Virtual power plant operators improving Ireland’s electricity grid

EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalist Paddy Finn of Electricity Exchange

Electricity Exchange co-founder Dr Paddy Finn: “I’m not a fan of ‘It’ll all work out in the end’ as it undermines the work that has to go into making it true.”

Electricity Exchange co-founder Dr Paddy Finn: “I’m not a fan of ‘It’ll all work out in the end’ as it undermines the work that has to go into making it true.”

 

A provider of smart technology to improve the use of Ireland’s electricity grid, Electricity Exchange also pays clients for making excess power available to the grid when it’s needed.

Established by Dr Paddy Finn and his business partner, Duncan O’Toole, the company began trading in 2014 and has doubled in size every year since.

It is capable of remotely reducing electricity demand on the sites of hundreds of large electricity consumers, either by turning on existing back-up generators or by shutting down non-essential processes for short periods, to make their power available to other users on the electricity system. This achieves the same net effect as a conventional power station with the added benefits of being faster, more scalable and less costly and carbon intensive to deploy than its rivals, the company says.

The company already boasts that it can provide the Irish electricity market with as much power as the Ardnacrusha hydroelectric power plant and is now setting its sights on international expansion.

In 2016, Bord na Móna bought a 50 per cent shareholding in the company, which currently employs 24 staff in Castletroy, Co Limerick, and has plans to double that number in the next year.

Finn is involved in the company’s research and development activities as well as the day-to-day running of the business.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

Over the course of one year, Electricity Exchange grew from being the second-smallest to the second-largest virtual power plant operating in Ireland – out of eight – becoming bigger than Electric Ireland’s and Energia’s virtual power plant operations combined.

What were the best and worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?

“Complaining about a problem without proposing a solution is called whining,” was a good piece of advice someone gave me. On the bad advice front, I’m not a fan of “It’ll all work out in the end” as it undermines the work that has to go into making it true.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

Electricity Exchange is currently embarking on its international expansion. However, rather than establishing equivalent virtual power plants in other markets, the company’s primary overseas expansion will be as a technology provider to large utilities that are already well established in their own markets.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

In three years, we intend to be selling our technologies into 20 utility markets worldwide and be the supplier of high-value smart grid solutions to the dominant electricity utility companies in five jurisdictions outside of Ireland.

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

Learning to effectively manage people in order to maintain an enthusiastic and productive team was the single biggest challenge for me in transition from life as an engineer to life as an entrepreneur. It’s important that our employees believe in our goals and see their individual contributions to our success because it keeps everyone motivated.

What is the most common mistake you see entrepreneurs making?

I have seen a number of early stage start-ups being disproportionately distracted by their corporate structure rather than maintaining focus on developing their product or service.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

The key to starting a business is believing that you can do anything. The key to growing that business is realising that you can’t do everything yourself.