Providing energy is one thing, creating a sustainable business able to withstand today’s volatile and highly competitive energy retail market is another thing. Enter “BE. 2.0”, the plan Bristol Energy’s interim managing director, Marek Majewicz, wants to talk about.
Speaking to Utility Week at the council-backed supplier’s bustling city centre office, Majewicz says that modern energy retailers need to do more than merely provide customers with power. BE 2.0 is about a transition from simple energy retail to supplying energy services.
“Standing still in this market as just a gas and power business isn’t going to do it anymore, you need to adapt and to diversify into other markets. It is absolutely the way forward,” he says.
Founded in 2015, Bristol Energy is a relatively new player in the energy market and is still finding its feet. The company posted an £11.2 million loss in its latest financial results, which was in the range expected, but now says it should be in the black by 2021, two years later than the initial forecast of 2019.
To date, it has 167,000 domestic customers on supply, with a further 4,500 business customers.
The affable former interim finance director has led Bristol Energy since founder Peter Haigh stepped down shortly before Christmas. Before joining Bristol Energy in the summer of 2018, Majewicz had a long finance career in the oil and gas sector. He has previously worked as head of finance for what was Shell Gas Direct, later taken over by Dong, now Orsted. As yet there is still no confirmation as to who will be Haigh’s permanent successor but for now Majewicz remains at the helm.
“For us the challenge is not sitting still, we are transitioning from energy supply retail to energy services – selling warmth rather than kilowatt-hours – and I think you will see a number of other companies starting to take that tack.
“It’s almost like a BE 2.0 if you like – in terms of energy services and the opportunities that arise,” he explains.
As an example, Bristol City Council launched its City Leap prospectus last year, which outlined a series of energy and infrastructure investment opportunities available to local, national and international businesses including expanding the city’s heat network.
It is hoped this will help attract up to £1 billion of investment in the city’s energy infrastructure over the next decade, and by offering more services Bristol Energy hopes to be a key partner.
Adding to its innovation credentials, the company has also been working with governmental innovation funding body Innovate UK to create the Bristol Energy Smart System Transformation (BESST) project – a consortium aiming to explore the best ways in which to design a local energy system in northwest Bristol.
The project explores how Bristol Energy can design new services for its customers, ultimately preparing them for a world in which they can take control of their energy use and supply, a world incorporating electric vehicles, battery storage and the increasing need to decarbonise heat.
Recently the company announced it would sell heat “as a service”, rather just as kilowatt-hours. Through a government-backed trial, run by Energy Systems Catapult, Bristol Energy is offering customers the chance to buy a “heat plan” tailored to their individual home and lifestyle.
The plans provide customers with “room-by-room, hour-by-hour control over their heating”.
Data collected via a smart heating control system allows the energy provider to calculate a fixed monthly cost for the trialists. This does not fluctuate with the weather because Bristol Energy prices-in the risk. “The hope is that Bristol Energy will be at the heart of that in terms of an energy supply, energy services business,” Majewicz says.
It is innovative things like heat networks and heat-as-a-service that will help Bristol Energy provide proof of concept for the City Leap programme, he says.
“You are not looking at kilowatt-hours, you are looking at selling ‘warmth’ in effect, and so heat-as-aservice is a big thing for us. A large proportion of the City Leap programme is around heat networks, so it’s a key, integral part of us and the council going forward and how we can help provide better services, increased services for fuel-poor customers and those who are vulnerable.”
Ensuring vulnerable consumers are not disadvantaged in today’s energy sector is a major issue. And while most of Bristol Energy’s customers live outside the city, the company is keen to champion causes within the city to help those in need.
For Majewicz, Bristol Energy has a vision of being a sustainable energy company with “social value” at its heart. “That was the whole premise for Bristol Energy being set up in the first place. It’s not just a commercial entity, it’s has social value attached to it and that is one of the reasons I joined – it’s almost that you’re giving back to the community,” he explains.
Monetising that social value is a good way of ensuring success for Bristol Energy, and while Majewicz has a background in a number of high-profile financial roles, it’s not always about the bottom line. In the past year the company has “given back” around £7 million to the Bristol community, to organisations such as charities, projects helping to tackle mental health issues and helping the council to achieve its carbon neutral targets.
“For the first time ever in Bristol Energy’s history we can start to talk about the social monetisation that we have actually put back into the community, which is a fantastic achievement in terms of moving forward.
“Everyone always looks at the figures but a real positive for us is what that benefit back to the community is.”
As well as working alongside Bristol City Council, the energy retailer has been liaising with other groups on sustainability.
The company announced in its latest year in review document that it has been working in partnership with the Centre for Sustainable Energy and local charities to have a “meaningful impact” on the lives of Bristol’s citizens struggling with fuel poverty.
Around four million people in the UK live in fuel poverty, according to the latest estimates, and the problem is particularly severe in Bristol, affecting around 20,000 households.
Last year the energy company established its “fuel good fund” to have a “measurable impact” on as many individuals as possible. The initiative helps families implement home energy improvements, such as draughtproofing and heating repairs.
While helping those in dire need, the company is also setting its sights on growing its customer base, particularly in its home city, over the next few years.
“We have not stayed stagnant, our plan is to grow and we’ve continued to do that this year,” says Majewicz.
Of course, with a municipally owned energy company called Bristol Energy, you could be forgiven for thinking only residents living under the local authority’s remit are able to access it. Majewicz understands this and says a key priority for his business is for a “big push” in the city.
Currently, only around 10-15 per cent of the company’s customer base actually lives in Bristol, with the rest living nationwide.
“At the moment I would say one of the key things for me, at least in what we look at in terms of strategy, is that there’s a lot of opportunities still within Bristol that we haven’t tracked and we haven’t taken advantage of.
“The key message is, Bristol has its own energy company – use it.
“We have created a solid foundation. What else can we do out in the marketplace, not only in Bristol but nationwide? It is key for us to look at and optimise our own back yard.”
Since the energy market was opened up to competition it has seen a massive increase in participation, leading to more choice for consumers.
Often newer suppliers such as Bristol Energy are seen as challenger brands or “disruptors”. While Bristol is not the only municipally owned company, Majewicz says it can be argued that it is a disruptor, which offers differentiation.
“I think you could see us as a disruptor. We are a differentiator in this sense from being council owned and we are a differentiator from Robin Hood Energy [another council-backed supplier] because of our social ethos,” he says.
“So you could argue that we are a disruptor in the market. With our links with Bristol City Council, it means we have a number of ties we can optimise… and work with the council to provide services back to the community.”
For a man who has a strong financial background, it is clear he believes there is more to running an energy company than making a profit. For Marek Majewicz it’s all about giving something back and ensuring those in the community that are the most vulnerable benefit both financially and socially from a local energy firm.