What’s it all about?
Energy Storage!! More importantly optimising and commercialising grid scale energy storage assets. I first met Ben at a conference in London some years ago. He has since gone on to co-found one of the leading energy storage optimisation companies, recently expanding into Australia and the US. We have a dive into battery tech, long duration storage, entrepreneurship, and internationalisation. I hope you enjoy the episode.
About Ben Irons:
Ben is a co-founder of Habitat Energy, where he leads their international business development and partnership activities. Ben was previously an Executive Director and board member at Aurora Energy Research where he founded and then led their consulting practice for 4 years, and before that, Strategy Director at Centrica Energy, and energy and sustainability consultant and McKinsey & Company in London. Ben has a first-class honours degree in Mechanical Engineering from New Zealand, and an MPhil and DPhil in Economics from the University of Oxford.
About Habitat Energy:
Habitat Energy was founded in 2017 to operate and manage battery storage assets and renewable energy. Habitat has independently developed a market leading trading platform based on algorithmic and machine learning techniques that can handle the intensive forecasting and computational demands of battery storage and market optimisation, complemented by a traditional trading team. Habitat’s system also incorporates deep insight into the physical capabilities and degradation of battery storage, offering a profit maximising rather than revenue maximising approach. Habitat was recently awarded the optimization contract for the world’s largest solar powered vanadium flow battery in Australia, and currently operates over 200 MWh of storage assets in the UK. Habitat’s platform is consistently ranked by independent third parties as the highest performing in the UK in terms of revenue per MW.
- Ben Irons on Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ben-irons-a59359/
- Habitat Energy Website: http://www.habitat.energy/
- Habitat Energy on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/habitat_energy
About Hyperion Executive Search:
Hyperion are a specialist executive search firm working with some of the most innovative cleantech companies in the world, helping to find extraordinary talent to enable their growth and success. Partnering with leading cleantech VCs, as well as directly with founders and entrepreneurs in the sector. With our clients we are transforming business and growing a strong and prosperous cleantech economy.
If you want to grow your team, or move forward your career, visit www.hyperionsearch.com, or email email@example.com
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David Hunt 0:32
Hello, I’m David Hunt, CEO and founder of Hyperion executive search and your host for the leading clean tech podcast. Now whilst we must always show caution directly linking weather events with climate change the scientists and the evidence tells us that the tragedies of recent heat waves and floods around the world have just the beginnings of what we can expect if we don’t really accelerate our carbon emissions reductions, policies and Technologies. Today I speak to another clean tech co founder that is scaling fast and working hard to accelerate the clean energy transition. My guest is Ben irons co founder and director of habitat energy. Ben associates co founder of habitat energy where he leads the International Business Development and partnership activities. Ben was previously an executive director and board member at Aurora energy research where he found and then led their consulting practice for four years. And before that strategy director at Centrica energy and energy and sustainability consultant at McKinsey and Co. So he’s turned consultant into entrepreneur, and we’re going to have Kelly story here. I hope you enjoyed the episode.
Hi, Ben, it’s great to have you join us on the leaves and cleantech podcast.
Ben Irons – Habitat Energy 1:40
Thanks, David. It’s my pleasure to be on. And yeah, good to have you from the COVID sanctuary of New Zealand at the moment, How are things with you there? You know, isolation? That’s right, I’m feeling quite, quite fortunate to be over this side of the world, surrounded by mountains and space and no COVID whatsoever. Mostly just before COVID kicked off and definitely got a bit lucky there. Good stuff, good stuff. lots to talk about in terms of the reason that you’re where you are at the moment, not in the UK. And in terms of internationalisation, which is your focus on
David Hunt 2:14
with with Habitat, I’m really keen to talk about how habitat are unlocking the potential for grid style, scale storage. And there’s again, lots to talk about there. But it’s customary, we start a little bit Ben is talking about your background. Now we obviously first met in London way back when Phil was like a million years ago, when you were doing some presenting on on some markets for Aurora. But yeah, if you can just give us a little bit of a flavour from how you transferred from McKinsey and Centrica through to becoming a co founder and entrepreneur of habitat. That’d be great. Yeah, sure.
