“Never settle – things can always be improved.” CEO Q&A – Michael Phelan, GridBeyond

CEO Q&A | Wed 21 Nov | Author – Business & Finance
Michael Phelan, CEO GridBeyond

In our next CEO Q&A, CEO Q&A – Michael Phelan, CEO GridBeyond speaks about futureproofing the business, moving into a decentralised model and always innovating.

Q. What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

As a Chief Executive and co-founder, my priorities are to ensure that our business is continuously making technological advancement to future-proof both our energy services for our clients and the dynamic growth of our business.

GridBeyond is a leading-edge energy services company. We work with large industrial and commercial businesses to manage their energy consumption to generate savings, increase revenue opportunities and optimise efficiencies.

Having seen a fivefold revenue increase over the period 2014-2017, we are predicting greater than 100% year on year revenue growth this year. Building on our success to date, and with the support from multiple investors, we are now evaluating other markets and negotiating conditions for international growth.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

Predetermining the requirements of the electricity markets is an ongoing exercise.

We operate in fast-paced, rapidly changing energy markets. The last few years have seen significant transitions towards a more digitalised and decentralised model.

As an innovation-driven technology company, we continually improve the ways our clients operate and manage their energy consumption. Whilst determining the needs of the market before the requirement is actually present can be a challenge, we’ve so far managed it by listening to clients, keeping our fingers on the pulse of technological developments and possibilities, and working closely with system and network operators in different markets to gain knowledge and provide our input on future trends.

Q. How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

Over the years we have built a team of very talented and dedicated professionals. Even though we have experienced considerable growth relatively quickly, we retain a start-up drive and mindset. Our colleagues are encouraged to speak up, present their ideas and develop skills and solutions in the areas they are interested in.

Our company culture is inclusive, flexible and straightforward and has always positively impacted productivity and reactivity, and client and employees satisfaction.

We are committed to fostering a rewarding & exciting work environment. Company away days, training and incentives for outstanding performance are all elements of this.

Q. What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

The energy market is being heavily disrupted worldwide due to the decentralisation and decarbonisation of electricity generation. This is driven by the need to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and increase the integration of renewable energy into the Grid. Ireland is the leader in decarbonisation in Europe and has set itself an ambitious target of 40% renewable energy sources by 2020.

A cleaner electricity grid finds challenges in the volatility of renewable generation. When the wind does not blow, and the sun isn’t shining, how can the grid meet the demand for electricity?

This is where technology such as GridBeyond’s comes in. The platform fluctuates the electricity demand of large energy consumers according to the overall demand on the grid.

In return for reducing demand at times of limited generation, businesses are significantly rewarded financially by the grid. This supports the grid operators in building stable, resilient and clean electricity system, whilst presenting benefits to businesses.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

Over recent years we have seen movement towards greater automation on industrial and commercial sites, as well as within the grid itself. The energy industry has entered the fourth industrial revolution, and energy now forms a key part of automation and cost saving strategies.

Many industrial and commercial businesses now recognise the financial benefits of taking more responsibility for their energy consumption and of investing in technological solutions to become more efficient. Highly advanced energy technology platforms, such as GridBeyond’s, are powered by machine learning and big data analytics, and are connected via a platform to energy-intensive equipment. The technology helps with the optimisation of production processes, prolongs equipment’s life cycle, and informs the decision about participation in the most beneficial revenue programmes and energy trading opportunities.

Grid operators, such as EirGrid in Ireland, are focused on building a digitalised and resilient grid, to ensure our electricity comes from sustainable sources, and the level of supply always accurately meets the energy demand.

Q. Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

It would be great to see clearer messaging from software houses about their offerings. Occasionally, it can be difficult for the end-user to fully comprehend what is being offered to them, and streamlined communications would help in this regard. For instance, traditional on-premise vendors are keen to drive cloud adoption, but are not always clear on exactly what their offering consists of. Customers and these companies themselves would benefit in the long term from a more open approach.

Q. As an employer are you finding any skills gaps in the market?

As the business grows, it is our ethos to train and promote from within, so we retain our highly skilled team members.

When recruiting from outside of the business, we require some advanced skills from our employees and a willingness to learn the specifications of the energy industry. Despite the focus of our business being quite specific, we have not experienced any difficulties in finding suitable candidates. Our team has actually doubled in the last year, and we are planning further growth with the creation of 40 new jobs over the next three years.

Q. How do you define success and what drives you to succeed?

I am fortunate that my passion and interests are the fundaments of my work. My vision for this business is simple: to develop technology to better our energy system and ultimately benefit our planet.

I have an engineering mind, with an eye for the detail, and can spend hours discussing and working on new tech-ideas. The driver for our success is essentially watching my vision come to life with every development we make, and knowing that, if we can do this, there is no limit to the number of exciting breakthroughs we can make.

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

Surround yourself with good people who are experts in their field and who are team players. Always be open to new ideas. Never settle – things can always be improved.

Q. What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

We have just won the Award for “Smart Tech Innovation” at this year’s it@cork Leaders Awards. Without a doubt this is one of the great highlights for us this year.

2018 as a whole has been very successful for us. After years of research and development, GridBeyond released the world’s first hybrid battery and demand network to the UK market.

Q. What’s next for your company?

Ireland is one of the most advanced energy markets in the world when it comes to grid balancing services and penetration of demand side response programmes, giving GridBeyond a unique advantage to continue to innovate in this space.

As other worldwide markets and smart grid applications advance, our ambition is to expand internationally and become one of the largest operators of demand side Virtual Power Plants in the world. To realise this ambition, we will continue enhance our technology, and grow and develop our team, creating more jobs and advancing expertise.

Surround yourself with good people who are experts in their field and who are team players.

Business & Finance, CEO Q&A

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