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Corre Energy IPO is a huge boost for McGrane’s plans to facilitate the energy transition

Firm will lead the way in underground energy storage facilities and green hydrogen production

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Chief executive of Corre Energy Keith McGrane outside the Irish Stock Exchange in Dublin. Picture by Frank McGrath

Chief executive of Corre Energy Keith McGrane outside the Irish Stock Exchange in Dublin. Picture by Frank McGrath

Chief executive of Corre Energy Keith McGrane outside the Irish Stock Exchange in Dublin. Picture by Frank McGrath

The timing of Corre Energy’s listing on the Euronext Growth in Dublin last Thursday could hardly have been better. The renewable energy storage company’s debut comes at a time when energy issues are leading the news agenda – from consumer concerns over the rising price of gas and electricity, to fears over supply shortages. And this comes against a backdrop of a new urgency in tackling climate change.

Co-founder and CEO Keith McGrane says there is definitely a new impetus behind sustainable energy, due in part to the pandemic which has made people less complacent about the world around them.

“When Covid hit, people became much more aware of the world that we’re living in and how events are connected. And that changes attitudes in how people see the energy transition,” he says.

“There’s a different traction, there’s a different level of buy-in, and a greater sense of urgency.”

McGrane says the role of solar and wind energy is now widely understood and is key to our transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

“Societal attitudes have shifted and I think for the better. I’m having conversations with friends of mine that I’ve never had before. Whereas before, they’d almost see it as an engineering discussion.”

One of the key questions about renewable energy is consistency of supply. And that is where Corre – which is based in the Netherlands and run by an Irish team – offers a solution.

Its purpose is the development, construction, and operation of grid-scale underground renewable energy storage facilities, as well as the production and sale of green hydrogen.

The company has exclusive rights to a portfolio of salt caverns in Europe for underground energy storage in the form of compressed air, and is working with project partners in the Netherlands and Denmark.

The cost of building a compressed-air energy-storage facility is around €350m, so each project is substantial.

“Cost is one thing, value is another – and the value of storing renewable energy in the form of compressed air is considerable,” says McGrane.

In fact, the value to the energy system can be several billion euro over its operating life, insists McGrane.

“Alongside the compressed air inter-storage facility in Denmark, we’re also developing green hydrogen production and associated infrastructure.

“And that particular project, because of the complimentary application of green hydrogen production, will cost about €500m to €550m. But again, it’s the value of that on the system.

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“The ability to harness the renewable energy in that system, enhance security supply, reduce emissions and actually reduce electricity costs for all that’s in the system,” he says, outlining the benefits the large-scale storage can bring. 

As young man growing up in Beaumont in north Dublin, McGrane took some interest in the family business – a furniture manufacturing company on Botanic Avenue, working with his father in the summers.

His first love was sport, however. “We’re a staunch GAA family and played football and hurling with St Vincent’s. My two brothers, Tomás and Emmett, both played with Dublin – Tomás played intercounty for 10 or 11 years.”

His other interest was physics. “I just had this natural affinity with physics and thinking about how the world works and how things work or don’t work. I ended up going to UCD where I had the time of my life.”

He chose to study maths, physics, computer science, and geology – with geology being his last choice.

To his surprise, he didn’t enjoy computer science, but he was drawn to geophysics – the practical application of physics and geology. It is an area closely linked to natural resources.

“The traditional career path of a geophysicist is to go into the oil industry,” says McGrane. “But I wasn’t interested in going into the oil industry. I was always interested in the environment, and I actually had an affinity for research.” 

He went on to attend the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, where he remained as a research scholar for a number of years and in that time was involved in mapping the seabed off the western coast.

“But one thing was niggling away at me,” says McGrane. “I was always interested in the world of finance, and I had this notion in terms of what I would like to do – and it was that point of crossover between technology and finance.”

In 1999 he joined the project finance division of KBC Bank. “They needed somebody that could read a petroleum engineer’s report or a mining engineer’s report and see if it made sense – if so, why? Are the reserves there? Are they extractable? And that’s how my career took off.”

His next stop was to join Eddie O’Connor’s Airtricity, which was then at startup stage, developing an offshore wind farm off the coast of Arklow.

In 2008 he joined Gaelectric, a green energy developer, where he headed up the storage division.

In August 2017, McGrane decided it was time to go out on his own.

“I’ll never forget it. I was sitting outside a coffee shop in Clontarf called Ebb & Flow with my wife Paula. I just had a sense of where the industry was going. And it was that moment when I said to her: ‘Look, I’m going to keep going.’

“I’d developed really strong relationships with companies in the Netherlands and Denmark – they later became very important partners to us – and they admired what we were trying to do. And they wanted to go on that journey with us.

“So I made the decision there and then, to drive this vision forward with the primary members of the team.”

In 2018, the year the company was founded, the Dutch government announced it was going to increase the levels of renewable energy it plans to be using in the Netherlands in 2030, from 40pc to 70pc.

“And that posed fundamental challenges as to how an electricity grid works – or rather, doesn’t work, without large-scale energy storage.”

He met with serial entrepreneur Darren Patrick Green, who bought into McGrane’s business plan and backed the business from the beginning.

Its earliest funding came from the European Commission, with Corre’s work being designated as a project of common European interest, therefore recognised as an important part of infrastructure in terms of the bloc’s energy transition.

More recently Corre entered into a funding partnership and arrangement with Infracapital, an infrastructure fund which focuses on energy transition. 

Salt caverns are the linchpin of Corre’s plans.

“The system that we are developing in the Netherlands and Denmark – and we’re looking to expand into Germany – is the use of the on-the-ground salt granules, storing renewable energy in the form of compressed air.

“That was first proven in 1978 in Germany and that plant is still operating today. So we’re taking known and well-understood and proven technology into the 21st century.”

The company has 11 projects across Europe in the pipeline.

They set out to raise €10m from an initial public offering (IPO) in Dublin last week, but investor demand was strong so it raised €12m instead of the planned €10m, giving the company a market cap of €62m. It is likely to dip back in to the markets again.

“As the business expands we do of course envisage additional raisings from the capital market, and that would be predicated on making the necessary progress on our near-term projects and on the pipelines.”

Though the business is Irish-led, it is located in the Netherlands – due to the location of salt caverns in Europe. However, there was a natural pull towards a Dublin listing.

“With several of us living in Ireland, there was an attraction to list on Euronext in Dublin. After all, Euronext is a pan-European platform.”

Investors for the listing were mainly Irish and UK-based, with some also based in the United States.

“We’ve got a good mix, a good balance between institutional investors, family offices, and high-net-worth individuals. They know that this company is developing large-scale projects, and that takes time.

“You need risk-tolerant and patient capital that buys into the management team, and its ability and capability to deliver on the business plan,” says McGrane.

The high-profile discussions around energy in the media these days means there’s plenty of appetite for investments in this area, and McGrane hopes this provides opportunities for Corre, and also for Ireland.

“It does bring into focus what energy system we need going into the future. In Ireland, we have fantastic wind resources.”

He says that he is encouraged by the ambitions to develop five gigawatts of offshore wind in the Irish Sea by 2030.

“To integrate that level of renewable energy will require a whole range of measures – market, regulatory, and grid – to take advantage of what I would describe as our own national resource.

“I think we need clearer policy statements around this, and also need market mechanisms that investors can invest against.”

He adds that Ireland should be well-positioned to secure funding.

“My experience with investors is that Ireland is always seen as an attractive country to invest in, and we have a great opportunity in the country, as does the rest of Europe, in terms of being able to lead the energy transition.”

CV

Name:
Keith McGrane

Age:
48

Position:
CEO of Corre Energy

Lives:
Kinsealy, Co Dublin

Education:
Scoil Mhuire Marino, went to Ardscoil Rís for secondary school, and then on to University College Dublin

Family:
Married to Paula

Favourite film:
Blade Runner. “It’s an incredible achievement as a movie made in 1982. It’s actually a film I would watch at least once a year.”

Favourite book:
“A business book that I certainly took a lot from is a book by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters called Zero to One: Notes on Start-Ups.”

Pastimes:
“When I get a chance over a weekend to
play a round of golf, I certainly enjoy that.”

Business Lessons

What advice have you for someone considering going out on their own in business?

“We’ve got so many problems to solve in the world – and we need more people willing to set up enterprises to solve these problems. It’s as hard a gig as you could imagine. If you asked ‘what does it take?’ the answer – unfortunately – is resilience. It’s grit. It’s never giving up. It’s believing in what you’re doing.”

You started off as a geophysicist and then became an entrepreneur. Do you think people should be more open-minded about their careers?

“I think it’s up to each person to make their degree – or whatever course they’re doing – and make it work for them.”


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