Christine Boyle, chief executive of Senergy, is working at the forefront of breakthrough solar thermal technology which could significantly improve the green credentials of homes and businesses across the globe. She speaks to Ulster Business about getting off the ground and why working with Ulster Bank and its Entrepreneur Accelerator has been a key part of that business jigsaw puzzle
There are few sectors which are as important to the future of how we work and live than clean and green energy.
And for Senergy chief executive, Christine Boyle, she’s combined more than 20 years in the commercial roofing sector with specialised expertise, advice, technology and development, to revamp and revolutionise solar power here.
Along with securing £1m between angel investment and the Government’s Innovate UK, working with Ulster University on development and manufacturing with Warwick Manufacturing Group, she’s helped her business take its next steps through Ulster Bank’s Entrepreneur Accelerator, along with NatWest’s new Climate Accelerator, to help turn an idea into a thriving company.
“My background is commercial roofing and I saw that there was an opportunity between solar and roofing – looking to a future in which we would be using our roofs for both electricity and heating,” she said.
The company has turned its attention to creating new Senergy Panels – modernising and improving on the existing solar thermal technology which exists. According to Christine, solar thermal is around three to four times more efficient than the more common solar PV technology.
“I saw the problems with existing solar thermal, and then began working with Ulster University alongside the aerospace engineering department and the polymer research sector.
“About a year ago we received £1m in funding between angel investors and Innovate UK to begin working with the Warwick Manufacturing Group – it is high value manufacturing, and companies such as Rolls Royce, Boeing and Bombardier have all used the centre.
“It’s about how we can economically produce these panels and then get them to market. For me, my job is early piloting and demonstrating to customers. It’s about how we can really transform the heating industry as we look to move away from gas and oil.”
Along the journey, Ulster Bank’s Entrepreneur Accelerator has played a key part in helping Christine develop and get the business off the ground.
“I started off with Ulster Bank when it was just a proof of concept. When you are doing something innovative, serendipity plays a big part in it. It’s about who you meet.
“That’s why I got involved with the incubator. “It’s frighting to think you are going to accelerate something that was just in your head, to then creating, hopefully, a global company. You have to start somewhere. That early incubation was crucial for me as an innovator to keep going. It gave me the support network to keep pushing on – the knowledge, experience and everything you needed to learn to grow a business, from scale and getting funding, to building a team.”
Senergy has also just jumped on the latest venture from NatWest and Ulster Bank – the new Climate Accelerator.
“We are seeing the situation now where clean tech and renewable companies have massive opportunities. We have goals, globally, to meet, and governments are under pressure to find new ways of doing things and developing new innovations. We have to find new ways of doing things, and Ulster Bank has been one of the key parts of the jigsaw for me.”
Like many organisations across Northern Ireland, Ulster Bank began 2020 with a firm commitment to become a more sustainable business. While we got off to a strong start, once the pandemic struck our focus was rightly shifted and dealing with implications of Covid-19 was the priority.
For this reason I’m struck by a sense of deja vu as my to do list for 2021 looks a lot like it did 12 months ago. Ulster Bank has identified the many ways through which our organisation might transition to a low carbon economy but now it’s time to put these measures in place.
As part of our purpose-led strategy, we have pledged to be climate positive from our own operations by 2025. We plan to achieve this by eliminating single-use plastics from all Ulster Bank buildings, reducing the overall paper consumption by 70% and keeping waste to a minimum through improved recycling systems.
These are just some examples of the practical steps we are taking as part of our green strategy but we’re also working to embed a better climate culture into all areas of decision making within the business. For example by 2025 all company owned cars will be electronic vehicles and all energy used within our UK operations is now renewable energy.
Schemes have been introduced to encourage employees, partners and suppliers to be aware of their operational footprint and to engage with our drive to adopt more environmentally friendly activities.
Part of our mission is to bring our people on this journey with us and as such we have been pleased to offer climate change transition training from the University of Edinburgh to 800 colleagues. We’re seeing more and more demand from customers for sustainability-linked products so it’s only right that our colleagues develop their skills and learning in this area.
This year we will make more funding available to business customers who are improving their green credentials and we have reserved 25% of places within our entrepreneurial hubs for companies whose core offering supports sustainable environmental activities.
Christine and her team at Senergy Innovations are a great example of the forward-thinking, dynamic business we’re keen to support. They understand the need to protect our planet and have used this to drive innovation which has in turn generated opportunity.
Working with companies like Senergy and others has given us a renewed sense of determination and we feel more committed than ever to lead the way in the transition to a low carbon economy. The key to this is collaboration and I am looking forward to working with our partners and stakeholders throughout this year to meet the targets we have set.
Like all resolutions – whether they’re made in the new year or otherwise – taking the first step can be the most difficult but if you are thinking about joining in the fight against climate change then talk to our teams and see if the lessons we have learned can help your business become more sustainable and more successful in the process.