Co-founder of collapsed energy firm Bulb hopes to expand battery business | Renewable energy | The Guardian

2022-10-09 12:19:57 By : Mr. Shangguo Ma

Loss-making venture led by Amit Gudka eyes continent as countries move towards using renewable power

The co-founder of collapsed energy supplier Bulb is planning to expand his loss-making battery storage venture into Europe as the energy crisis escalates.

Amit Gudka hopes to develop Field Energy, the business he set up after leaving Bulb in February 2021, on the continent as countries attempt to switch toward renewable power.

Field Energy finances, builds and operates battery storage sites in the UK, pumping renewable power into the grid. Battery storage systems charge up when there is high supply and low demand and release power back to the grid during peak periods.

Gudka told the Guardian that the fledgling company had hired its first employee in Italy, where it has begun scouting for sites. He said: “We’re identifying sites. The expectation is that there’s going to be demand in the north – and a lot of renewables are being built in the south – so a good place for storage in quite a long grid will be the centre of the country.”

The energy executive said the company was also interested in operating in Germany in future. “It is a large market with a huge amount of renewables and also has had a huge dependence on Russian gas so obviously there’s a need there, not just for decarbonisation but for energy security and renewables storage.”

Field has a relatively small footprint in the UK, where it has four battery storage facilities, including a site in Newport acquired for £1m earlier this year.

Its first site, in Oldham in Lancashire, will become operational in the next few weeks, earning the company revenues for the first time.

Field, which is registered as Virmati Energy, and backed by high-profile investors, posted a pre-tax loss of £2.65m in the 15 months to 31 March 2022, in its first financial statements since it was set up during the pandemic in 2020.

Gudka’s former venture, Bulb, has been in a government-handled administration since last November.

The cost of bailing out Bulb could top £4bn by next spring. It is already the biggest taxpayer bailout since the financial crisis, when the government was forced to spend billions of pounds rescuing lenders including Royal Bank of Scotland.

Bulb had 1.7 million customers when it collapsed last year and is the largest company to fail during the energy crisis, which has toppled more than 30 firms.

Gudka, a former Barclays energy trader and DJ, founded Bulb with Hayden Wood in 2015. They extracted £4m each in a 2018 fundraising, but had their holdings – once valued at more than £100m each – wiped out by the collapse.

Wood stayed on during the administration, facing criticism over his £250,000 salary, and has now joined Giant Ventures as an adviser. The venture capital firm is an investor in Field.

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Gudka declined to comment on events after his departure from Bulb. Asked how he felt about its collapse, he said: “Obviously incredibly sad at what happened. But there’s also this unprecedented situation energy-wise.”

In the accounts, Virmati’s directors said rising prices of lithium and increased shipping costs had hit construction costs but Gudka said conditions had improved since the start of the year.

Virmati’s directors include energy trader Phil Sutterby and Taavet Hinrikus, the founder of London-listed financial technology firm Wise.

Field raised £77m of fresh funding in June to finance its build of renewable energy infrastructure, including a £47m debt facility from Triple Point Energy Investment Company.

The company received £30m of investment from Plural, an investment platform set up by Hinrikus and fellow tech founders.

Field hopes to have 1.3-gigawatt hours of UK battery storage operational by 2024.