Ben Irons – Habitat Energy 2:46
I guess renewable energy is the is the common thread through all of the different roles that I’ve had that you mentioned, as a consultant, I was quite involved in carbon abatement and climate policy working different parts of the world and seeing that the basic problem from lots of different angles. So that was really where the seed was, was planted. For me. centrical was a great opportunity to get into a big utility and see how a corporate works from the inside and see what impact that kind of organisation could have. They were doing a pretty significant programme of wind in particular at the time that I was there. And that Aurora was a terrific experience, more of a sort of startup, I was one of the first employees to join Aurora. So sort through a period of really significant growth. And that was a new experience for me how to build a business and grow it internationally. But also gave me a ringside seat, really, for the emergence of distributed and flexible energy, where I was very active. So I was fortunate to work with a lot of the early battery projects in the UK and see what they were up against what the challenges were, how they were successful, how they built an investment case. And it was all a combination of those things that that was the reason for the founding of habitat.
David Hunt 3:56
Yeah, I think there’s such a fascination and interest on the podcast and with the guests that we have that that combination of the world is moving so fast over the world in which you live in terms of flexibility and grid and batteries and the technologies and the policies that support that change on a dynamic basis. Just founding a company, is is a huge challenge nor the challenges that that brings in terms of bringing people and money and everything into the organisation. So it’s, it’s a really fascinating and challenging time before we dig perhaps a little bit into some of those business challenges. Perhaps you can just give us a flavour for habitat and exactly how you engage with the energy transition.
Ben Irons – Habitat Energy 4:37
Yeah, sure. So really, right. From the various very early stages of habitats founding, we had a very clear service in mind, which was to use algorithmic trading techniques and a human trading team in order to manage and optimise grid scale battery storage. Our view was at the time this is back in 2017. 2018 that big batteries were just starting to come through in the UK market. But they were mostly focused on ancillary services and particularly frequency response at the time. But our view was that mentioned trading, just the idea of buying and selling power in any market at any time was a much more versatile model one that was going to unlock a much bigger market opportunity, and therefore a much bigger impact in terms of renewables integration and, and the low carbon transition. So therefore, when we wanted to accelerate, so that was the that was the founding sort of premise of the company was that if we could help our clients operate their trees when they will build but also help them understand the revenue potential when the risk and help them raise money, help them go through that journey to actually get projects built. That was the way we were going to be able to make the biggest impact and really, actually almost surprised how little we’ve had to deviate from that strategy over the last four years.
David Hunt 5:54
We’re really doing now exactly what we set out to do with, you know, a few few little challenges along the way, for sure, but no major deviation from from really that day. One strategy was good foresight. Because as you say, back as a way back when it is clearly a few years ago, it feels like many more but they’re you know, at the time, the argument of batteries was trying to find the revenue stack, and it would be so far and arbitrage and various other things, you try and start to get to commercialise and invest in a project but very quickly, that became us as renewables is a fairly traditional merchant market, which really has changed the whole dynamic of the industry
Ben Irons – Habitat Energy 6:34
hasn’t, it absolutely has, I find this move to sort of mentioned trading out merchant risk exposure, just fascinating, because it sort of touches so many different parts of the energy system and the ecosystem of all the different players, you know, that everything from EPC through to the funders that insures the banks, you know, everyone is in quite a different situation when there’s there’s a merchant project. And it’s been one of the frustrations, I think, is just how difficult it’s been to get, particularly investors who were often used to many years, investing in renewable projects on on comfortable subsidies, or one on one early client came to us and said, Yeah, no, I’m keen to invest in batteries. But I’d like you to find me a model where I can get that, you know, comfortably a double digit return with no risk. Good luck. But that’s not really how the world works. You know, we think the returns are more than sufficient to be convinced you’re in it for the risk. But the reality is, this isn’t something that’s got, you know, 15 year, PPA behind it or some other, you know, low risk model. And that is forcing traditional investors likes of infrastructure funds, pension funds, and others to do ask some pretty difficult questions, even to the point now, whether some of them, you know, having to rewrite the mandate almost to get capital into the parts of the energy system that it’s actually needed. Because I think today, we’ve seen a massive mismatch of too much low risk capital, and not enough that was really genuinely open to the merchant side.
