Leaders’ Insights: Michael Bradley, Solar 21 and Greenroom Investments

19 Nov 2015

Michael Bradley, CEO of Solar 21 and director of Greenroom Investments

Michael Bradley has been the CEO of renewable energy investment company Solar 21 since 2010, and he is a director of Greenroom Investments, a collective asset management vehicle that was formed in July this year.

Solar 21 is primarily involved in investing in photovoltaic solar farms across Europe, with the company having its head office in Dublin.

Describe your role and what you do.

As CEO of Solar 21 since 2010 and director of the recently authorised Greenroom Investments ICAV, I have to manage my time efficiently across both companies. I oversee the Dublin operations of Solar 21, which raises equity from Irish investors and acquires renewable energy assets in Europe, providing a fixed annual return to investors. The success of Solar 21 and the demand for a regulated product based on a similar model led me to set up Greenroom Investments ICAV this year, which is fully authorised by the Central Bank of Ireland. The day-to-day operation of Greenroom is outsourced to specialists in investment management and administration so the focus for me is on my role as a board member and supporting the distribution to institutions globally and the financial broker network in Ireland.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

I think to succeed you need to stick to the nuts and bolts of your business. It’s all very well to look at the bigger picture and take a holistic view of the business when you are strategy planning etc, but you need to really understand the day-to-day workings to ensure the wheels keep turning in the right direction. In terms of priorities I look at the basics that need to be done in any given week and start from there.

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

Our Government has been so slow to progress in the area of alternative technologies and their role in developing renewable energy. Ireland’s renewables industry is really awaiting the publication of Alex White’s Energy White Paper on the strategy for Ireland’s sustainable energy transition. There is a growing urgency for action in this area as we’re under growing pressure to increase the amount of renewable electricity we produce, reduce our CO2 emissions and decrease our dependence on imported fossil fuels. It is hoped that the White Paper will go some way to address our apparent fixation on wind energy, which appears wholly unpopular with local communities and is hindering us from reaching our 2020 target for renewable energy.

We really believe that the Irish Government could introduce a feed in tariff for solar development in Ireland as currently being lobbied for. Solar farms in Ireland would do the same job as wind farms but without public outcry due to their more discrete appearance and they would create huge employment in the sector

From our own perspective, Greenroom Investments would be able deploy up to €250m in solar plants in Ireland. But before any of this can be done, we need the Government to follow the example of their European colleagues and put in place a support mechanism similar to that which already exists for the production of wind power.

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

The whole premise of our business at Greenroom Investments was based on a recognition that there have been leaps and bounds in terms of innovation and affordability, within the “green” sector, which have helped renewables to become an attractive investment opportunity. The price of solar, for instance, is now less than a quarter of what it was in 2008. But if we are to reach the kind of levels required for a genuine energy transition, there’s much more to be done. The creation of Greenroom Investments – which is a Qualifying Investor Alternative Investment Fund, structured under the very latest ICAV legislation (Irish Collective Asset-management Vehicle) and authorised and regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland – recognises this and provides a mechanism for qualifying Irish investors to access attractive returns. Greenroom offers investors a gross annual return of 8.5pc over a period of five to eight years and the opportunity to cash in on returns that, to date, were exclusively the reserve of the large institutions.

‘I should have trusted my instincts sooner when it came to my business’

What set you on the road to where you are in the technology industry?

Following an intensive period of research in the renewable energy sector and studying these industries as they developed in Germany and Italy, we selected photovoltaic solar parks for a number of reasons. Improvements in solar cell efficiency and longevity had helped turn solar energy into an important mainstream contributor to the electricity grids of Europe and the world. Technical warranties from manufacturers not only guaranteeing their products from defects but also providing a high level of efficiency throughout their working lives made panels reliable and bankable. Better AC/DC inverters and transformers also contributed to higher performance levels to such an extent that the German Federal Bank had financed thousands of solar parks throughout Europe with up to 90pc gearing.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

I think my mistake, if I could call it that, was to delay. I should have trusted my instincts sooner when it came to my business. Because of that I have learned over the years to be more confident in your approach and not be afraid to challenge the status quo. I think most people can identify a time when they had a good idea in business but were loath to act upon it – only to see later on that someone else also had that same good idea but that they did something about it! But I’ve also learned that it’s okay to make a few mistakes along the way.

How do you get the best out of your team?

A lot of this is based on trust. This is something I’ve really developed over the years – a great level of trust in those around me. I think many business owners try to do too much themselves instead of relying on the talents and expertise of co-workers. I think if you believe in your team and leave them to do their jobs, as you know they can, then they will take greater ownership of their work and it will show in the results. We also believe that all staff should benefit from the success of the company and with Greenroom we have mechanisms in place to allow for this.

‘I think many business owners try to do too much themselves instead of relying on the talents and expertise of co-workers’

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity. What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to effect change?

It is true that, even in 2015, STEM sectors still have low participation rates among women as well as minority groups. Change needs to start in the education system with encouraging these groups into STEM subjects and courses from second level onwards. Of course, employers have a huge part to play in ensuring that their recruitment policies, practices, training and development programmes do not inhibit participation and actively encourage these groups. I’m proud to say that in Solar 21 we have a female engineer responsible for the remote monitoring of our solar parks in Italy and liaising with our on-site contractors. Silvia is a native Italian and is also studying for a Master’s in Sustainable Energy Finance.

Who is your business hero and why?

My mother, for her entrepreneurial spirit, kindness to others and her absolute belief in me.

 What books have you read that you would recommend?

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

I am out of the office quite a bit so I could not operate efficiently without mobile, email and internet. Obviously, digital communication channels are increasingly important these days but I still believe that face-to-face meetings are essential to maintaining the relationships that are key to our business. I am also fully aware that I could not get through the working week without the back-up of the excellent team I have in our offices in Dublin.