My connection with nature and all living beings has been an important bond for as long as I can remember. My earliest childhood memories are sitting under a tree, reading to the accompaniment of leaves rustled by the wind, or foraging in the woods, discovering the mysteries and delights of the natural world.
My favourite lesson in school was biology and favourite TV show was ‘The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau’, who first exposed me to coral bleaching. The impact of human activity on sea life made me want to become a marine biologist. Sadly, I was unable to pursue this passion at university.
Twelve years after graduating from business college in Rhode Island, USA, I was working for Greenpeace International in Amsterdam where it became clear to me that campaigning on its own won’t create systems change, that action was required by demonstrating alternative solutions. I concentrated on the Energy industry as a key cause of global climate change that could be addressed at a more local, community level.
As luck would have it Ecofys, a Dutch consultancy who specialise in energy efficiency and renewable energy needed a financial controller. It became apparent how ‘Energy’ was treated as a commodity instead of as a service. This meant that the energy industry did not provide its customers with the same levels of service and engagement as would be expected from other sectors such as banking or retail. The widespread consumer detachment (‘inertia’) created by this commodity service approach was a gap in the marketplace for a new type of energy supplier.
Complacency with existing convention is not my way so I began to develop a business model around the provision of clean energy to customers as a service, as opposed to a product, as a truly new and innovative idea. This is why BHESCo today is all about offering a holistic, caring and ongoing relationship with our customers, instead of simply completing a single standalone project and moving on.
Climate change is a huge and intimidating threat that makes people feel hopeless and isolated in their ability to change it. As many people concerned about climate change want to take action but feel overwhelmed about what to do, there was an opportunity to fill that gap as well.
That’s why I started BHESCo, so that people can come together in the confidence that they are part of a collective social movement taking real action to solve the climate crisis and to bring more care to our society.
It was clear that ‘business as usual’ was not working, for people or for the planet. BHESCo does things differently, by focusing on people and communities instead of financial returns only. The co-operative model is a striking alternative to capitalism, as a way of doing business with a duty of care for the community. Making a profit, but not at the expense of our collective wellbeing.
Because renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies last for on average 20 years, the long term value for an investor should be matched to the asset’s lifetime. Unfortunately, most investors are looking for a quick and easy return and don’t consider clean energy investments yielding lower returns attractive. Often high returns happen because impacts to the environment are not included in operating costs. Too often, the polluter is not made to pay.
In 1998, I won an award from my Dutch energy supplier employer, Nuon, for what would become BHESCo’s ‘Pay As You Save‘ financial model that encouraged investment in renewable energy by matching the environmental and financial benefit over the life of the generation assets.
The real driver to getting both investors and property owners onboard with the clean energy transition is economics, technological competence and trust. When clean energy is perceived as making the most economic sense, then people will gravitate to that choice, as long as they are confident that they are getting a good deal and they can trust the technology and the supplier.
Once the business case was clear I walked away from a well paid consultancy business and set to work establishing Brighton and Hove Energy Services Co-operative (BHESCo). During the first three years I didn’t earn enough for a salary.
Five years later and the BHESCo model is starting to scale by building a portfolio of community owned energy projects, saving our customers thousands of pounds each year and reducing carbon dioxide emissions by hundreds of tonnes annually. Scaling up is everything we do to start savings thousands if not millions of tonnes of carbon emissions while encouraging clean, local, community owned power generation.
We are always looking to the future at BHESCo. So we are very excited about some major changes that will affect the sector in the coming years.
We are developing more community renewable heat projects which is supported by Government by the Renewable Heat Incentive until end March 2021.
We are looking into using big data offered by smart meters to help our customers make informed decisions about their energy improvements based upon our community focused, social welfare analysis. The introduction of ‘Time Of Use’ tariffs which smart meters facilitate, offers the opportunity to understand how these will be co-opted with the ‘Internet of Things’ and the growth of electric vehicles to fundamentally alter the way that people use and engage with energy.
Ultimately, what drives me the most is a wish to help other communities around the country to start their own energy co-ops, expanding on the ‘local energy’ model and bringing more democratic ownership of our energy resources to residents across the UK. I hope to be able to start this work in the next few years.
Together we can bring an end to the old centralised way of generating energy by replacing it with a democratic, accountable and above all local ownership model, enabling communities to develop an energy sector that serves their interests and is consistent with our climate change mitigation commitment.
Kayla Ente is BHESCo’s primary business developer and designer of the business model and the economic model that is employed in all of our community energy projects.
Kayla is a qualified accountant and has an MBA in Environmental Management from the TIAS Business School in the Netherlands.
Kayla was appointed as an honorary Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 2021.
Listen to a 2022 interview with the Local Zero Podcast in which Kayla Ente talks about her experiences setting up the co-operative in Brighton and Hove and the challenges that face community energy
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