After being in a severe car accident involving a HGV, Julian Patrick, 39, started to re-evaluate his life, wanting to give something back to the world. Realising what is really important in life, he came up with the idea of Freewatt Limited in 2008. This didn’t just allow him to do his bit for the environment, but meant he was able to help businesses across the country save money on their energy bills through difficult times.
This feature interview was first published in issue 26 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine, now available to read at www.lincsbusiness.co. Subscribe to the email newsletter to receive the latest edition in your inbox this Friday.
With a love of the outdoors, Julian tries to take his wife Ruth, his seven-year-old twin sons and his three-year-old daughter out on the hills and to the lakes as much as he can. Helping to preserve the countryside seemed like the obvious choice.
“I thought, ‘I want to do something that will make a difference, and do something that is motivated for the right reasons’. I always believed that renewables was something that was going to take off as they are not making any more fossil fuels. As it happens the risk now isn’t just that they are going to run out, the risk is that if we use everything that we’ve got then the planet will be destroyed anyway,” said Julian.
Starting a business at the beginning of the recession was no easy feat, especially as renewable energy was not widely embraced. Many people saw solar energy as being too much of an expense, without seeing any return on it for over a decade.
“The business was founded on the ideal of getting into renewable energies. I worked in pharmaceuticals for about eight or nine years in sales and marketing. I did quite well at that but I never really felt that it was my forever job.”
Julian acted on his impulses to do his part, although it didn’t turn out exactly as he planned. “Initially I thought that it was going to be based mostly in wind but because of the objections in the planning, solar ended up being the path of least resistance. It was the greatest opportunity.”
Starting out as a one-man-band, Julian did everything from pitching the sale to installing the panels. “In the first year our turnover was £35,000. How we survived the first year I really don’t know. The second year, was quite tough as well.”
Renewable energy didn’t come into its own until the Feed In Tariff was introduced, meaning that by installing solar panels, a person’s home can be powered by the energy collected, and any additional energy can be sold back to the government.
“This was when the industry really took off. It was initially about educating the customer and saying, ‘right, this is the concept, this is how it works. It is genuine and not some dodgy offer.’ People were often saying that this was too good to be true.”
After about 18 months of the Feed In Tariff being capped at a high rate, and the cost of the technology quickly reducing, the government stepped in and reduced the tariff dramatically. “There was a massive reduction in the Feed In Tariff to try and bring it back into check to where it should be. But then the press got a hold of it and said ‘Oh no! It’s the end of the world. There will be people going out of business,’ and actually that is now the biggest challenge that we face. It’s the perception that it isn’t worth it.”