David Hunt 8:04
Yeah, I guess it was no ugly, clearly a global issue. But in the UK, in particular, clearly, we had a period of time in the sort of the early or 2010, through 1213, where there were so many solar in particular, but renewables projects where there was that subsidy where it was nailed on money. And obviously, there was a bit of a, as you probably experience, you know, crazy Gold Rush really to get projects delivered, and we instal our 13 gigawatts of solar in a very short period of time. But again, it’s just getting people’s mindset away from subsidy. And the fact that actually there is a subsidies is good for certain purposes and cluded, from from the marketplace, but at some point, that’s just not sustainable. And you have to go back to what we’ve always done, which is simple business risk analysis, you know,
Ben Irons – Habitat Energy 8:47
that’s right. But the challenge, I think, though, is not just that the merchant risk is there. But there’s something you know, additionally challenging about battery storage, trading in general, you know, just the idea of buying and selling power. sounds simple, but it’s really not. And the more you dig into it, the more you realise, you know, how much money can you make with it with a battery? Looking at various different wholesale markets? That’s not a trivial question to answer at all. And so I think it’s actually the combination of Yes, there’s mentioned risk, but also, this is a this is a business model, that’s not familiar to even investors with, you know, decades of energy experience. And they need a lot of hand holding, they need a lot of a lot of support. I think the industry didn’t do itself any favours when the early days, I think there were a whole bunch of consultants running around saying, Yeah, you know, we can simulate how a battery will trade, some of them with a straight face for saying you’re doing 20,000 pounds per megawatt per year, and others were saying 120, and you had everything in between, and this went on for, you know, one or two years. So these trusted sources of information were in the past, you know, or will be, you know, that people will take long term forecasts with a pinch of salt, but there was still a sort of consensus view that was pretty well understood for batteries that didn’t really exist, and I think it was that as well that really unsettled investors and made them think we’re just not sure yet if we’re really ready to dive in with both feet? Sure,
David Hunt 10:08
we get to talk about your customers a little bit because again, I think following on from from solar in particular, a lot of people started out by wanting to construct, build, own or manage the asset. And clearly, quite quickly, that’s flipped where people are less keen to do that. So who are your customers? And what are the sort of, I guess, services broadly that you’re providing for them? Yeah,
Ben Irons – Habitat Energy 10:31
so I guess our main customers are the owners of grid scale battery projects are in turn, tend to be fund. So it could be infrastructure funds. So Gresham house is a publicly known as one of our bigger clients, others as well, but that would typically be just investors looking to make a sensible return by investing in battery storage. Many times, they won’t necessarily do too much of the hands on stuff, different different funds will have different flavours where they have expertise, maybe closer to the engineering and the EPC others closer to the market or whatever else. But our responsibility always is to take physical control of the battery. So we’ll actually send dispatch instructions to the battery electronically, we’ll provide a route to market. And that means having access to all of the different wholesale markets, the different ancillary markets being licenced and able to trade into those markets ourselves. And then the third part is to actually be able to put those things together and do something intelligent with a battery, so know when to charge it, when to discharge it, what kind of trades we should be making, obviously, we’re doing a lot of forecasting a relatively short time period to work out what the best opportunities are going to be. It’s putting those those things together to basically create a revenue stream that we then pass on to the to our client minus our minus our fee. That’s the basic commercial model.
David Hunt 11:53
Right, right. And in terms of how you have addressed those changes the market ongoing, and but also going back to the point of founding the business, you know, I don’t know how many founders there were initially, but starting to scale the business clearly, to some extent, you can say, well, you’re not building the assets, and therefore it’s not capital intensive. But clearly any business has a need for capital, however you obtain that. And it sounds quite sophisticated, no combination, actually. So both human and AI, support and to enable all of this to happen. What were some of the early challenges from a business perspective of starting to jump into this new ish world and provide the sort of services that people were unfamiliar with?
