“We need to see a huge increase in training courses to upskill those working in the sector,” — CEO Q&A with Michael Hanratty of BERWOW

By Business & Finance
15 June 2022

Michael Hanratty is the CEO of cloud-based technology platform, BERWOW. Michael and his team retrofit homes in order to support sustainability.

What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

As CEO of BERWOW, the overarching goal is to create smart solutions to support sustainability in the retrofit industry, but the key priority for us at the moment is to increase the reach of the BERWOW application – an online calculator which shows homeowners how to reduce energy usage and costs through retrofitting. Together with Gamma, a leading location intelligence provider, we were the first in Ireland to create and open this resource up to Irish homeowners. So, we really want to ramp up its use by establishing additional licence agreements with players in the broader energy efficiency market. Of course, we are hoping to roll out this service to any organisations that might benefit, such as banks and insurance companies, and expand into other markets like the UK.

I am also the Managing Director of IHER Energy Services and the Chairman of the Heat Pump Association of Ireland. IHER Energy Services is my consultancy business which aims to provide training services, BER surveying and auditing services, and research services to the energy sector. As Chairman of the Heat Pump Association of Ireland, I’m spreading awareness about the benefits of heat pumps and the options people have in terms of home upgrades.

What are your biggest challenges as CEO?

Most challenges arise when we need the cooperation of other organisations. For example, the BERWOW tool was ready to launch in 2017, but we needed access to actual BER records to make it more effective for homeowners. Then in May 2018, GDPR legislation was introduced which put all organisations on edge and meant that progress was extremely slow as compliance had to be ensured. However, we worked patiently behind the scenes with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and in August 2020 we signed a Trusted Party Agreement which allowed homeowners to access their own BER record through BERWOW and plan their energy retrofit project. Looking at the UK, there are barriers currently in place which prevent homeowners from accessing their full BER data file, so we will need to think about the best approach for designing and implementing a similar solution in that market.

How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

It’s hard to know sometimes if I do! And I certainly don’t follow a manual. Essentially, we try to keep the workloads interesting and varied, and we try to avoid overloading people. Everyone needs to step away from their desk at the end of the week and take time out to stay refreshed. We try to make sure that happens. In keeping with this balance between work and life, we supported working from home before the pandemic and we continue to offer that level of flexibility to staff. We also assist employees who want to upskill via courses or further education. This kind of investment is incredibly important for talent development and retention.

What are the challenges facing the industry going forward?

Looking at the climate change sector, and as is the case for many industries, the biggest challenge is having enough trained technical experts and installers across all disciplines.

What new trends are emerging in your industry?

In the wider energy retrofit sector, there are currently three main factors driving homeowner decisions. These are: the desire to reduce energy use and carbon emissions, the urgent need to reduce utility bills, and the geopolitical driver, which is to become a household that is not using fossil fuel sources. The mix of new technologies emerging within retrofitting – including heat pumps, solar photovoltaic panels, battery storage and electric vehicles – is fantastic, but creates the need to optimise the capacity of these renewable systems in order to minimise energy import to the home. This requires, often cloud-hosted, smart controls and energy monitoring devices. Of course, by 2030, many newer homes and some existing ones could be net energy emitters. That’s an exciting prospect.

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

Firstly, we need to see the introduction of the long-awaited export tariff for electricity generated by solar panels on residential roofs. Secondly, we need to see a huge increase in training courses to upskill those working in the sector and attract more people to work in fields which will help to address the impacts of climate change.

As an employer are you finding any skill gaps in the market?

There are gaps everywhere, just like in the wider economy. We need to encourage the younger generation, many of whom are concerned about climate change, to consider a career where they could play an active part in tackling the issue. For the next 30 years, irrespective of other economic highs or lows, activity in sectors which combat climate change needs to continue relentlessly. And when you think about it, because this is a global issue and one that isn’t going to be solved overnight, there is a promise of stable career prospects, as well as fulfilling and rewarding work from a personal perspective.

How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

The energy efficiency sector was broadly unaffected by these crises as the need to address climate change has been growing stronger year by year since the Kyoto Protocol entered into force in 2005. BERWOW as a company was formed more recently to develop smart solutions for the energy efficiency sector and while we don’t know what the future holds, I believe the economic and decarbonisation drivers will allow us to ride through any future economic crises that arise.

How has Brexit affected you?

Brexit hasn’t really had an impact on our operations or market opportunities. However, there is no doubt that the war in Ukraine is having a significant impact. On one hand, it has caused a spike in energy costs which may go on for some time and is increasing the desire for investment in energy retrofit. On the other hand, the corresponding rise in material and equipment costs is making it difficult for people to make the necessary investment in retrofitting their homes. There already appears to be a slowdown occurring in the building of one-off homes due to recent material price increases. It could reach a point where the government needs to review and increase grant funding. While this may have to wait until the next budget, the government needs to ensure that we, as a country, don’t lose more ground in our efforts to tackle climate change.

How has the COVID-19 crisis affected your business/sector?

As we are a technology business, we were able to carry on with product development during the pandemic. However, the wider retrofit sector was certainly impacted with home visits out of the question, so there is some making up to do in that regard.

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

For me, it’s running a successful business that delivers results for customers and having a happy crew back at base.

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

As a young engineer, a wise colleague told me: “don’t go to your boss with a problem, go instead with a range of solutions to a problem.” That’s stuck with me and it’s a great mindset to instil in others if they aren’t in that groove yet.

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

Since we launched the BERWOW tool in August 2020, it has driven millions of euros worth of investment in residential retrofit projects across Ireland. Such projects are making a huge difference for Irish homeowners in terms of carbon emissions and utility costs, and helping in the fight against climate change. We have also had serious interest in BERWOW from banking and insurance companies both in Ireland and the UK, which demonstrates how widely the sense of responsibility to act on climate change has extended and how much value our solution can deliver for a broad range of organisations.

What’s next for your company?

We want to build on the success we’ve had to date. As well as continuing to enable the retrofitting of domestic property and in order to drive this even further, we are hoping to add new customers – energy providers, banks and insurance companies – in Ireland and hopefully in the UK too. We will also continue to work on product innovations to provide improved and new solutions that will further assist in the fight against the impacts of climate change.

Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

This time next year, we would like to have a larger customer base spanning multiple sectors and markets. Really, we want to be at the forefront of innovation in this sector, using smart technology and AI to lead change, deliver outcomes (for both businesses and people) and help the planet.