As managing director of SSE Enterprise Energy Solutions, Kevin Greenhorn has an unusual mission – he works for a power company that wants to help its clients use less energy, as Peter Ranscombe discovers.
Stepping into SSE’s energy management centre (EMC) is a wee bit like walking onto the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. An entire wall of the building is taken up with a bank of giant computer monitors; while the Enterprise’s view-screen on Star Trek was used to talk to the captains of alien ships or watch strange new worlds from high above, SSE’s version displays crucial details about the amount of energy its clients are using and how much money it’s saved for them. Not bad for a non-descript office block on a business park at Stepps, near Glasgow.
Standing at the heart of the EMC’s control room is Kevin Greenhorn, managing director of SSE Enterprise Energy Solutions. From his vantage point, he can watch staff sitting in front of their own computer screens monitoring individual clients’ energy usage. As he watches, EMC manager Alex Park – SSE’s Mr Scott to Greenhorn’s Captain Kirk, if you will – brings
up over-arching information on the big screen from nearly 300 customers covering almost 3,000 sites.
Sliding into a seat in the board room, it’s a much smaller screen that’s grabbed Greenhorn’s attention. He brings up a slide on his Microsoft Surface tablet computer. “This is the third tablet that our IT department has given me, so let’s hope I can get this one to work,” he laughs as he points to an inverted triangle on the screen. “I got fed up with people asking me what our business does, so I came up with a single slide to explain it.”
The inverted triangle is split into four levels, with the broad top level labelled “energy consumption”. Around 1,000 companies compete in this arena to simply tell customers how much energy they’re consuming. The next level down is “building information”, with around 100 competitors supplying information to clients on everything from the temperature of a building through to how many lights, refrigerators or even coffee machines are running.
Then things start to get really clever. The penultimate level is “remote remedies”, in which SSE is one of five companies in the UK that can not only monitor a building’s energy usage but also take remote action to shut off lights, central heating or cooling if it’s not needed, or remotely fix problems without needing to send an engineer to the site.
The final point at the foot of the triangle is labelled “energy solutions”. “This is where our business stands out because not only are we truly multi-utility – covering electricity, gas, heat, steam and water – but we are also technology-agnostic so we can plug into any building management system (BMS) from a big supplier and we can even help to arrange finance for energy-saving projects or tell people about grant funding,” explains Greenhorn, pointing to its links with venture capitalists including Scottish Equity Partners (SEP), which began running SSE Venture’s investment portfolio in 2012. “I want people to think of us as the first port of call when it comes to saving energy.”
In a nutshell, SSE’s EMC can plug into a supermarket, a block of flats or any similar building and take control of its BMS. This allows engineers at Stepps to monitor and adjust a site’s energy usage so that it remains in line with the parameters laid out by the client. If a fault develops then the EMC is able to fix around 87 per cent of problems remotely, without having to send out an engineer, saving clients time as well as money.
It’s not all just about the cold hard cash though. For social housing clients, SSE can monitor energy usage in individual flats and so if a vulnerable customer who always switches her kettle on between 7.30am and 8am hasn’t done so then it can alert the building’s manager. In a similar vein, if a fridge stops working in the blood bank at a hospital and it can’t be fixed remotely then the EMC can alert the relevant doctors, nurses and technicians to take action and preserve precious supplies.
But why is one of the UK’s biggest power companies trying to help clients use less energy? For Greenhorn – a larger-than-life character with an infectious enthusiasm – it’s part of a broader theme at SSE. “Doing the right thing is hugely important, no matter how big or small you are,” he says. “We’re a Scottish Living Wage employer, not just for our own staff but also we make it a condition for companies working in our supply chain.
“We’re the only FTSE 100 company that has received Fair Tax Mark accreditation to show we’re transparent about the amount of tax we pay. We pay our staff to go out and take part in community days. From our Perth office, we help at a greyhound rescue centre in Fife.”
SSE Enterprise is in some ways the sleeping giant within the wider group. While SSE’s retail, wholesale and networks sections generate, sell and supply gas and electricity, the enterprise division offers business-to-business services covering everything from installing electric, lighting or water systems in newly-constructed buildings through to providing telecommunications services or even powering railway lines.
Although his current job title – ‘managing director of SSE Enterprise Energy Solutions’ – may sound cumbersome, it’s not the most unwieldy title he’s had with the company. “At one stage, I had the longest job title in the business because I was ‘managing director for business supply, contracting and international’, which was the fancy way of saying ‘Ireland’,” he laughs.
While many people nowadays will work for multiple companies during their career, Greenhorn has spent all of his working life with SSE and its predecessors. But he’s worked across almost every part of the group and has seen a lot of change during that time.
After graduating with a degree in mathematics with engineering technology from Napier University in Edinburgh, Greenhorn joined the North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board in 1991 as privatisation morphed it into Scottish Hydro-Electric. Despite its many name changes over the years, for generations of teuchters it will always affectionately be known as the “Hydro Board”.
