‘We’re looking to double our team in the next year’

Inside Track: Michael Bradley of Solar 21

Michael Bradley of Solar 21

Michael Bradley of Solar 21

 

In a time of disillusionment with the stock markets, Michael Bradley tells us why Solar 21 is offering a greener and brighter alternative to property and equity.

What sets your business apart from the competition? If the average Joe on the street wants to invest, they’ve got to buy shares on the stock market and we all know how that can go. With us it’s simpler: we buy the operational assets (ie solar farms), they develop the power, and then the grid buys the power off us. This all equates to a fixed price, a fixed customer and a fixed term, which makes us an ideal company for investment.

It’s a bit like owning a coffee shop, except you know how many customers are going to walk in each day, what price the coffee is, and how long they’re going to buy it for.

Is there a lot of competition in your sector? Absolutely. There are many solar companies springing up in Ireland, which is making the business more mainstream. We’re also beginning to face more competition now in buying the assets – pension funds and large investment funds want to buy these assets because they know they are steady.

But it’s not always about the price, it’s the nature in which you contract business. You’ve got to have a very good name, to know what you’re doing, and have a very good team.

In terms of success, what is you greatest achievement? The company’s success has been great and, consequently, we’ve employed lots of people and we continue to employ people. I feel very proud of that, and that our idea has provided employment to a talented group of people.

Who do you admire in business and why? My mum had a little family shop on Achill Island (where we were from originally) and later she and my sister ran their own catering business. So she had that entrepreneurial spirit which stuck with me from an early age. She always instilled in us the value of getting out there and getting things done, and that indecision can be worse than a bad decision.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received? My mum always told me you’ve got to throw out a sprat to catch a salmon, so I find that you’ve got to invest into people in the company, and don’t expect to get everything for nothing.

Are the banks opens for business? To be honest, they say they are but I find, in Ireland, there’s so much red tape, and it’s so slow to get anything done. From what I’ve heard from colleagues, I can’t say that they are. One of the worst things about the downturn was that you lost that personal connection with the bank. My bank manager had been there for 20 years and then the downturn came and he disappeared.

Does that not leave the way for positive change? I haven’t seen anything by way of positive change. When compared to the banks in Europe (we would tend to use international banks much more), I find things get done much quicker than with Irish banks at the moment.

What advice would you give to the Government? Introduce a feed-in tariff for solar energy. We would build solar farms in Ireland – the land is there, the radiation levels are fine – it’s just the price at which we would sell is not commercially viable.

What is the future of your business? For the past year and a half, we’ve been working on a new branch of Solar 21 called Green Room Investments, which will be one of the first ICAV (Irish Collective Asset-management Vehicle) companies in Ireland. We’re also looking at the acquisition of a €100 million combined heat-and-power facility in the UK.

The hard bit in business is not necessarily raising money but actually spending money – buying the right assets and finding the right talent. We’re also looking to double our team in the next year or so.

How much is your business worth? I’m not sure what it’s worth but it’s increasing in value and I have absolutely no interest in selling it. We’ve got great plans for the future. I feel like I have an obligation to my employees, and I’m relatively young so I still think I’ve got a good few years left in me yet.

In conversation with Gráinne Ní Aodha