Renewables pair are together in electric dreams
Syzygy Renewables, founded by fund manager John MacDonald-Brown, is responsible for miles of solar panels across the rooftops of businesses in Britain, with giant landlords Land Securities, British Land and financial firm Aberdeen Asset Management on their books.
MacDonald-Brown, and fellow director, Neil Sinclair, have now been hired by Mercedes-Benz in Cape Town to carry out a feasibility study on their truck engine plant to generate energy from solar, wind and biomass.
The first few years were dedicated to breaking down barriers created by the 1954 Landlord and Tenant Act. In the UK leasing structure is unusual, in the majority of instances, shopping centres not included, the tenant controls the roof.
“But It is incumbent on commercial property owners to introduce measures to improve building performance both in terms of reducing energy usage but also in finding ways to generate renewable energy on-site,” Mr MacDonald-Brown said. Therefore they had to develop structures that satisfy the landlord and the tenant.
By educating both parties on legislation from the Department of Energy and Climate Change - commercial developments must be zero carbon by 2019 - demand has increased and Syzygy is forecast to hit the £1m turnover target in the next few years.
A further challenge was to engage with fund managers - often unwilling to spend without the reassurance that renewable energy investment will be reflected in valuations.
Mr Sinclair, a former sales trader and energy entrepreneur, came on board in 2011, followed by consultant Mervyn Bowden, who retired as M&S’s head of energy management in 2012 after 28-years with the retailer.
“Projects have included work on an old gold mine in Snowdonia National Park and we are now pitching for a very larger shopping centre project in Doha,” said Mr Sinclair.
But it isn’t just giant commercial real estate companies or global shopping centres that need to harness the sun, wind or waste. Government directives will also impact Britain’s small and medium sized businesses.
“Larger companies will be put under pressure by legislation and pass some of this down the supply chain - ensuring suppliers demonstrate how green they are. And if the SME owns its own buildings it will have to comply with Government deadlines as well,” said Mr Sinclair.
While Syzygy remain "agnostic" to the different forms of renewable energy, Mr MacDonald-Brown said solar works particularly well on buildings where energy will be consumed on site.
"It relives pressure on the grid, and more value is generated for landlords and occupiers. Finally, it is relatively inexpensive and easy to retro-fit on existing properties," he said.
Based in London’s Fitzrovia, Syzygy was the first business to run the entirity of a renewables project for commercial landlords, from advising on the type of energy technology needed, to the aftercare. And they insist contractors tender for every single project.
Mr MacDonald-Brown spotted a gap in the energy consultancy market five years ago when he realised that some contractors were overcharging commercial landlord to carry out works such as affixing solar panels to buildings.
“It seemed to me that local renewable energy generation for on site consumption was a potentially huge, long term opportunity,” said Mr MacDonald-Brown, who glimpsed a marketplace that could bridge a gap between renewable energy and real estate.
This article originally appeared in The Telegraph.