Ben Irons – Habitat Energy 12:35
Yeah, of course, it’s a good question. There were there were many, I think you make a good point, first of all, to say, you know, what resources, capabilities? Do you need to build a battery trading business? Well, yeah, I can make a list. But one thing for sure is that there’ll be a different set of skills from what you would need if you were actually the owner of a battery project or developer or founder. And I think that’s why we were confident enough to believe that, as the industry matured, we felt this was going to be a sustainable, sort of commercial model, that it would be normal for battery owners to use third parties to operate their batteries. And we’ve actually had a lot of clients come to us and say, yeah, we’ll use you temporarily. But our plan is to build this capability in house. In most cases, we’ve seen actually, you know, if, though, if good developers will be good at developing, build the right team and the right sort of capital to do that. But then when it comes to operating the battery, that’s about, you know, data scientists and traders and software and technical skills, which, I mean, sure anything’s possible, but is that really the right use of the skills and the resources that those battery owners have our view is not. So far, that’s that’s sort of seems to be the way the industry is going. I think that the types of skills that we went all in on where data science was certainly one, I think, understanding that the physical battery asset and how it performed was maybe something that made us a little different from our peers. And in terms of where our focus was. Our view was that if the owners really wanted to think about owners, the batteries wanted to understand the lifetime returns of a battery, then it will be important to think about degradation and how long those battery cells were going to last. And therefore that had to be factored into the trading model. Because it was no good just burning through the battery and honouring the warranty, but only just and then sort of handing over a bunch of burned out cells. And you know, what could be seven or eight years, if with a slightly softer operating model, maybe you could increase the life by a number of years. Our view was that was important. And the only place in the value chain where that contribution could be made was was from the optimizer. So we’ve got quite hard. We’ve got a relationship with a battery laboratory at Oxford University, which has been very useful for that. And then there’s the trading team, and we are all about the data science. We’re all about the algorithms. But I think we also recognise that there’s isn’t something at least for the foreseeable future that we think will be 100% automated, certainly not in a market like the UK, where there’s just so much sort of quirkiness, if you like in terms of the the prices that you see and the opportunities that you see, when one of your major counter trading counterparties national grid is themselves not fully automated, you know, there’s always going to be a place for human relationships, picking up the phone, seeing unprecedented events and interpreting them then with all of the wisdom of the human trading team. So I guess that was the third leg to what we wanted to build.
David Hunt 15:33
Right? You touched on something very interesting, you’re having the the hub of the partnership with Oxford in terms of looking at the capabilities of batteries. Clearly, still, lithium ion broadly dominates the market at the moment. But we’re seeing increasingly some innovative technologies in and around lithium itself and West obviously formed breaking cover a little bit this week with with their technology, we’ve worked with a number of companies involved in sort of various sort of variations of chemistry around lithium ion. And then of course, when we look at longer duration, there’s a number of whole different sort of thermal technologies, flow batteries, and lots of other technologies coming through. Are you technology agnostic? Are you keeping an eye on where you might be able to provide services to developers of those different types of assets.
Ben Irons – Habitat Energy 16:19
We certainly are technology agnostic, we’re happy to work with any battery type, any chemistry any any manufacturer. And increasingly actually, as we’re seeing a little bit of vertical integration happening across the market, that’s starting to become a more valuable commodity with the likes of Tesla, obviously, having their own auto better and Fluence having acquired a mess. A lot of our clients come to us specifically because we’re not tied to any particular technology. So that’s something that we’re keen to maintain. We have looked at other other types of storage, and from outside, you know that the challenges are very similar. I think as you move to longer duration, storage, obviously, you need to then be thinking about a longer forecasting horizon. But certainly we’ve got the the technology that’s quite capable of doing that. I think, like everybody else in the market is hugely excited about the prospect of of new technologies coming forward, that can bring the price down for one thing, but also make longer duration storage, an investable prospect. I do think though, actually, that long duration storage is as much as it is clearly going to be very important, is often a little bit misunderstood. The The challenge with long duration storage is if you think about the sort of basic trading model of how any storage makes money, it’s how many cycles per day you charging and discharging the battery or per week or per year, times by what’s the spread, you know, what’s the difference in the price between where you buy the power and where you sell it. If you’ve got long duration storage, naturally, almost by definition, that the number of the cycle rate is going to be a lot lower. And the reality is in the market, you don’t see significant improvements and spread, even if you’re looking over a longer time period than a day, right. So the only way that long duration storage can work is for it to become very, very cheap. And in my mind, that’s actually what long duration storage is, it’s not really about being a different technology. It’s about being a storage technology that is very, very cheap, and therefore can be economically used for long duration applications. Right now, you’ve got flow batteries, you’ve got pumped hydro, you’ve got these new emerging technologies, but when you look at them on a per megawatt basis, rather than a per megawatt hour basis of capital cost, they’ve still got a way to go. So you know, I hope they get there. And I hope we see some projects come forward. But it is very challenging to beat that. That sort of facet of the market that a lot of the money does accrue to the first one two hours of battery journey. And after that it’s it’s it’s rapidly diminishing marginal returns.
