In episode 6 of our Switched On podcast, we learn how important solar power generation is going to be in Ireland and much more....
John Mullins, executive chairman of Amarenco Group, opened our eyes about the state of solar energy and the future of alternative fuels. John's experience speaks for itself. Prior to his leadership post at Amarenco, he was at the helm of Ervia (formerly Bord Gais) as CEO and headed the ESB (Electricity Supply Board). Amarenco is currently the top independent solar power producer in Europe, with 145 employees and more than €500 million invested in the past four years. They're the biggest project developer of renewable energy in Ireland.
Why did John move from his CEO role at Bord Gais to the world of pure entrepreneurship as founder of a start-up that had zero customers and was essentially built from the ground up? Keep reading to know more, or you can click here to jump straight into the 6th episode.
The Founding Of Amarenco
John was only 44 when he left Bord Gais, having two decades in the renewables field behind him, and wanted to take advantage of the fact that the price of solar panels was dropping. His idea was to create a new organization, an international one, that would deal in photovoltaics.
Like all pioneers, he knew the first few years would be tough, and they were. He gathered like-minded colleagues, started making cold-calls to drum up investors, and never looked back. What was his elevator pitch? "I'm John Mullins, formerly of Bord Gais. Would you be interested in investing in the photovoltaic company we're building in France?"
The first few clients were the most difficult to acquire. John cold-called 300 investment brokers, giving his pitch. After the first investor came on board, one turned into two, and eventually, through a period of having no income and burning through personal savings, Amarenco took off. Today, 10 years on, the company has developed more than 2,000 solar PV infrastructure projects with local authorities, farmers, real estate developers, and businesses.
What motivated him to build that kind of entity, from scratch, with no guarantee of success? Was it the desire to work for himself, implement a long-held concept, or something else?
John says it was actually a combination of forces, primarily the ideas that he wanted to advance the renewables niche in Ireland and that you basically only get one chance in life to make your dreams happen. "Life is not a dress rehearsal," he's fond of saying. What began as a small organization with a few investors operating in the south of France is now a multinational energy firm with offices in more than a dozen nations spanning the globe.
Making Solar Energy Make Sense In Sunny Ireland
What began in France eventually came to the company's home nation, Ireland, not known to be the epicentre of solar energy generation on Earth. But, from a business perspective, you have to look at multiple factors, one of which was the fortuitous fact that solar panel prices coming down, competitive advantage over wind farms, and potential electricity output.
Consider, John points out, that just seven years ago, the company was paying 50 cents per watt for a solar module. Today, the cost has dropped 64%, all the way down to 18 cents per module. But, that same module now puts out twice as much power as it did in 2014, so the effective price drop is more like 82%. The entire solar energy space has totally changed.
Ireland, as a nation, is investing in solar and getting a lot in return. Solar energy is no doubt, as John explains, the leading renewable worldwide for this and the next generation. ESB is involved, investment in increasing, funds and utilities are joining in, and lots of plants are being built. Right now, the company has 730 megawatts qualified in the utility auction in Ireland alone, which is a major economic shot in the arm for the country.
What Qualifies Someone To Build A Company Like Amarenco?
John's dad was a painter and his mother was a cleaner. His parents sent the kids off to college where John used his math and science talents to earn a degree in electrical engineering. From there he spent time working for ESB before getting a master's degree in EE at UCC. After working for a few more years, he discovered a love for the business side of things and tacked an MBA degree onto his already impressive list of credentials and experience
After a stint with PwC Coopers Lybrand in London, John came back to Ireland and ended up working for Bord Gais for the next several years. From there, he moved into his current position with Amarenco. His background is varied and he enjoys a challenge. Plus, his devotion to the potential of renewable energy all adds up to a unique mixture of talent, motivation, ambition, and experience.
The Past, Present, And Future Of Renewables
No doubt, as John tells it, the past two decades have seen ups and downs for renewable energy's prospects, in Ireland and elsewhere. The big change, economically and socially, is that the price of carbon is constantly rising. That single factor will work to propel consumers to use less of it, and to explore options like electric cars, hydrogen, etc.
One trend that caught John's eye is that many new companies insist on using renewable energy sources when they build plant and office space. Google is a good example, but there are hundreds of others, most of which are newer organizations, run by people who were raised with the knowledge that carbon-sourced power is not a wise long-term solution.
Another piece of the new energy paradigm is related to the blockchain and the way people pay for things directly rather than using an intermediary. Energy sellers will be able, in the near future, to offer their services directly to individual homeowners and businesses, which means utilities as we know them might not exist in the future.
Oddly, the bulk of this transformation is not driven by government but by the business sector, but companies that independently decided, "We only want to use renewables in our operations." That's a huge thing because it means individuals and companies are leading the way, not governments or heavy-handed regulators.
Hear the Interview
Listen to our full interview with John by searching ‘Switched On Demesne Electrical’ in your podcast player or just click this link.
Episode 6 of our new Switched On series of podcasts is available to listen to right no