Towards the end of his graduate management scheme, Greenhorn became involved in delivering training. “As part of the privatisation, we needed to do a lot of customer service training,” he remembers. “You can imagine how that went down with the engineers who had to climb the pylons. But it did have its advantages though, because I met my future wife, Tania, while I was delivering training at the hydro shop in Broughty Ferry, near Dundee.”
Greenhorn progressed into sales, offering electricity to commercial customers ranging from potteries in Campbeltown to aluminium smelters in Fort William. From there he moved into power trading, first with electricity then with oil.
When Scottish Hydro Electric merged with Southern Electric in 1998, Greenhorn was the first person to move south to Maidenhead. He was on duty as commodity trading manager on 11 September, 2001, when terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Centre in New York. “We had a live audio link to the trading desks and we could hear the brokers screaming,” says Greenhorn. “It haunts me still.”
After rising through the ranks to become head of energy trading, his career brought some lighter moments too, especially once he switched to be head of marketing. “SSE owned the big gasometer next to the Oval cricket ground in London,” he chuckles. “It was 2005 and England were playing Australia for the Ashes. We put a huge banner on the gasometer saying ‘Go England! Southern Electric’. Npower was sponsoring the tests, so it was not pleased.”
His other marketing achievements included bringing together SSE’s disparate brands – including Scottish Hydro Electric, Southern Electric and Swalec – under the same banner, first by harmonising their corporate colours and then later introducing the now-familiar
Greenhorn then wanted to gain experience of running his own profit and loss account, and was appointed managing director of SSE Ireland, which – when he began in 2007 – consisted of just a handful of staff. The unit quickly acquired CH Power, with its ten staff and around 3,000 customers, and then benefited from the SSE’s takeover of wind farm developer Airtricity, which brought with it 28,000 supply customers.
By 2012, the Irish business had grown to 800,000 customers and, as well as being chief executive of Airtricity, Greenhorn began to be handed other responsibilities, including running the business energy supply arm with its 460,000 customers and 15% market share, and then the contracting unit, leading to his lengthy job title.
He became a director of the SSE Enterprise division in 2014, with the company buying The Energy Solutions Group (ESG) from Bridgepoint Development Capital for £66m in July of that year. Although ESG is headquartered in Manchester and has a total of ten offices throughout the UK, the Stepps site remains its only EMC and continues to handle customers from across the country.
Greenhorn sees major opportunities ahead for SSE’s Energy Solutions unit. As well as auctioning off contracts to supply the national grid with electricity, the UK Government has also been issuing ‘demand-side response’ (DSR) contracts as part of its Capacity Market auctions. In effect, these are contracts with companies and other organisations that will cut their power usage when asked to by the grid, helping it to cope with peaks in demand from domestic customers or drops in supply if power stations go offline or wind turbines don’t turn.
“SSE won a 42 mega-watt DSR contract in the most recent Capacity Market auction, so we’re looking to see if we can work with our clients to provide some of those savings,” explains Greenhorn. High-profile users of Energy Solutions’ services already include Glasgow City Council and the London Aquatics Centre, along with a host of supermarkets and social housing associations.
“It’s not just big companies and organisations that are benefiting from our services but small businesses too. A lot of companies have already installed light-emitting diodes (LEDs) for their lighting and may have even installed solar panels or a wind turbine and so they’re looking for what they can do next. That’s where we come in. “We can find unexpected savings. In telecoms for example, if an office is empty at night then we can switch off all of the internet-protocol (IP) phones that otherwise are sitting connected to the network drawing power. For one customer, we carried out an audit of network-connected printers, which made them realise they had printers they didn’t know they had. That helped them to take some printers away or not replace them, saving more money.”
When he’s not extolling the virtues of cutting energy usage and saving cash, Greenhorn is a passionate Celtic fan and enjoys playing golf. “My wife has also turned us into ‘rent-a-participant’ for events, so we’ve done a triathlon, half marathons, a kilt walk and the West Highland Way over the past few years,” he laughs. “We’ve also climbed a few Munros and have enjoyed a couple of kayaking holidays along the River Spey at Loch Insh.”
While his own career history is impressive enough, Greenhorn is part of a high-achieving family. His brother is head of educational planning and resources at Falkirk Council, his sister is human resources director at Highland Spring, and his other brother, Stephen, created the soap River City for BBC Scotland, penned the episode of Doctor Who that introduced The Doctor’s daughter, and wrote Sunshine On Leith, the stage musical and film based on songs by The Proclaimers.
Music is also a big passion for Greenhorn, who has more than 10,000 albums in his collection. “My favourite band of all-time is James, my favourite single of all-time is Song to the Siren by This Mortal Coil and my favourite album of all-time is The Bends by Radiohead,” he reels off.
His choice of pets’ names even reflects his musical passions. “We have a cocker spaniel called Elvis, a cat called Scout and two chickens called Beyoncé and Audrey,” he laughs. “Beyoncé is my one.”