Say "energy business" and most people will think oil giants or gas utilities, but in a few years we may think of something different altogether. Solar powered phone boxes and bus stops, recycled coffee for fuel - these are the green energy ideas of the future, transformed into profitable companies by fresh-faced university graduates.
Some of the sources behind these sustainable energy projects, such as solar, have 60 years of research behind them. Yet it has taken a fresh batch of innovative entrepreneurs to harness their potential in exciting new ways. Why?
“It is in part due to the education we received and how climate change is pushing forward the green agenda in universities,” says Harold Cranston, CEO and co-founder of SolarBox. Their company has bought up old and unused telephone boxes around London and converted them into solar powered mobile phone charging booths, garnering revenue from advertising by firms such as Tinder and Uber.
“I was struck how something as iconic as the red phone box was left unused and knew we could use this public space to confront a problem we all face, that of our mobile phone battery dying, in an energy neutral way. [Co-founder] Kirsty Kenny and I were geography graduates from the London School of Economics, and had learnt a lot about the green agenda in London from an academic angle, which helped us to create and market our proposition,” says Cranston. He believes graduates are able to enter the industry with new ideas as they are looking at “problems with a fresh set of eyes”.
Young people are making a name for themselves in this industry because London is one of the technology capitals of the world
Like him, Arthur Kay also agrees. His company, Bio-Bean, recycles waste beans into two Advanced Biofuels to keep buildings heated and fuel buses around the capital, while reducing carbon emissions. As a graduate of architecture, Key says that his degree was central to building Bio-Bean, taking many of the skills he learned and transferring them to his green energy venture.
The eco-friendly business has grown year on year, aided by securing €500,000 (£355,000) from the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge, an annual worldwide competition for sustainable start-ups. It has been endorsed and funded by institutions including Shell Oil and the Mayor of London.
“We received funding from both grants and awards as well as private investors. This is because Bio-Bean is a green enterprise, but it is first and foremost a commercial proposition. What we do is reduce waste management costs for companies producing vast amounts of waste coffee grounds. We then also provide locally sourced and cheap fuel. It is cheaper than conventional fuel, which is critical to this offering,” says Kay.
This, the young entrepreneur says, is driven by the environment in the UK: “It is one of the best, if not the best, environment for a company like this to operate in the world. The UK has that extra kick stemming from the desire to incubate and grow businesses rapidly in the country. Government and businesses are keen to foster innovation and growth, and London in particular is an amazing ecosystem for small businesses, especially those offering something new and exciting.”
This view is shared by Oliver Andrew, who has created a new bus shelter for London to recycle rainwater and harness solar-power, resulting in cleaner air and energy while improving the urban landscape. The project has garnered worldwide interest and Andrew is talking to the Mayor of London’s office and Transport for London to implement the idea.
“Young people are making a name for themselves in this industry because London is one of the technology capitals of the world and is part of that process of expansion. In my generation technological advances in home computing and software are allowing many young people to be able to build, design and even fabricate products and projects using 3D printing or laser cutting technologies. This has opened up possibilities in society not possible to previous generations, which allows you to create and build businesses in the green sector of design, all run from your bedroom desk.”
There has been a surge in the number of young people in the industry due to the relatively young age of the marketplace and the technology it utilises. "It is a matter of opportunity, seeing an idea and grasping it with these new technologies. He observes a huge move into the ‘internet of things’, basically products and ideas that use the Internet to connect to other devices or products, which my project fits into,” says Andrew.
He is enthusiastic about the opportunities available for young people: “I think it's a very exciting time for young business entrepreneurs, as we really are building the future. What is on the horizon is exciting in our hands.”