Dan Bentham is currently the senior vice president at Green Investment Group, a specialist developer, sponsor and investor with a mission to accelerate the green transition.
Dan has worked in the low carbon energy sector for over 16 years with some leading and pioneering companies in the green space. During this time Dan has led the creation and growth of new low carbon products, services and businesses spanning the sectors of smart cities, future energy markets, decentralised energy and electric mobility.
EDs: Give us a little history of your work in the hydrogen, energy and emobility sphere?
I’m lucky to have spent my entire career to date in industries where innovation is a day-to-day activity. Whether it has been in new and emerging technologies or trying to shape and evolve legacy businesses.
Wanting to follow a career in researching new technology I was lucky enough to join a small start-up (spin-out) company called ITM Power. I spent four amazing years at ITM developing and testing new materials and components for use in hydrogen fuel cells and electrolysers (hydrogen production) as well as leading projects to develop and showcase prototype products.
This is where my interest in energy systems and economics started. Integrating electrolysers with intermittent renewable power presented challenges, not only in terms of the technology but also in the economics. Electrolysers, high-pressure gas storage, fuel cells are all costly bits of kit and you want to keep them operating as often and for as long as possible.
EDs: Didn’t you continue in this area at EDF Energy?
I had the opportunity to look at the topic again but at scale in 2018/19 when I was Head of R&D at EDF as part of a government funded project. It’s safe to say that the technology and engineering know-how had come a long way in 15 years. With the recent investment in pilot projects, more understanding of where and when the benefits of hydrogen will be gained.
As we move away from natural gas we will need to find a source of green hydrogen, not necessarily for mobility or heating but for manufacturing and eating. Hydrogen is needed in the production of fertilisers. Today this comes from natural gas, tomorrow it will have to come from a renewable source.
EDs: How did your career at EDF evolve?
I moved to EDF, based in London, to join a part of the business developing decentralised energy and district heating schemes. The focus was on how to decarbonise heat, power and cooling for entire communities and districts. This was done by using various technologies such as CHP, Tri-gen, heat pumps, biomass boilers, solar PV and wind.
Irrespective of the technology three questions were always present; how much carbon will it save; how much will it cost to build and operate and how efficient will it be? It wasn’t always easy to achieve all three and the perfect business case.
EDs: How long did you work in this role?
I remained with EDF for 10 years and worked with some amazing people both in the UK and across the group. I had the opportunity to build teams and business lines such as with the EcoRenew microgeneration business and B2B Energy Services. I also led the Research & Innovation function for the UK covering energy system and market design, smart grids and cities, emobility, low carbon heat and new customer propositions.
Two topics that cut across the full spectrum were smart charging and vehicle-to-grid charging and how to get customers, drivers, electric vehicles, the grid and the market to work together to facilitate more renewable power, at lower costs, cutting carbon and facilitating economic growth. It’s a complex puzzle to solve but it’s important in order to transition to electric vehicles and the smart, low carbon energy system we so desperately need.
EDs: When did you move to ubitricity?
With my experience of innovation, building teams and business activities I took up the role of managing director at ubitricity UK in 2019, to establish and build the UK business. I am extremely proud of the company’s achievements during this period.
With the commitment and dedication from my teams, shareholders and partners we delivered over 3,600 charge points in the UK by 2021, with hundreds more sold and awaiting installation, whilst also starting our roll-out in France. We demonstrated the ability to use AC on-street charging for vehicle-to-grid (V2G) and the importance of on-street chargers for fleets, as many drivers take their vehicles home and park on the street at night and need on-street chargers.
EDs: Did you then join the Green Investment Group?
Following this, my current role is at Macquarie Green Investment Group, where I’m heading up e-Mobility for EMEA region.
Macquarie’s Green Investment Group (GIG) is a specialist in green infrastructure principal investment, project development and delivery, green impact advisory and the management of portfolio assets. Its track record, expertise and capability make it a global leader in green investment and development, dedicated to accelerating the green transition.
EDs: What drove you towards wanting to work in sustainability?
I didn’t initially set out to work in the cleantech sector, specifically. I was driven by innovation and developing new ways of overcoming challenges. It just happened that the greatest challenge facing us today is climate change but also those of pollution and diminishing finite resources.
Once in the cleantech and low carbon sector I couldn’t leave it as the work is never done. Once you think you are making progress in one area, say low carbon heat technology, you realise you need to make advances in other areas to have any measurable impact, such as policy and regulation.
