Powerful Allies partners with SSA – interview with joint MD Sean Midgley

Powerful Allies was founded by former commercial helicopter pilot James Robson in 2010, after he set out to tackle and counter the wide-spread practice of mis-selling energy contracts. Driven by the desire to make things better, he set up the company to serve as a trusted partner – rather than a traditional broker – to companies, making transparency and clarity the cornerstones of the business. In short, the idea was to change the way the energy supply sector operated and to redress the balance between clients and suppliers.

Then, in 2018, the company went one further – it made the decision to procure only 100% Renewable Source electricity for its clients. The initial problem was, however, that clients were then left with the unenviable dilemma of using either low cost “brown” energy or more expensive “green” electricity.

After spending months negotiating with energy suppliers, Powerful Allies successfully removed the Renewable Premium, charged by suppliers for Renewable ‘Green’ Electricity. As a result, all electricity contracts are now from 100% renewable sources – at zero added cost to clients.

This year, Powerful Allies signed a partnership with the Sustainable Spa Association. The collaboration will give SSA members and brand partners access to the renewable energy brokering and consultancy services provided by Powerful Allies, enabling them to utilise its expertise in finding renewable energy solutions – as well as bringing down energy use.

We spoke to Sean Midgley, joint managing director at Powerful Allies about the services the business offers – and also asked for his advice on renewable energy practices.

What is Powerful Allies, and what do you do?

First and foremost, Powerful Allies is a commercial energy broker, but, unlike many others, our practices and procedures are very transparent. In fact, that was the core reason for starting the business. There has, traditionally, been rampant mis-selling and cloak-and-dagger practices in this sector. Our founder, James Robson, wanted to be different.

One of the first things the company did was to create a unique code of practice, called “Open Competition Charter”, which our clients could trust and rely upon. We’ve included it in each and every energy tender and contract we’ve placed during the past 10 years.

As the business grew, we then – around four years ago – wanted to pivot our focus and made the decision to procure only renewable source electricity for our clients. We are now the leading provider of 100% renewable electricity contracts for schools and businesses and also deliver energy, carbon and consumption monitoring plus carbon reduction solutions.

The thing is, there are two types of renewable electricity – there is certified Renewable Energy Guarantees of Origin (REGO) products and then there is uncertified, “greenwashed” renewable energy. The latter is often a mix of renewable and non-renewable, but made to appear more renewable than it is. If the source of energy isn’t REGO, there is no guarantee that it is 100% derived from renewable sources.

All of our energy suppliers are REGO certified, so a company using our services can rest safe in the knowledge that it is 100 per cent renewable.

In addition to electricity, you also help companies find sources of renewable gas?

Yes – renewable gas is an emerging market. Historically, natural gas – which is drilled from the ground and which has a huge carbon footprint – has been so cheap that there has been no real incentive to create renewable gas. Generally, what has happened in the past is that renewable gas, such as biogas, has been produced but then it has been used in a gas engine to generate power. The resulting electricity has then been sold onto the grid, because it is more lucrative than selling the gas to the grid.

That is changing slowly, however, as governments – including the UK – are introducing schemes such as the renewable gas incentive. So companies which previously produced renewable gas, but turned it into electricity – and wasting heat in the process – are now being incentivised to produce renewable gas. So we’re now seeing growth and an increased demand for certified, renewable gas.

Also, the recent volatility in the natural gas market has worked in favour of renewable gas. Traditionally, renewable gas has come with a premium. It has been in short supply and historically has been more expensive – around a 30 per cent more expensive than natural gas. But as the cost of natural gas has skyrocketed in recent months, there has been no real difference in price between renewable and natural gas.

Is renewable gas becoming more popular, then?

Yes. The reason why companies who take sustainability seriously are keen on renewable gas is that it only has around 1/1,000th of the carbon content of natural gas. So if a company that was previously producing 950 tonnes of carbon from natural gas was to switch to renewable gas, it would reduce its carbon down to 1 tonne. And that’s achieved without any need to change boilers or any other systems – business would be as usual, with the one difference that the company would be polluting much less.

In addition, biogas is capturing methane which would otherwise enter the atmosphere and puts it to good use. So extracting methane from the atmosphere and using it in a good way helps protect the ozone layer.

Not to mention the fact that not using natural gas means that we’re not depleting finite resources for the next generation!

And you also offer consultancy services for those looking to cut energy use?

We also help companies get better when it comes to energy efficiency. We can help companies change their supply to a very low – or even zero – carbon fuel source. But what we then want to do is work with them so they also use less of that fuel. So what we try and do is not only decarbonise by getting companies to switching to a cleaner fuel, but help them use less and become carbon neutral – and ultimately even reach net zero carbon.

And that is the key – many people don’t understand the difference between carbon neutrality and net zero carbon. When they are doing their energy and environmental policies they say they want to be net zero by 2035, they don’t realise that the goal might be unachievable for them – but carbon neutrality is much more achievable and should be the first step in reaching net zero carbon. It’s only once companies understand the difference that they can embark on that journey.

Where did the partnership with SSA stem from?

We have already worked with some large hotel and hospitality groups – some of which are already in connection with the SSA. So we were working on the same mantra, with the difference that the SSA was working specifically on the spa side of things and was focused on slightly different areas of operations, such as the chemical used in the pools. But as running swimming pools and wet areas is energy intensive, there was immediately a synergy in what the SSA was looking to achieve and what we want to help companies want to achieve. Also, Lucy Brialey, co-founder of SSA, had been looking to partner with a renewable energy provider for some time, but had found it hard to find one.

I think one of the many things why our partnership will be a beneficial one for SSA is that we are a broker, rather than an energy company – so we aren’t tied to one specific product. We have full market autonomy and can act as advisors and find the best solutions and the right products for SSA members.

Where do you stand on carbon offsetting?

Carbon offsetting is, in essence, making your emissions somebody else’s problem and paying for them to go away. If you want to get to carbon neutrality, you can do that by carbon offsetting. It is not, however, possible to achieve net zero carbon status by using standard carbon credits to offset emissions. To achieve Net Zero Carbon, the emissions produced must be sequestered either at source and therefore not released to the atmosphere, or through other forms of carbon capture and storage, to actively remove the carbon emissions released.

So for net zero, you have to do a carbon sequestration – or carbon capture. Essentially, to get to net zero you have to balance the emissions produced and emissions removed from the earth’s atmosphere.

And that’s where some businesses and people are confused. They buy carbon credits, thinking they can become net zero carbon. But because they don’t understand the difference between net zero and carbon neutrality, they might be buying the wrong product. We can help with the carbon offset process and ensure that companies make the right ethical choices and that any products they buy have the correct certifications.