David Hunt 18:51
Yeah, I think that’s one of the struggles with the longer duration to a what is long duration, you know, 468 1012 in season or at some point then is different. But initially the business model that to make that a commercially viable project, I think it’s the Exactly, yeah, it found out I think a little bit. One thing, which is interesting, because clearly starting in the UK, and you know, we’ve had a deregulated energy market for some time we had that solar, you know, boom, there was a lot. There’s a lot of capital, of course, in London and the UK. So I guess there was not an easy market, but there was a lot of activity that for which you learned and from from which you built. But clearly the energy transition is a global thing. You’re no longer in the UK, what what’s the sort of internationalisation and how have you found other markets and what it hasn’t changed either your model or how you approach different markets?
Ben Irons – Habitat Energy 19:42
Yeah, we feel sort of fortunate with the timing. When we entered the UK market, we had pretty much two years to focus really on the r&d to build the technology and build the platform before we started operating large scale assets. And when we done that, we sort of stepped back and thought, well, to what extent is this platform that we built scalable to other international markets. And it’s clear that it’s not 100% scalable, there’s always going to be things specific to local markets and how they’re designed how you interact with them. That mean you need to do some customization. But we also felt a lot of the AI frameworks and tools, a lot of the forecasting that we got very good at all of this sort of cloud hosting infrastructure and other sort of IoT elements. Plus, of course, all of the understanding of the physical battery itself, that was more or less transferable. And we saw that as battery prices were coming down, it was opening up more and more markets for for batteries to become investable. So we wanted to jump on that on that opportunity. We decided on Australia as a market that was sort of accessible when growing quickly and take the few other boxes for us. So that was the reason for me moving to this part of the world was to help support the launch of our Australian business. And we’ve had a really terrific team. In Australia, we’ve got first batteries signed up. And we’re actually on the countdown now to going operational in that market, just later this year, which is really exciting. For the for the whole team. It is a very different market. That’s fascinating. In fact, it’s a it’s a five minute market as opposed to 30 minutes in the UK, ancillary service markets are traded in real time. The generation mix is completely different the political environments completely different. But we love that it’s fascinating to see some things in common, but something’s different. We’re also launching in the US at the moment, and we’ve been really fortunate to partner with a group called Twinbrook infrastructure partners who have assets in the US and have been keen to build a relationship with us and actually helped us launch initially in earcups, in Texas and in the US. So we’ll be making further announcements about that. Later in the year. We’re looking at other markets as well, Japan, Ireland, who knows it’s happening so quickly, as you say, it’s just a matter of how fast can you can you grow and scale and keep the show on the road?
David Hunt 21:55
Yeah, absolutely. But it showed that that regulatory environment is I guess, critical to some extent, and looking at the US clearly, as we all know, it’s there, you know, you’ve got three main energy systems, they work or have watched being one, but you have lots of different interstate policies and challenges and difficulties. And clearly we’ve seen in California and Texas, in the last couple of years, some real challenges with keeping the lights on. So clearly, I guess that’s a good place to be to be starting with the development of assets, storage assets.
Ben Irons – Habitat Energy 22:25
Yeah, absolutely. I think battery storage as a technology has been fortunate that it’s got relatively few enemies. I think, you know, no matter what your view is on sort of priorities for the energy system. But storage is a winner on just about any any basis. And that’s great. But you know, the challenges aren’t certainly market specific, as are the, you know, the investment models and the players. So we’re not getting ahead of ourselves, I think we’re very aware of the challenge of ensuring particularly the US, which is a is a more mature market, which is why I think that the Partnership for us was so important, but it’s a huge market, it’s growing at just an eye watering rate. And our view is this is room for a number of players like us to be coming at the problem from different angles and all contributing through the different different approaches, different strategies, different skills, to decarbonizing the energy system. And I think if you believe in that as the end goal rather than commercial successes, that is the primary view, then it’s maybe gives you a little bit more confidence to dive in and try and bring something new.
