewable energy company in 2007. He left that company after 2 years and setup Prescient Power in 2009.
What does Prescient Power do for clients? Predominantly they are installers of Solar panels and biomass boilers on a commercial scale. Additionally, Prescient Power offer energy monitoring and advice companies on their energy use. Based on the analysis, Prescient often install renewable energy and can then maintain the installations ongoing.
Maintenance is important as you can install Solar panels then find a few years down the track they need upkeep.
What is biomass?
Burning wood. The wood must come from a sustainable source. The logic is that the carbon that tree captures in a lifetime is then available for burning. A closed carbon cycle. Biomass is not quite carbon neutral, its carbon lean. But much less than burning coal or oil.
With the growth of biomass, is there enough wood?
We do import wood from overseas, like coal and oil. It is a global market. The challenge then is to consider the carbon content of that journey. How much carbon is expelled to get the wood to the UK.
Prescient are based in the middle of the National Forest in the Midlands and the plan is to plant 20m trees exactly for this kind of reason. There is a lot of forestry going on in the UK.
Biomass, solar and wind, makes us more secure on energy, relying less on overseas importation.
Renewable energy – What’s in it for a company?
If you use electricity from the national grid or use oil or gas to heat your buildings or factories, you don’t need what Prescient offer, so Prescient point you at Government incentives.
Paybacks are generally 4-6 years but the Government incentives run for 20 years! So, you have an additional income stream over 20 years, which pays back in 4-6 years providing 14 years of income!
Taking Control of Your Energy Costs
If you generated all of your energy from Solar, you would need capital outlay, but future costs would be free or small. You will not be subject to the vagaries of the Big 6 energy companies raising their fees at a drop of a hat. As a business, you can look ahead and plan your business more effectively.
What’s the comparison between doing renewables and not?
In terms of ‘broad handfuls’, if it takes an average 5 years to pay back, if you spend £100k on Solar Panels, you should benefit to the tune of about £20k per year – from the reduction in your current fuel bills and the Government incentive.
Another way to view this, is that type of saving on an £100k investment is the equivalent of one employee. A good thing.
Despite being called Prescient (meaning fore-knowledge) they cannot foresee the future exactly. Government figures are that businesses can expect to see energy costs rise by 6% year on year. By comparison, biomass prices should rise by 3% year on year.
Graham calls it an “Energy Vending Machine”, you put in your £1,000 and you have two choices – the Big 6 option, which will eat all £1,000 and the renewables which will drop out with £200 back.
If you replace your gas boiler it will never pay for itself. Whereas if you put in a biomass boiler it will pay for itself and starts generating income.
Biomass can be more expensive to maintain. These are included in the financial projections. Solar, biomass – which is the easiest call? High heat load = biomass, high electrical = solar.
A site survey is half a day, then the quotation comes next day or within hours. Installation anything from a week to 3 or 4 weeks for a very large installation. It doesn’t interfere with operations. The only time it does is switch over – but this is done at a weekend/night.
You are allowed just under 4 kilowatts before you inform the authorities. Commercially, there is no upper limit. A megawatt is a very large system.
Measuring energy. First thing is to find out what’s going on. To the question, how much energy are you using, most people might know cost, but rarely kilo-watt hours. Getting that data has always been difficult.
Prescient want a granular understanding of energy use. Renewables won’t help with everything. Efficiency, for example. Energy Coach is all about installing energy monitoring equipment, to look at energy in real time over the internet. This really informs the conversation and allows Prescient to have a detailed discussion with clients.
They can narrow focus to an individual in a factory. This allows the factory manager to take control. Like switching energy off at night, costing money for lights etc left on.
Reviews are conducted on this data to inform clients on efficiency improvements.
What can someone do to save money?
E.g. Where machinery needs to be warmed up before use, it is common for people to turn it on 2 hours too early.
Prescient go onsite to install the monitoring equipment. What tends to happen, is clients say they want to monitor everything? But the better question is what will you do with all that data? Carl’s military training about data overwhelm, applies to the commercial world. So, the best way is the low-hanging fruit. Monitor 3 pieces of equipment, instead.
A district council had installed some renewable systems. They wanted to monitor everything? Why we don’t know. We just want to learn. If you cannot handle the data appropriately, then don’t monitor it.
With manufacturing, they are often very good at making widgets. Energy tends to be something they do not think about. It is often low priority. They help them save the planet and not get in the way of making their widgets.
If a company is producing organic waste, there is a thriving market. They need it removing, so Prescient helps them burn it locally so it doesn’t end up in landfill. Pallet waste, for example.
In the next 100 days, what should you do with renewable energy?
- If you a big consumer of electricity, you can request a half hourly basis report from the utility. Just from looking at that, you can ask lots of questions. Background and weekend consumption.
- Reduce costs by 10% by turning lights off.
- More difficult with oil. But you can look at the temperature of the factory floor.
- If you consumer £5k per month, look at renewables.
- If you are a large energy user, you may be able to generate elsewhere and apply the savings to your own business.
There is a decent business case for Solar.
Govt gives you money for every unit you generate. If you export, you get money for that as well as for generating. If you use the energy, you are offsetting and you are better off. You are generating and consuming locally = a very efficient model.
Returns of 10% to 14% over the 20 years’ period. Initially, you make a negative return. You must be in this for the long term.
Is there a way of collaborating with other businesses? Some industrial estates work together in this way.
Podcasting – Twentisphere
20 minute bursts of ideas. What has Carl learnt?
- Every time Carl podcast, he goes back to the business and wants to apply?
- Are we marketing in the right way?
- Carl refines his business approach.
- It enlarges your own business community.
- A huge learning journey.
Carl’s thoughts about business in general?
Carl was amazed at some businesses – how were they surviving? They turn handles and make money. If you have got a great value proposition.
Carl was on a business partnership for the town council. How can we help you?
- Make parking free
- Bring me more business
He thought, they’d bought a shop, stuffed it with product, then expected people to buy. They have not understood the challenges.
Many don’t have the first clue of how to market their businesses.
Dan Kennedy teaches this – in the next 10 years if you invested all your efforts in perfecting your business deliverable – such as being a better deliverer of renewables, VERSUS the next 10 years invested in becoming an excellent marketer of renewables, which way do you think would earn most income? Answer, be a marketer of your business, every time.
Is renewable energy for you?
It is for the Government. But they’ve been incoherent. Do you believe that climate change is an existential threat? If so, act. Plus, taking control of energy makes sense for you medium and long term.
How can you find out more?
Listen to Carl weekly on the Twentisphere podcast: