Leading the retrofitting platform designed to tackle the climate crisis

11 May 2023

Michael Hanratty. Image: Mark Nixon

Michael Hanratty talks to SiliconRepublic.com about his role as CEO of Berwow and how the retrofit platform is tackling climate change.

Michael Hanratty is co-founder and CEO of Berwow, a cloud-based technology platform that provides retrofit dashboards and calculators to homeowners. He is also managing director of IHER Energy Services, a specialist building energy rating (BER) consulting company founded in 2007.

Prior to his current roles, Hanratty worked as an electrical engineer with the ESB for 20 years, as well as holding the position of chairman of the Heat Pump Association of Ireland from 2019 to 2022.

As CEO of Berwow, Hanratty says his key role is product and market development. Since the platform directly assists homeowners and industry partners to make retrofit decisions, he believes that Berwow will play a role in Ireland’s green transition.

“These retrofitting decisions will contribute to the Climate Action Plan target to upgrade 500,000 homes to a B2 rating by 2030.”

‘In the energy retrofit sector, the biggest challenge is scaling up nationally to deliver the 51pc greenhouse gas emissions reduction set out for 2030’

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

In the energy retrofit sector, the biggest challenge is scaling up nationally to deliver the 51pc greenhouse gas emissions reduction set out for 2030. In the residential buildings sector, there is a need to increase the numbers of skilled workers available over a wide range of trades and engineering disciplines. There are several initiatives underway within the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) and key government departments addressing this issue. Berwow has been ahead of the curve in setting out the energy retrofit roadmap for homeowners using their own BER data.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

The focus on energy efficiency and net zero carbon has widened in recent years due to the acknowledgement by the wider corporate community that it also has a role to play. We are working closely with players in the financial sector as they want to promote strong sustainability messages and, in some cases, offerings to their customers. These sectors are also coming under regulatory pressure to play their part in solving the climate emergency. These developments are providing significant growth potential opportunities for our business.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

After 20 years as an engineer with the ESB, I started working in the building energy rating sector in 2003. With partners Bill Sheldrick and Energy Action, we established IHER Energy Services as a leading building energy rating training and consultancy company in 2007. This led to involvement in many EU research projects like Episcope and Tabula, that focused on building energy retrofit of national housing stocks. This then led to partnering with Gamma Location Labs and industry expert Fintan Smyth to develop and complete the first version of Berwow in 2017.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?

I took over 100pc ownership of IHER Energy Services in 2018. Within six weeks, I lost 85pc of the company’s technical experience as two colleagues had been well advanced in SEAI’s recruitment process. It was a challenging time and I wondered should I pack up my tent! Overall, I feel small SMEs with two to 10 staff should be compensated by State organisations in some fashion if those bodies benefit from the experience and skills of staff recruited from the SMEs. We survived and built up again, but a small boat can seem a lonely place at times.

What one work skill do you wish you had?

I know it’s more of a superpower than a work skill but I wish I could travel back in time so that I was only mid-career right now! The sector is very exciting and there is so much to do.

How do you get the best out of your team?

I do my best to support people and encourage them. Everyone has different expertise and personalities, and I try to understand each individual’s needs and to learn how to help them enjoy their work, progress their careers and, of course, contribute to the business. We do assist with additional training and further education too. While courses chosen might not always be exactly relevant to the role, it helps with the employee’s personal development and they appreciate the support.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

I can really only speak about us, and to be honest, we are a small business so we don’t have the scale to formally address diversity through programmes. That said, if a diversity issue arose, we would seek the best advice.

What’s the best piece of career advice you have ever received?

Don’t go to your boss with a problem and a blank face asking him or her for answers. Always bring your boss a problem and two or three potential solutions. The same would apply to your clients as we all need to be problem-solvers.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

I like a good old-fashioned sheet of paper with my weeks’ work mapped out for me, assigning priority to various tasks. It’s what keeps me on track, and I’ve brought that with me from early on in my career. The Outlook calendar also helps, but it’s usually the traditional approach that keeps me right. I often find that the simplest things can be the most effective.

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