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West Lothian renewable energy entrepreneur highlights the power of positive thinking
In this week’s SME Focus a renewable energy entrepreneur reflects on the value of positive thinking and a good day’s work.
What is your business called?
Scot Heat & Power Co Limited.
Where is it based?
What does it produce, what services does it offer?
We produce renewable Bio Fuels, including wood pellets and wood chip for the residential and commercial sectors, plus Combined Heat and Power (CHP) and Biomass Boiler Technology.
Biomass Boiler technology is sold to commercial customers who have a large heat/steam and CHP requirement. We believe that, for those customers needing to reduce their carbon footprint, biomass technology is the solution. We find that carbon emissions are reduced by a factor of 90 per cent, with a further cost reduction over many fossil fuels.
We also offer process heat and steam to industrial customers, for use in manufacturing. A process heat or steam system provider can assist with the analysis and design of the system in order to provide the best energy efficiency available.
What is its turnover?
Approximately £4 million.
How many employees?
When was it formed?
Why did you take the plunge?
Before Scot Heat & Power came along, I was on the lookout for my next big project after the sale of the family-owned Snowie waste management business. I just wasn’t ready to hang my boots up and still enjoyed the challenge of business too much.
Around the same time, I decided to invest in a Biomass Heating System for my farmhouse and office and realised that a local, reliable fuel supplier would be needed to fuel the installation once it was up-and-running. This proved to be very difficult to track down at the time.
I’ve always had a keen interest in environmental and sustainable issues, so combined with my existing experience, I realised there was a huge opportunity. That was the key driving force behind the formation of Scot Heating Company, supplying wood fuel to the biomass heating sector.
We recently extended the brand from Scot Heating Company to Scot Heat & Power to reflect the enlargement of the energy supply element of the business.
What were you doing before you took the plunge?
I was managing director and a shareholder in Snowie Ltd, which grew from agricultural roots in Stirling to become one of the UK’s largest privately-owned waste management companies.
The company was principally involved in treating, processing and recycling organic wastes for water companies, brewers, distilleries and food processors.
During the BSE crisis in 1999 it diversified into waste disposal. We provided airtight containers for the disposal of animal carcasses.
We were then handed a leading role in the foot-and-mouth clear-up, not only across Scotland, but for Northern Ireland and the north-east of England too. We were also handed the task of managing burial sites to ensure there was no pollution. That led to significant UK expansion for the company.
The business was acquired by Irish-owned waste company Oran Waste UK Ltd in 2005, for a significant sum.
How did you raise the start-up funding?
I was lucky enough to be able to utilise my own funds, which I think is the best way if you can manage it.
What was your biggest break?
I suppose getting the inspiration for Scot Heat and Power in the first place was an important step – there was a bit of luck involved in that.
Last year, the acquisition of Buccleuch BioEnergy was also a big boost for the business. We took over service contracts, including fuel supply, for biomass facilities at Gleneagles Hotel, Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, and Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh. It’s a significant part of our continued expansion in the biomass energy supply market.
What was your worst moment?
You will always go through ups and down, but I always remain very positive. I think you need that to succeed in business – if you were crippled by the fear of failure then you wouldn’t get very far. Mistakes can be the making of you.
It’s important to keep learning and evolving – every project has something new to teach you.
What do you most enjoy about running the business?
I get to meet some really interesting clients, and delivering on projected cost savings for a business can also be extremely satisfying.
I also enjoy being in the thick of it, and working alongside our team. We don’t want to lose control of standards, so maintaining a relatively small and lean team helps with that.
It also helps with our manoeuvrability – we can react to opportunities better because of our size.
What do you least enjoy?
When running a company you have to work long hours. This can have a big impact on family life. However, it helps that my hugely supportive wife Amanda and son Calum, who is logistics manager, are keen to be involved in the business and like to be part of everything. Amanda likes nothing more than getting behind the wheel of our vehicles and working the machinery.
Running a business can be difficult on many levels with all the little headaches that you just didn’t see coming, but every day is different and we enjoy seeing the results of our hard work.
What are your ambitions for the firm?
To ensure the company’s growth is maintained year-on-year and to see it become a recognisable brand throughout the UK in the supply of Biomass Fuels/Heat/Steam/CHP installations.
What are your top priorities?
Employee and customer safety is paramount for our business, which naturally goes hand-in-hand with reputation and ethos. Customer satisfaction is another priority, as is the sourcing and supply of economically sustainable fuel. It’s probably not a priority for most businesses, but enjoying what you do is key for me – if I’m not passionate about it, then I tend to lose interest. Finally, ensuring profitability is a must. If you’re not turning a profit, then your business won’t last long!
What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?
I think that would have to be keeping a focus on knowing the value of both a pound and a good day’s work. If you look after your finances and put in a good shift, then you’re well on your way. If you’re prepared to work hard, then you’ve put yourself in the best position for success.
What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?
Aligning the Feed-in Tariff payments made by electricity companies for micro combined heat and power systems with those for other renewable technologies such as wind would definitely help to encourage investment in CHP. It should all go hand-in-hand for the good of the industry as a whole.
How do you relax?
I carriage drive with my wife. We take part in horse driving trials together. We both drive a pair of ponies each and compete against each other. I am competitive by nature, but also really enjoy the lovely venues we are privileged to compete over and the people we meet. We just have to make sure to keep the rivalry in check!