EVENTS – The energy to succeed. Al Yates from ecotricity

11 April 2017

Energy entrepreneur Al Yates joins other innovative business leaders next Wednesday 19 April for the Quick fire! event in Auckland. He talks sector disruption with the SBN Newsletter.

Al Yates is director of Ecotricity. It is New Zealand’s only provider of carboNZero certified electricity. He is soon to speak alongside Pete Russell from Ooooby, Oscar Ellison from YourDrive, Martin Wylie from Elevator and James Coddington of Joy Business Academy. The Quick fire! event runs from 3.30pm – 6.30pm at the Sir Paul Reeves Building at AUT. It will cover challenging incumbents, fundraising, scaling up, partnering, mission and staffing.

Al’s story is all about challenging the status quo. He first got into the power business as managing director of Wind Farm Group, alongside his brother Mark. He was inspired by time in Europe working in telecommunications.

“We were living in The Hague and I used to commute quite frequently to and from Germany. I’d be driving through these windfarms that were right next to the motorway and the townships. I was thinking New Zealand needs more of those.”

“At the time our emissions were getting worse rather than improving. We knew there was a lot of potential for wind in New Zealand. Why not capture that and put more of it onto the grid?”

The original plan was to set up as a local office for one of the major wind turbine makers. But it became clear that what New Zealand needed was wind farm development. So that’s what Wind Farm Group has focused on. This combination of vision and flexibility characterises Al’s approach.

“There were some companies that were already working on it like Meridian and Trustpower. Windflow was designing its own wind turbines. But I wasn’t that interested in developing new technology, I thought we would be better becoming technology adopters.”

Wind Farm Group and Ecotricity both seek to capitalise on the lack of trust they felt people had in the big players.

“Kiwi consumers have been taken advantage of for far too long,” says Al. We have always been told how clean and green our grid is. But we are starting to fall behind some other countries. We have been resting on our laurels for too long.”

Wind Farm Group’s focus is on the regulatory and industry barriers to more windfarms. But the team felt the best way to get over them was with their own retail company. This would give wind the support they felt the incumbents weren’t providing. And so ecotricity was born.

“The retail electricity market is unnecessarily complicated. We had a number of options to get into the market that may have been easier than what we have done. But we think we have done the right thing, because we are now a Tier One retailer. This means we can perform as many tasks as the big retailers. We had the option of doing it through a third party. A house brand, using someone else’s system. But we wanted to provide as much information as possible to our customers, particularly on solar.”

This road too, was strewn with complications.

“Certification to become a retailer took about a year,” says Al. “There are a lot of things you have to go through. The wholesale market is very much skewed in favour of the big five ‘gentailers’. That’s why we partnered with Pioneer Energy on wind and hydro to become one of the leading suppliers of power to solar customers and electric vehicle owners. They were also experiencing similar issues in their retail businesses. They saw the opportunity to join forces.”

Book your place at Quick fire! now.