Harald Överholm, CEO of Alight Energy

Founded in 2013, Alight is the leading solar Power Purchase Agreement provider in the Nordics. They are committed to helping large corporations save money and do good, now and in the long term, through sustainable solar technology. We spoke with Harald Överholm, CEO of Alight, about a recent project they have announced and his views on the corporate renewable energy sourcing market in Europe.

1. Tell us about a renewable energy project you recently announced with a corporate off-taker.

We just announced a major rooftop PPA with Kingspan for their new factory in Sweden. At 1.3 MW, the project will be one of the largest rooftop solar installations in the Nordics and certainly the largest PPA-based rooftop.

The PPA model is new in our region, so being able to do a significant project based on standard global PPA terms, with an experienced international clean energy buyer such as Kingspan, is novel in its own right and will push our market forward.

As with all PPAs for newbuilds, the big challenge was to time our efforts to lock in project details with the timeframe of the factory construction – with inevitable covid-19 disruptions thrown in along the way. It has been a two year conversation, which tells you something about the stamina often needed from both parties to make important rooftop projects happen!

2. What renewable energy options do you find are trending with corporates?

I would say behind-the-meter PPAs is a clear new European trend. In the wake of the utility-scale solar corporate PPA market that has been growing rapidly in Europe since 2018, we’re now seeing a clear pickup in interest for behind-the-meter (or onsite) solar PPAs, typically from large multinational power users with sites across Europe. This mirrors US developments over the last decade, where the onsite PPA market for commercial and industrial customers has been very strong. Behind-the-meter can mean rooftop, but also ground-mount installations on the premises of larger power users.

3. If you could change one thing about the corporate renewable energy market in Europe, to make it more accessible for buyers, what would it be?

I would invest heavily in education and good case studies to help customers believe they can move fast to roll out solar behind the meter – with very little hassle. As-a-service models such as PPA were invented in the US 15 years ago to remove headaches for customers, by pushing the majority of risks on to suppliers, but this is something we need to prove to customers and a story we need to tell in a compelling way.

We need to work as a community of suppliers to ensure that PPAs really do that work, that the basic risk mitigating effect is not diluted contractually. A PPA should not just be a “financing solution” – it should be an overall enabler for significant, fast customer decisions about behind-the-meter rollouts.

4. Tell us about how you decided you wanted to work in renewables.

It’s been a calling for a long time! When I graduated as a young engineer 15 years ago it just seemed to me the most important problem I could work on. I was very single-minded about finding a job in clean energy. I haven’t looked back since. We need to fix climate change, and the energy transition is such a fundamental part of that. To electrify all energy use, and to make sure we have reliable clean power to meet that electricity need. 15 years on I’m still learning every day, and the need to make this industry grow fast is of course more pronounced than ever. It’s been amazing to grow up in this young industry but there is so much left to do – our real work starts now.

5. What is your number one piece of advice for companies wanting to go renewable?

To find ways of doing it fast. That probably means you have to find suppliers who you can really push to take on risk, and to help you scale your roll-out quickly. Prioritise actions, not plans or research. The renewable market is mature now – trust it, and focus your efforts on contractually pushing away risk, plus defining the ultimate value you need from the roll-out. Go for speed.

We also had time for a few non work questions…

6. What is your dream vacation post-Coronavirus?

I dream of bringing my family to Cambridge (UK), where I spent some wonderful years of my life. Also the weather is great in my opinion, perhaps because I’m mainly comparing it to Sweden.

7. What is your favourite drink or food and who would you most like to share it with?

I do enjoy having a glass of red wine on a Friday night with my wife. But if I’m to be more creative here I would pick Xi Jinping – presumably we would have a cup of tea – to try to figure out what the Chinese climate change plan actually is. It seems like this outsized factor for the entire global transition that is just really opaque to most of us in Europe. Does he believe we will be able to fix this, as a global community? What would it take in order to really co-ordinate the transition globally? What is the bottleneck?

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