David Hunt 23:27
Yeah, yeah, no, absolutely. I think one of the interesting things is most of most entrepreneurs in this space and that we speak to are clearly financially biassed. But But mission lead, I think that element of you know, just just be excellent at what you do, and the money will follow. Having that as few as is, I think, is important for success. But that doesn’t notwithstanding there are challenges and internationalisation. Many of which we’ve touched on there in terms of regulation and, and policies, in terms of actually physically setting up a company haven’t set up companies in in the US and in Germany in recent years. There were challenges in just creating legal entities and all that comes in hiring people and everything that comes with that. So yeah, is how much of I guess obviously, there’s a strong leadership team, but how do you how much involvement or enjoyment you get from some of those internal operational challenges rather than the customers challenges?
Ben Irons – Habitat Energy 24:23
Well, I’m not going to pretend that I’ve enjoyed every aspect of running a startup I don’t like any of my co founder colleagues would say that either. I think, you know, it’s the reality when you start a business is you know, yourself, David, I’m sure. You know, there’s a lot of work that has to get done. And a lot of it is not glamorous, but you’ve got limited resources and limited time and you just kind of got to got to get on with it. There’s been a lot of that off and on. But I’d say there’s also been some moments of real pride and real satisfaction and achievement. I think bringing a team together as on the one hand it’s it’s it’s daunting, and it’s a bit humbling. I think the moment you decide We’re going to start this new part of the business or we’re going to build this team, we’re going to hire some people, you realise that you’re ultimately holding people’s careers. And you’re at that point. And that’s the real responsibility that we take very, very seriously. The exciting part though, is when it does come together, and you see what that teams then capable of doing, and you see the success, you see the team building and get momentum. And actually, then as a co founder, ideally, you can start to step out of some of those day to day things and let the team do what they are there to do, what they’re specialised in, frankly, far better than me doing. That’s, that’s the really exciting bit. So I think that’s why I enjoyed my particular role. We’ve, as co founders, the three of us never had sort of formal responsibilities. But I think it’s fair to say I’ve sort of gravitated towards building the the client relationships, building the partnerships, thinking about the international growth, and I found that extremely stimulating, and it’s been been a terrific experience.
David Hunt 25:58
have you managed that, again, during the last couple of years, as we have, you know, we’ve I think I’ve been on one international trip in best part of two years. For to see a client, it’s been challenging. Of course, we know how much can be done online. But equally, particularly building partnerships and talking about, you know, substantial potential revenues and or capital investment, it’s still a little bit daunting to make that commitment without some form of physical interaction and shaking of hands and all that comes with that. So how is, I guess, the last couple of years of being, you know, across the other side of the world, unable to travel enabled, but still no expanding both in Australia? And of course, now looking at the US.
Ben Irons – Habitat Energy 26:42
Yeah, it’s, it’s certainly been a shock for all of us. When I’m moved to this part of the world, I was thinking, well, we’ll be launching in Australia will be in Sydney, Melbourne, New Zealand’s not so far away. So I can be commuting as needed between those different cities. And certainly when I hired my senior counterpart in Australia, Greg, who’s based in Melbourne, I said, you know, don’t worry, I’ll be I’ll be right alongside, I’ll be over all the time. And we’ll work closely and then a couple of months later, that turned out not to be possible. So yeah, it’s obviously been tough. I enjoy being in a room with people and you know, getting that extra dimension of just, you know, reading the body language and all the things that are harder to do remotely and going to the drink afterwards. And all of course, we all miss. The huge upside, I guess was that people realised, if we were going to push out and continue with our businesses, we had to just make do with video conferencing. And actually now that we’re doing that it turns out it works pretty well. And if anything, I think I’ve been finding it easier almost to work from here. I can work now across multiple time zones, I don’t lose any time to travel. It’s it actually works pretty well. I’m still looking forward to getting back to a little bit more human contact when that’s possible. But for now, it certainly hasn’t held us back too badly.
