Belfast Telegraph

'Our planet's in real danger so I've branched out into solar panels'

Eleanor McEvoy, the former boss of Budget Energy in Londonderry, talks with Ailish O'Hora about her new solar venture following her divorce

Former Dragon’s Den investor Eleanor McAvoy
Former Dragon’s Den investor Eleanor McAvoy

They say that in business, timing is everything. If so, then former RTE Dragons' Den investor Eleanor McEvoy's first foray into the solar energy business through Next Gen Power coincides nicely with a surge of interest in all things green. A growing realisation that our planet is in real danger means that businesses and homes are increasingly looking at cleaner ways to live and work, and reduce their carbon footprints.

It is also a time for new beginnings for Ms McEvoy, who was headhunted to lead Next Gen Power, an all-island provider of solar power solutions including panels, batteries and optional infra-red heating systems, earlier this year as chief executive officer.

It has offices in Bangor, Co Down, and in Donabate, Co Dublin.

Prior to that, she worked at Budget Energy, a Londonderry-based pre-paid electricity firm which she ran and built up into a multi-million-pound company.

When Ms McEvoy exited Budget, it was also part of a divorce, as her now ex-husband George was her business partner.

"At that stage, I had already begun taking an interest in what was happening with climate change. I also had knowledge of the solar business through one of our suppliers," she explains.

"For me though, solar on its own wasn't really a runner so we started looking at the battery market too. We went everywhere looking for an affordable battery - Hong Kong, you name it - and we eventually found one. Next Gen Power has the best panels, the best battery and the best price.

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"There's no point in doing any of this unless your pricing is affordable," she says.

"The reason I think battery is particularly applicable for domestic use is that the average household leaves in the morning and is gone all day, and unless you have lots of products on, you are not using electricity.

"But with the battery, it is storing up energy all day. How the system works is that if you have a requirement in your house at the time, it uses it, but if you don't, it goes straight to a battery which stores what you don't use, making you more efficient.

"And the last place it goes to use energy is to whoever your energy supplier is.

"All of this happens seamlessly. Not only that, you have an app on your phone that will show you how much electricity you've produced and what your battery has stored, etc, and then that can be subtracted from your electricity bill."

The system also provides hot water from April to October. The smart immersion heater, which is connected to the existing water tank, takes surplus solar and automatically switches to the immersion heater. Then, once water is heated, surplus is fed into your battery storage, which is stored for later that day.

According to Ms McEvoy, when it comes to climate change, time is not on our side and we should be working together to speed up ways to limit the damage to the environment, while helping businesses and homes fund the changes that are needed.

The company is working with Flexi-Fi, an Australian finance house, to put affordable funding packages in place.

She says: "Entrepreneurs and businesses need to take the lead and governments will follow... the other thing is that the technology has evolved so much since solar panels first arrived on the market in the 1970s and they are 60% cheaper.

"There are also myths around them. People think they need to drill holes in their roofs, they don't. It's not an invasive system at all. There are metal threads running across the roof and the panels are clipped in."

Ms McEvoy has been working all her adult life since doing her Leaving Cert. She did a FAS telesales course after leaving school and has worked in a range of roles since then, ranging from a gig organiser to a secretarial role.

Prior to founding Budget Energy in 2011, she had built up and sold two businesses. She sold Pembroke Distributors, a vending and food distribution firm, in 2001, while Phonecard Warehouse was sold in 2006 when it had a net turnover of €50m.

She was an EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalist for two years and was also a Dragons' Den investor on RTE. Her role in Dragons' Den introduced her to numerous companies and she says that building out Next Gen Power will also provide some much-needed jobs, as the operation expands.

Belfast Telegraph