UrbanVolt lights upon a clever way to reduce firms’ carbon footprint

11 Jun 2019

Graham Deane. Image: UrbanVolt

Meeting energy targets is a complicated business but for Graham Deane, the co-founder of fast-moving Irish start-up UrbanVolt, it starts with saving money.

While most people were floundering their way through the recession or treading water to survive, Graham Deane seemed to come alive as he not only deftly worked his way through receiverships, job changes and new babies, but he somehow found the time to start two businesses.

One of these, Novaerus, is a well-backed creator of technologies that can reduce airborne pollutants. The other is UrbanVolt.

‘We estimate that UrbanVolt saved the Irish national grid from producing 55m kilowatts or 5.5 megawatts, which is a significant percentage of the total wind power that the country produce’

Future Human

Last year we reported how UrbanVolt signed a €55m funding deal with UK investment company Low Carbon. In one of the biggest deals of its kind, the investment was earmarked to deliver energy-efficiency projects across the US, UK and continental Europe. The investment brought the amount of funding the company had raised to €85m.

UrbanVolt delivers lighting-as-a-service (LaaS) to its corporate clients across Europe and the US. It upgrades commercial buildings to LED lighting for no upfront capital cost, enabling companies to save 75pc on their lighting costs while also dramatically reducing their carbon emissions.

A proportion of the energy saving is then paid to UrbanVolt as a service charge for the first five years, during which time the company also maintains the lights.

A considerable number of multinationals have already signed up for the service including Pfizer, Zimmer Biomet, Cargotec and Pipelife.

“The key to what we do is, we try to strip away all of the quasi-science around lighting and just make it easy,” explained Deane.

Light up, light up

Deane founded UrbanVolt with Declan Barrett and Kevin Maughan in 2015.

He explained that from the get-go, the founders focused on lighting first rather than trying to solve other aspects of reducing a firm’s carbon footprint.

“No matter how intelligent the person is, if you go into a business selling four or six technologies at once, it goes nowhere because they all have different paybacks.

“Our customer journey begins when we talk about the concept. We install the platform at our own cost. Once up and running, savings would be generated, we’ll charge a flat fee or a percentage, and we move forward together. The customer basically pays us for what happens after they flick on the light switch.”

Deane describes himself as a “pragmatic environmentalist”, emphasising that “if you want to make change, someone has to make or save money”.

The decisive economy of scale is ultimately what the end customer – a manufacturer, an airport, a retailer or an office building – saves.

“We calculate how much money you are spending on electricity right now and we do a realistic assessment of what they will save – for example, if they will cut their costs from €10,000 to €5,000 or less. If we can bring it down to €5,000, that is our monthly recurring revenue.”

To ensure that UrbanVolt can abide by this cost guarantee, Deane said that the company only invests in the best LED lighting technology because it is a common-sense way of reducing the amount of maintenance required.

“We overpay for products because it reduces maintenance. If we are constantly having to replace equipment, it means we are losing money. So the products have to be the best.”

Another aspect is focused on recycling. “98pc of everything gets recycled through WEEE and stays in Ireland. But ultimately, what we are able to provide the customer is a demonstrable estimation of their carbon footprint. Every project is audited by the SEAI and goes towards Ireland’s carbon footprint targets.”

In terms of intellectual property, Deane said that it boils down to a very straightforward contract that demonstrates the costs and the savings – in effect, a service-level agreement (SLA).

“The problem with energy service contractors (ESCOs) is that there are so many moving parts and many SLAs can run to hundreds of pages. Ours is just two pages.

“As 2020 approaches and many corporations have made promises to embrace energy efficiency, this approach works but it is not as easy to put together the way we have. Lots of others have tried,” Deane concluded.

“We are mad-passionate about showing absolute and utter transparency. It’s a long game, but in terms of efficiencies we estimate that UrbanVolt saved the Irish national grid from producing 55m kilowatts or 5.5 megawatts, which is a significant percentage of the total wind power that the country produces.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years