David Hunt 27:56
Yeah, yeah, super. In terms of the I guess then the the future Coolio in a winner nascent market still with batteries. And clearly as a young company still not withstanding, you’ve now sort of know internationalised and got a big opportunity ahead in the US, but do you? What are the longer term plans for for the organisers tonight, like have that you clearly you’ve learned an awful lot and develops an awful lot of, you know, proprietary, not just software, but knowledge within the team, as you say, I mean, what’s the future? Is it just more further intellectualization? Or do you see other areas of being able to bring your expertise to bear in other parts of the energy transition?
Ben Irons – Habitat Energy 28:34
I think the main priority for us beyond battery storage, and the current sort of focus that we have is to get more into the CO located storage with with renewables, particularly solar, I think we see that as a huge opportunity globally, and where a lot of the same issues are prevalent now that were the case for storage only a couple of years ago, which is built on the investment case, getting the investor confidence that this is a bankable technology, that the returns are really there, understanding some of the really technical details like you know, how should the meeting be arranged if your DC coupled versus AC coupled and just stuff that the industry’s never really had to had to solve before, but now we’re suddenly doing it at vast scale with, you know, multi 100 megawatt project. So I think there’s a lot of progress the industry needs to make, but we as optimizers also do. So we’re very excited about that. There are a long list of peripheral opportunities that we could get into from, you know, other types of distributed assets behind the metre. Evie charging, smaller scale CNI. We get approached about those things frequently, but I think our decision to date at least has always been where a small company with limited resources, we need to stay focused on one thing and do that one thing extremely well and not getting too distracted. So that’s saved as well. And I think certainly for the time being, I think that’s that’s our aim to aim to continue. We recognise we’re up against some pretty formidable competition. And I think as the market matures, there will be consolidation. And then there’ll be vertical integration. And there’ll be new commercial models and new challenges. I guess that’s one thing we keep an eye on is, particularly on the dimension of balance sheet. I think if the industry goes down the track of expecting the optimizer to provide, you know, extensive revenue guarantees and sort of structured risk products, where you need a balance sheet to be able to be the counterparty to those we may struggle to as an independent company. If it goes the other way, and it’s all about the money, people just want the best technology that can deliver the best revenue. And then they just want an agile and flexible companies such as ours, we may well be independent for many years to come. But that’s certainly something we continue to think about.
David Hunt 30:42
Yeah, no, it was always challenges yours. No, the guys at long jump. And Eric is, you know, a client and also a former podcast guest too. And obviously their exit to shell for obvious reasons that worked for them. So like you say, it’s how long do you continue to play with that thorough? And when do you need to make further collaboration? Once you’ve touched on that briefly, I think it is interesting that it is tempting, as an entrepreneur, when there are so many opportunities, both internationally and in terms of periphery markets to sometimes lose that focus. And it’s great to hear that you’ve been very laser focused and obviously capitalised on that. I would like to get your thoughts because I’m fairly sure that the time that we met in London, the talk was in and around what was even more nascent at that time was electric vehicles and how they would roll out so clearly at the moment that that’s an exponential growth curve. It’s still I say, nation, but there’s a lot of talk of how and when, and if, you know, electric vehicles can play their part in storage, and obviously bouncing off of panels and grids, etc, particularly for large fleet uses, which nodes use took stuff boxes, or plugged in overnight, that kind of stuff. I mean, do you see that as a viable market and communities? Is that somewhere where potentially you can bring value to those owners of mobile storage assets?
