Proterra Energy is the brainchild of brothers Neil and Terry Stebbings, who began designing, installing and maintaining micro hydro schemes in 2012.
The idea to leave the oil & gas industry to start developing renewable energy systems, typically up to 100kW, came as the brothers were standing on a hill overlooking a waterway. Their guide, the land owner, simply said: “You guys are engineers, you’ll be able to tell me how I can make money out of that river with one of those hydro schemes.” And so launched their first project.
Neil and Terry quit their day jobs as engineers and invested their own money to get started. Until recently, new projects simply arrived on their doorstep in Drumnadrochit, just outside of Inverness, thanks to word of mouth, but with the subsequent reduction in Government Feed-in Tariffs came a need to be more proactive.
“We had doubled our turnover in years two and three,” Terry explains, “But the tariff cuts have made renewable river systems less profitable and therefore less appealing. So we’ve diversified the business by developing products such as remote telemetry and power management systems, and are also looking to overseas markets.”
Expanding trade horizons
Proterra Energy’s first foray into European markets was made possible by the support of Enterprise Europe Network advisers Michelle Wemyss and Michelle Hardy, who conducted background checks on a Polish company from which Neil and Terry hoped to purchase a generator.
Michelle Wemyss details how the Network helped: “We contacted our Polish colleagues and they were able to check out how this company operates. Because they are based in the region, they had valuable local knowledge about the company.”
Neil says that the Network provided him with valuable peace of mind. “This was a piece of equipment which we were selling on to our own client and we needed to be confident that it was a company we could trust,” he explains.
“The Network has also been able to look in Europe and beyond for new markets and has since given us two great contacts in Chile - we’ve just returned from a hugely successful trip there.”
The Network, along with Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Scottish Development International (SDI), has continued to support Proterra on its journey to develop and potentially export its products.
And the future for Proterra Energy looks bright on three continents. With a burgeoning order book here in Scotland for 2016, a number of exciting opportunities in rural Chile and early stage interest from Africa, the company has come a long way from a chance conversation in the Highlands.
As part of the continued support from the Network, Neil and Terry have held discussions with local contacts from National Parks in Chile. They hope to be able to work with the Network’s office in Santiago when it comes to technology transfer and innovation.
Terry concludes by saying: “We need help with understanding what is required when working overseas. Of particular interest are areas such as new technology and managing IP in a foreign country. The Network’s efforts in raising awareness of Proterra Energy in Chile have already been hugely valuable.”
The ongoing support for Proterra from the Network includes promoting their business profile and finding partners for rural hydro projects in France, Switzerland and Germany. These countries were identified as a result of Enterprise Europe Network’s research on feed-in tariffs.
“We’re now looking for suppliers of permanent magnet generators for Proterra, as well as contacts for rural hydro projects.” Michelle Wemyss says.
“This has been an incredibly exciting journey for Proterra Energy and their expertise looks set to make a life-changing impact in rural communities all over the world.”
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