"A battery is not enough, you also need to manage energy smartly"
A dossier by KBC in partnership with Tijd Connect
Bright Energy is replacing polluting diesel generators on construction sites with batteries. Often there is only a limited grid connection available to meet a large energy demand, and then a battery can provide the solution. Batteries allow optimum control the consumption by machines, electric vehicles and site huts. A leasing line from KBC allowed the Ghent-based company to start production. 'Innovative companies require innovative finance.'
When Arne Van Acker was aged 23, he convinced his father to install a home battery. "It quickly became apparent that that wasn’t the smartest move financially," he laughs. "But I didn't want to admit that, so I did everything I could to make that battery pay for itself." He designed a control system to optimise power consumption in the household, and succeeded in halving the family’s energy bills two years in a row.
Today, seven years later, he runs the company Bright Energy together with his brother Sam and his sister Lisse.
The company builds batteries and develops the associated software for construction sites. Those sites often have limited access to the electricity grid, but are also energy-intensive, with high peak consumption when the tower crane is operating, for example. They therefore often use diesel generators, but they are both polluting and noisy. "Moreover, they run on fuel oil, which has more than doubled in price since the energy crisis," says Arne.
At a glance
Bright Energy's battery unit acts as a buffer between the grid and the site. It charges when consumption and tariffs are low, and supplies energy when the site needs it. "Batteries are only viable if you monitor and control them smartly - brightly ," says Sam. "Customers can also enter all their machines and site huts on an online platform, so they can view and adjust their consumption. Day-ahead prices and capacity tariffs are also included in our algorithm. That saves the customer a lot of money."
Over the past four years, Bright Energy has seen a sea-change in sentiment in the construction industry.
Lots of companies didn’t even know how much energy they were consuming. Today, all construction companies realise that electrification is coming, including for their vehicles and excavators. We can therefore supply a charging station to go with the battery, so that vehicles can be charged at the most convenient times, with priority for those who need to leave again quickly.
Sam Van Acker, co-founder of Bright Energy
Bank that works with you
It was not easy for the three siblings to raise the finance for their idea. "We are an atypical start-up because we needed asset financing right away," says Lisse. "We approached several banks and received proposals for traditional loans but couldn’t find any that were able to work with us to find a solution. KBC proved to be the exception."
And that’s no coincidence, says Thomas Smet, Commercial Banking relationship manager at KBC. "Through Start-It@KBC, our accelerator for young, innovative companies, we are in touch with the needs of start-ups," he says. Bright Energy was referred to him by the Community Manager at Start-It@KBC. "We are increasingly developing tailor-made solutions for young companies, even when they may not yet appear to be fully bankable. They are often innovative companies, which therefore also require innovative financing."
We don't believe in a one size fits all approach; we look at each case and each individual risk to see what we consider acceptable.
Thomas Smet, Commercial Banking relationship manager at KBC
A leasing arrangement was chosen for Bright Energy, where the bank is the legal owner of the units but the company has the right to use them and can buy them at the end of the contract. To achieve For that, we had to allow some exceptions to our own rules. The insurance also wasn’t straightforward, but we wanted everything to be in order, down to the last detail. We don't believe in a one size fits all approach; we look at each case and each individual risk to see what we consider acceptable. That’s a narrative we believe in.
An initial line of credit provided 11 units for rental to construction sites, which need them for an average of one year. Thanks to a second line of credit, the company is now expanding to 40 units, which are also for rental. They also plan to start selling batteries.
Festivals and SMEs
For now, Bright Energy is continuing to focus on construction sites, with the potential expansion to other countries, where it can make use of KBC Commercial Banking's international network. At the same time, the company also sees potential for deploying its solutions in other sectors. "An example is festivals, which need a lot of energy at remote sites," says Lisse. "Another potential avenue is SMEs that are looking to charge their forklift trucks at night using energy generated by their solar panels.
Plans are also in the pipeline for temporary rapid-charging stations where the existing grid is insufficient to meet the need. We have also already rented a unit to a new bakery in Ghent which couldn’t draw enough energy from the grid to power its ovens. Thanks to our solution, the business still opened on time."