Ben Irons – Habitat Energy 31:59
It’s a good question. I think our view generally is, as a company, we are cautious to get involved in any opportunity that’s to finally distributed, if you like, if it’s lots and lots of very small, flexible assets, just purely commercially. For us, it’s not a technological challenge. But it’s just a commercial challenge. The Economics of accessing a large fleet of V’s or a large set of you know, CNI opportunities is difficult when a lot of our costs are fixed. Just the contracting, the onboarding, all of those have a sort of fixed cost component to them. So for us, we haven’t looked closely at that. I think if we had the opportunity to optimise a fleet that was already aggregated, that might might be a different story. I do think Eb sort of vehicle to grid technology has got a lot of potential. But I also don’t see it as a direct threat to dedicated grid scale storage. I think if you think about a battery as a capital asset, where you pay all the money up front, and then it’s something you can just use for free, it would be logical to say, Well, we’ve got all these batteries, as part of electric vehicles that are sitting there doing nothing, let’s just use them. But actually, that’s not really how the economics of batteries work. It’s more like, you pay for the battery as you use it, because you’re degrading it continuously over its lifetime. And he’s had to prepay for all of that degradation upfront. But when you think about it, with that model in mind, you suddenly realise, well, Evie batteries are probably going to be a lot more expensive per megawatt hour than then grid batteries are. And they’re already in a car, which has been bought to be a form of transport not to be serving the grid. So it’s not to say it’s impossible, but I think it makes Evie vehicle to grid more suitable for availability type models, where you’re there as reserve or you’re doing some ancillary services with minimum throughput. But for the heavy lifting of renewable integration, I think, especially as grid scale projects get cheaper and cheaper. We’ll see. I think they’ll continue to be the winner. Yeah,
David Hunt 33:49
that makes sense. Makes sense. Cool. Well, it’s been great to spend some time with you. In terms of then I guess, that you talked a bit about the future of habitat and some of the further expansion plans. It’s good also to conclude by looking back at the past, because you’ve got, we’ve touched on a sort of an interesting and varied career. What, if anything, had been sort of inspirations along the way, either books, thought leaders, individuals, or places that either that have inspired you on this clean technology, entrepreneurial journey, or places that you go to because we will have dark days in this in this game? So perhaps if there are places that you, I guess, jump back to with when you when you find the going a bit tough?
Ben Irons – Habitat Energy 34:31
Yeah, I think I would say I never saw myself as a as an entrepreneur, I spent the first part of my career and frankly, a pretty traditional kind of corporate track, and figured that’s where I’d spend the rest of my rest of my career. It was just serendipity to some extent that I got sort of closer and closer to seeing what entrepreneurial pursuit looked like. And then at some point decided to jump in, but I’m not the sort of natural personality type necessarily to want to take big risks. Or, you know, take on extreme challenge like that just for the for the thrill of the ride. But I think what’s made it work for me. And the reason I actually now love what I’m doing, and I’m really glad that I’ve gone down this path is recognising what your strengths are, but also being aware what your weaknesses are, and complementing those by finding the right people to join you in the endeavour, I would never have started a business completely on my own. There were three of us, as I said earlier, that co founder habitat at the same same time, and we all have terrifically complementary skill sets, which is great. But I think in terms of how you deal with those dark times, and they certainly come forward, fortunately for us, I think we’ve probably all been on those ups and downs on slightly uncorrelated wavelengths, which is great, because you know, someone will be having a bad day or a bad month or, you know, some, something’s gone wrong, and they’re in the business that particularly impacts one person’s responsibilities, and that person’s feeling down. But you know, you go to the pub, or you give them a call, and you say, john out, you know, lots of other things are going great. And I think this feeling that sense of team and camaraderie has been really critical. So I certainly always recommend that to anyone who asked me about whether they should start a business is just, you know, make sure you’ve got the skills skill set covered, but also, are you really doing it alone versus bringing some others along alongside? I think it’s a great way to do it.
David Hunt 36:18
Yeah, thank you for sharing that. And, again, I agree, obviously, clearly, you’d expect us to be as hunters, you know, focused on the people side of things, but having that balance within the team of both skills, but also personalities and have the complimentary sets, that really helps when I say that the game will get tough. And having that and also company culture, you know, that broad the more broader company culture that the team can support you through and motivate you when, as a leader you’d like to some days even give up maybe but but having that family is such that you’ve you’re responsible for and also sort of motivating you to push through. So yeah, I think I should say that the founding team or the management team that you create, is interesting. We go a long time about that. But listen, I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts. I’m gonna let you go because I know that it’s at the end of your day as much as the beginning of mine, and look forward to seeing what’s activities in Australia. And of course, more importantly, then the new ventures and we’ll keep our ears to the ground in terms of the the expansion into the US. But thanks for sharing your story.
Unknown Speaker 37:19
Thanks very much, David. It’s been my pleasure.