EDs: You’re clearly committed to the project of emobility. Why?
I see electric vehicles (EVs) as being crucial to the shift to a low carbon energy system. On a basic level, 27 percent of UK carbon emissions come from transport, 72 percent of which comes directly from road transport. There is also the important issue of improving air quality by reducing tail-pipe emissions more broadly. EVs powered by zero carbon electricity will address both of these directly.
On a more complex level, electric vehicles managed intelligently will mitigate additional costs in building power system infrastructure and will facilitate the integration of evermore renewable electricity generation. Leading to more renewable power, lower carbon emissions and at a lower cost than would otherwise be achieved. EVs are not only a win-win but a win-win-win.
EDs: Where do you see the advances in the emobility space?
Advances in emobility are being made but much of this is in the passenger car part of the market. Focus now needs to be on fleets, freight and public transport where the challenges of scale become more apparent.
Significant investment is required to support the uptake of electric vans, trucks and buses as well as the high power charging infrastructure needed.
EDs: You’re now at the Green Investment Group (GIG). What’s your remit there?
I joined GIG to head up and build the emobility business. Initially focusing on fleets, I will be identifying businesses that GIG can support in their growth and development ambitions as well as managing investments into much needed charging infrastructure. Beyond this, I will be developing ways in which GIG can support fleet operators in making the transition to all-electric fleets.
EDs: How does GIG support fleet operators in making the transition?
A good example of this is the partnership announced between GIG and Heliox, a global leader in high-power charging for fleets and public transport. Earlier this year we announced a partnership whereby GIG would finance a new Charging-as-a-Service (CaaS) proposition for fleets.
This means a fleet operator or public transport operator can receive a complete turn-key charging infrastructure project. Plus, full operations and maintenance and a host of other services for a fixed monthly fee.
This takes away a number of pain points for operators, especially if they are starting their transition to EVs, or as we are increasingly finding, want to accelerate their transition ahead of their current business plans.
GIG’s roots are in the Green Investment Bank which played a crucial role in the development of renewable power generation in the UK. GIGs involvement in UK emobility is only starting but I’m committed to helping the company emulate its renewables achievements in the emobility space.
EDs: The big announcement at COP26 was the IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards) which sets the rules for public companies, mapping out a climate standard that is essentially saying, by 2023, all companies will be able to report under these new standards. Do you think that’s a game-changer?
Everyone is seeking to find the game changer or silver bullet. In reality, no one commitment or action will deliver what’s needed in one step, however, the IFRS is a very important step. By compelling organisations to think about sustainability accounting standards and to set out detailed public plans by 2023 for how they will move to a low-carbon future will do two things:
- It will force organisations to monitor and record their own activities and investments not only from a financial perspective but also from a sustainability perspective. In essence, organisations will be scrutinising, at the board level, their net-zero activities, plans and trajectory.
- Secondly, these will be public. Customers, employees, shareholders, regulators and potential investors will all be able to scrutinise the organisation’s efforts and ultimately hold the organisation to account.
EDs: What is GIG’s investment process when it comes to this style of transparency?
This is another area where GIG has shown leadership and are ahead of the curve. Within GIG, for some time, all investments have had to meet the “5 Green Purposes” as part of the vetting and approval process.
These include reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing natural resource efficiency, protecting the natural environment, protecting biodiversity and promoting environmental sustainability.
Up to March 2021, GIG’s lifetime green impact from all investments avoided 222,009 ktCO2e. This is equivalent to removing three million internal combustion engine (ICE) cars from the road and has generated 589,691GWh from renewable generation. This is equivalent to the energy consumption of 5.5 million homes.
EDs: Where do you see the emobility sector heading in the next five years?
The next five years will be exciting and transformational for emobility. As we head past 2025 and towards 2030 the rate of transition will accelerate. We will see hundreds of thousands of ex-fleet electric vehicles enter the second-hand market which is crucial for mass adoption.
They’ll be hundreds of new models of cars, vans, trucks and buses that will come to the fore and importantly GIG will be investing in the critical infrastructure needed. This will be from renewable power generation, to grid scale battery storage and my direct responsibility of the chargers and vehicles.
I also anticipate the growth of services that will support the sector whether that’s mobility or charging-as-a-service (CaaS), battery care and leasing to new digital services to optimise the driver experience and make the jobs of fleet managers a little easier.