Nick Wayth and colleagues clocked up some serious miles on their activity trackers last year, simply by walking the same London streets on an almost daily basis. The route, around 5,070 steps long, is the now well-trodden path from BP’s St James’s Square offices to the HQ of Lightsource in Chancery Lane - the solar company in which BP now owns a significant stake.
Wayth, chief development officer for BP’s Alternative Energy business, would lead the diverse group past famous London landmarks: Trafalgar Square, Waterloo Bridge and the Royal Courts of Justice, travelling the 20 minutes by foot to avoid the city’s traffic - and get a march on the team’s competitors.
Faced with competition from other interested parties, the team was able to secure the tie-up with Europe’s largest solar development company, by, Wayth believes, demonstrating a shared vision, aligned values and behaviours, along with pace and flexibility.
“As solar is the fastest-growing form of energy, we knew that we wanted to get back into it, but in a different way to our previous involvement. There are real synergies in combining natural gas and renewables into power, which we want to offer to our customers, from host nations, to NOCs (national oil companies) and IST’s customers,” he says.
Wayth first started looking for the right solar partner in 2016 and the attraction to Lightsource was instant - a world-class development and operations team, combined with an attractive business model. The company has, in just seven years, become Europe’s largest developer and operator of large-scale solar projects. It has commissioned 1.3GW (gigawatts) of solar capacity to date and manages approximately 2GW of capacity under long-term operations and maintenance contracts. To put that in context, it is the equivalent of powering more than half a million homes with renewable energy.
In BP, Lightsource had found a partner to help it power ‘the solar revolution’. To do that, says its CEO, Nick Boyle, “we needed to align ourselves with the right partner that will afford us the ability to grow to our full potential.”
But, it wasn’t solely about the investment. The company, which operates on three continents and has some 26 nationalities working at its headquarters, wanted to work with an organization that shared its commitment to values and offered a global platform to support its 6GW growth pipeline.
In addition, Lightsource saw in BP, not a business that had ‘exited solar’ some years previously, but one that had helped to shape the industry today. Boyle says: “Had it not been for companies like BP in the very early days of solar power, the industry would not have grown into what it is today. In a funny way, BP Solar was the pathway to companies like Lightsource, so it’s fantastic to be joining forces.”
So, what’s the next step? Already, Lightsource BP is not only continuing its day job of managing massive solar developments, many of which are competitive without government subsidy, but also working with BP’s Upstream business, IST and other parts of BP on identifying potential new opportunities.
What also excites Wayth, whose own home is powered by solar panels, is a digital home energy management system developed by Lightsource, which helps consumers to optimize their own supply and demand. “Being part of a company that develops the technology which tracks and optimizes energy consumption and production, not dissimilar in concept to an activity tracker, is very appealing,” he says.
BP is to invest $200 million in Lightsource over three years for a 43% stake in the business.