A power of good

It doesn’t matter what the politicians say or do, according to business leader Scott McGregor. An energy revolution is unfolding – and it’s unstoppable.

BY LEO D’ANGELO FISHER

Scott McGregor is the CEO of London Stock Exchange-listed redT energy, developer of an industrial-scale liquid energy storage technology. In a world grappling with the impact of climate change, energy technology will be the key to steering polluters from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

It’s a challenge about which McGregor is passionate, but don’t get the wrong idea. “I don’t want to be known as a tree-hugger,” he says.

He believes taking a strictly business approach to reforming the energy sector is the only way to cut through the fog of lingering controversy over climate change, despite the science being in and irrefutable.

“Throughout my career I have tried to take a business approach to this sector,” McGregor says.

“The environment is what gets me up in the morning. We have to do something about saving it, but my job is not to win arguments about climate change.

“We have to make a business case to our customers that energy storage technology creates stable, cheap and secure energy infrastructure that allows them to operate localised distributed energy networks and store renewable energy to be used when required.”

RedT’s proprietary energy storage technology enables the “efficient and sustainable” storage of electrical energy in liquid form.

The multivalent properties of the Vanadium Redox electrolyte are used to provide a storage medium of “virtually unlimited life”. The system, which comes as a containersized module, has applications in remote power, smart grids and renewable energy management.

The company has high expectations for the technology, claiming it will “ultimately enable the complete displacement of conventional fossil fuel power with renewable generation”.

It’s obviously not a fanciful boast – this year redT was named Technology Company of the Year at the annual Grant Thornton Quoted Companies Awards.

A critical problem in supplying renewable energy to the electricity grid is the variance between availability and demand. Solar and wind energy, for example, are dependent on external conditions, but energy demand is independent of such factors. The redT system enables operators to store energy when available and release it to the grid when needed.

With offices in South Africa and Kenya, redT sees major opportunities for its product in Africa. “There are 700 million people in Africa without access to power,” McGregor says.

“Energy storage is a massive solution for Africa with the potential to transform communities.”

Closer to home for McGregor, the recent decision by the UK government to provide a funding boost for the nation’s energy storage sector also opens up opportunities.

“It is vital that industrial-scale energy storage machines are looked at as a serious low-cost way to decarbonise the UK economy and support the grid,” McGregor says.

The potential of redT’s breakthrough technology is the culmination of a long career in environmental and energy technology.

The environment is what gets me up in the morning. We have to do something about saving it, but my job is not to win arguments about climate change.

After graduating from Monash with a Bachelor of Economics in 1992, McGregor joined Rio Tinto in Melbourne, where he was responsible for allocating funding for environmental research projects. He left Australia in 1997 for a stint in investment banking with Merrill Lynch in London – experience that would later prove invaluable in structuring finance for environmental and energy projects. That experience was bolstered with an MBA from the London Business School.

In 2006, McGregor became chief financial officer of Camco Clean Energy, which has financed, developed and operated more than 500 renewable energy projects around the world, including biogas plants in the US. Camco and redT are sister companies, and McGregor has been CEO of both entities since 2009.

McGregor visited Australia – and his alma mater – in September to attend the Monash Global Leaders’ Summit.

Although based on the other side of the world, he’s on top of energy politics in Australia.

He laments that Australia has been “asleep at the wheel” on energy policy and is disappointed that the government is “still putting money into fossil fuel generation”. He describes Australia’s beleaguered energy system as “so centralised and archaic”.

Despite the poor report card, McGregor is confident the country will find itself on the right side of history.

“I’m an optimist; you can’t work in this sector without optimism,” he says.

“What’s interesting for me is that it doesn’t matter what the politicians do; the energy revolution is going to happen irrespective of what politicians say and do – that’s true in the United States [where President Trump withdrew from the Paris Agreement] and it’s true in Australia [where the Turnbull government faces resistance to the Finkel report].”

Does McGregor have a to-do list for energy policy in Australia?

He wishes that governments would see energy reform as an opportunity, not a hurdle. He would like to see governments giving the market “some signals that fossil fuel should be reduced and ultimately eliminated”. And he’s surprised that the energy sector hasn’t been opened up to greater competition.

But the optimism keeps shining through.

“Bad politics has a way of opening up business opportunities,” says McGregor, who won’t be doing any lobbying while he’s in Australia.

“I prefer to educate rather than lobby. If you educate people, give people the facts, you get better decisions and more informed conversations.”