Insights from redefining solar energy with Christophe Williams conversations in cleantech season two, episode two
Christophe Williams is the CEO and Founder of Naked Energy Ltd, who are on a mission to redefine solar with the world's highest energy density solar technology, VirtuPVT. A whole new category of solar energy, VirtuPVT provides heat up to 80°C in addition to electrical power for on-site consumption. On a typical commercial flat roof, far more useful energy is captured compared to conventional PV panels which require up to 50% more space to generate the same financial savings and up to 300% more to deliver the same carbon savings, helping businesses join the transition to net zero in a way that improves returns and enhances asset values.
With a background in the global advertising industry, Christophe worked on award-winning, ground-breaking campaigns for high profile names such as BMW, Toshiba and Sony Erikson. Despite his success, Christophe came to the realisation that something in his career wasn't quite right, decided to take a shot in the dark, and follow in family footsteps by headinginto engineering and renewables.
Read on for Christophe’s key insights and, be sure to listen to the podcast in full here.
What inspired you to become a cleantech entrepreneur?
I got to a stage in my career where I was aware that heat was half of all the energy we consume on the planet: I knew that I wanted to do something about it, and I knew I needed to do something now or never.
With Naked Energy, I met with one of the early shareholders and founders who had previously worked in solar which was really fortuitous. We brainstormed together about ideas and came up with the concept of the hybridisation - taking the very best of photovoltaic technology, the very best of thermal technology and combining both to get more energy from less space.
We thought, why can't we use more of the sun's energy, rather having separate products? You know, we all have iPhones which have multiple functions? Why can't solar technology do that?
We came up with a design, it was very interesting as we spent quite a bit of time just doing ideation and about if this really happen. My colleague was quite a bit more senior than me; he was in a stage of his career where he wasn't really prepared to take risks.
I asked myself a simple question: I said, well, look, if I don't do this, could I live with myself? In terms of not knowing what would have happened if I hadn’t started Naked Energy? The simple answer was no), I've got to do this, I've got to give it a go. And so, I took the plunge, which was a big risk because of my wife and kids, but that's where the journey started.
What is the biggest challenge with the government's approach to the adoption of solar energy?
I've called the company Naked Energy for a reason. Naked for me really symbolises clean, pure, uncontaminated energy - it's energy in its purest form. However, it’s not just about hardware, there are different services and solutions which contribute from clean generation to energy efficiency and waste management.
There so many aspects to sustainability, and cleantech, for me is just making sure that things are built, delivered, managed and monitored in a sustainable way.
Where we see Naked Energy fitting in is in the decarbonisation of heat. At Naked Energy, our mission is to decarbonize heat but as a problem, heat is not so well known. In the headlines, you read about electricity, you read about transport, but heating and cooling buildings is just over half. And I'll say it again, heat accounts for half of all the energy consumed on the planet - it's about 40% of the emissions which is a staggering amount of energy.
There are a lot of governmental targets and business targets saying yes, we'll achieve net zero but we're not going to get to net zero unless we address heat. And that's what we call the cold elephant in the room, or the warm elephant in the room, because heat has to be addressed.
How far away are we from our government taking solar seriously?
No technology needs to rely on subsidies. Ideally, you remove all the subsidies for everything so fossil fuels and renewables have a level playing field, and then you'd see which technology is competitive, which has the best business case.
However, when we were developing, there was a Renewable Heat Incentive for the commercial industrial sector which has since been taken away. It's still going for residential, but that ends early next year (2022), and I think that’s an unfortunate own goal from the government. There was also a green homes grant, under which solar thermal was extremely popular.
Unfortunately, that policy shifted, and there was a massive subsidy intervention for photovoltaics where the subsidy was at 47 pence per kilowatt hour. This resulted in a land grab, and a massive shift towards photovoltaics that really harmed the solar-thermal industry.
Now, there is a renaissance happening; one of Naked Energy’s straplines is that we're trying to redefine solar – not just the technology but how it's presented, how it's sold, and how we educate solar panels on the way back and the government now do have some policy and through the public, decarbonisation scheme, so they're now into their third stream, and that is their decarbonizing their own buildings.
We don't know what the next phase is stages from the government, even though we're asking to see the heat and building strategy. Naked Energy are here, we're making our products in the UK and from our perspective we can create jobs right from the production to the delivery; to the installation; to the monitoring; to the servicing: there's a huge number of green jobs that can be created by supporting this industry. That's how we see it in the UK currently, and hopefully, the government will start to see it that way, too.