The co-founder of Britain’s first digital renewable energy supplier says that without digitization, the company would not be able to compete on price.
Steven Day, one of the four co-founders for the launch of Pure Planet, based in Bath, led the company to an impressive telecommunications career after launching Virgin Mobile in the UK before holding roles like Orange and EE.
The company, now one of the major challenger energy companies that supply green gas and electricity, claims to be 20% cheaper than the “Big Six”, despite higher prices requiring green energy.
Its app-based model uses mobile technology to minimize costs, an approach which means that green energy can be sold at wholesale prices.
Day describes the company as a point between “EnviroTech” and “GreenTech”, and says that technology is at the center of its offer.
The company was created by Andew Ralston, Tom Alexander and CFO Chris Alliot. Ralston and Day had previously worked together at Virgin Mobile in the 1990s and other companies since then.
Their initial plan for Pure Planet – very different from their familiar telecommunication world – was to bring modern technology into an industry that was, according to Day, “frankly a total latecomer regarding modernization”.
The team saw the telecommunications industry quickly switch to a more involved and interactive billing experience, watching the first emerging banks emerge from the FinTech sector. But interactivity was still missing in the energy sector.
Day says that most suppliers, even today, operate through paper invoices, many of which are distributed to consumers every three months.
“We found this a complete anomaly. It is ridiculous and there is no way to interact with the consumer. How can someone be engaged with their own energy if they have never seen anything but a paper pad on the mat?” He tells BusinessCloud .
The founders had planned to coincide with the start of their business together with the introduction of intelligent measurement. They hoped that the new data from these IoT devices could be channeled directly into the Pure Planet app.
But Day says that, for all the weight that the founders had in telecommunications, they were “innocent neophytes” in the energy world.
“Naively, we thought we would be able to launch with smart meters from the start,” he recalls, assuming that the national launch of the new technology would be simple.
“Of course, this did not happen, not only for Pure Planet but for the whole sector”.
The company, which uses smart meters, contracts in technology. Despite superficial design differences, this is an underlying public standard. Its adoption is the key to a greener world, Day says.
“It is crucial from the point of view of national infrastructures because with smart meters you can count how much energy is consumed in your country, so that it cannot be in the analog world,” he says.
This current “analog” world only provides guess-based energy usage data, so there are no accurate predictions. This increases the waste of energy, which according to Day is around 11% at a time.
The renewable energy market
Day says the company’s creation occurred at a time when price was the main decision-making factor for consumers, a model that has the potential to cause a “race to the bottom”.
He says the model had led some companies to fail, unable to handle a large influx of numbers. The few customers who sought green energy were those with conscience and the money to afford the most expensive option.
Green offers available in 2016 were around 20% above the market average, Day says.
“There was no real differentiator between suppliers other than price. It is not sustainable and you will never be the cheapest forever. “
He says that all the founders had realized the impact of the climate crisis even before the creation of Pure Planet, and were worried about the future of their children without a competitive non-renewable player.
Everyone was interested, but Day would continue to study the subject. The decision to make the company renewable and natively mobile was obvious, he says.
“If you can count what you need and what you use, you can be much more aware of how you use your energy.”
A “double breeze” thanks to technology
Before the creation of Pure Planet, Day claims that it was not possible to sell green energy competitively, but he nevertheless spoke with sector consultants. The consultants told them that the green is more expensive because of the withdrawal and taxes, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t be done.
“We have found a way. In a nutshell, making Pure Planet digital, “says Day. The cost savings would allow them to offer more expensive green energy at a lower overall cost.
Digitization has made their offer cheaper by 20%, offsetting costs and making it “child’s play” for consumers and a step forward in making renewable energy the new normal.
“Things have changed a lot in recent years, with the help of David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg – but more seriously with things like national pollution laws.” Britain is at the forefront, she says, although not everyone knows it.
Day says the UK already has the technology it needs to become completely renewable and only needs more renewable generation through wind and solar – and better storage – to make it a reality.
Indeed, recent extreme winds have led wind energy to rise “literally off the charts”, creating “negative retail prices”.
“In 2018, three quarters of homes used renewable energy. With everything included, we have a discount of around 60%. It’s a typical British thing that we don’t celebrate success well. It’s one of our best kept secrets. “
The goal of “net zero” emissions, which according to Day is a bit of a password, will require the reconfiguration of companies all over the world. He indicated that Microsoft is becoming carbon negative, to compensate for its historical use of non-renewables.
Companies and suppliers who are not yet at that point will now have to reset as technology evolves further. Renewable technology is also reaching consumer level, with solar energy of the type now possible from one house to another.
Day does not see these “micro-grid” technologies as a threat to the traditional structure of a national energy network, but believes that companies within that network will also have to become ecological to remain part of the conversation.
“Once you have gained the right to speak about renewable energy, you have gained the right to speak to consumers about micro-grid technologies,” he says.
“We build and encourage a decentralized energy network. You will find that this will be the new normal in 20 years.
“We will start thinking about how we want to charge our electric vehicles and if we can sell the power of our electric cars to the grid. Or can we use it to power our home?”
Day says that a battery in the house will become as normal as a dishwasher in the near future and greater freedom will allow us to think about both the purchase and sale of energy, which is why a two-way platform like the one built by Pure Planet is so necessary .
These batteries will emerge together with the public’s understanding of “green intermittence”; the idea that the energy produced by the wind and sun should be stored in these batteries when it is created and used when needed.
He hopes that Pure Planet is the cutting-edge brand of both green and micro-grid energy as the world’s energy sources are transformed and become more complex.
“The future will be much more personal, relevant and local,” he says. A two-way street, where energy can be exchanged from the supplier to the family and from the family to both.
“Our point of view is that we can grow this business so that it is something considerable, significant and an actor both here in Britain and beyond and that it plays a leading role in the digitalization of energy services.”