When your business grows by up to 1,400 per cent in the depths of the recession, you know you must be doing the right thing.
All the same, the rapid growth did present a couple of problems for innovative energy- saving specialist EMSc, the Sheffield City Region company behind the Powerstar range of voltage optimisation – or VO --equipment.
The most pressing problem was space.
“We were so restricted on space that, on a nice day, people were wiring up units outside. It was a big problem,” says EMSc’s founder and the brains behind the technology, Dr Alex Mardapittas.
The second issue was that the Powerstar technology, which cuts energy consumption by matching the supply voltage to the equipment it is powering, was so popular that EMSc lacked the resources to develop potential markets for a range of spin-off technologies, targeted at specific sectors.
EMSc solved the space problem by moving lock, stock and barrel to a purpose-built world class research and development centre in Chapeltown, which was opened earlier this year by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
“The only way forward was to invest in a building that allows us to bring everything together and have room for a lot of expansion. We have planned for a lot of expansion here. I believe we could grow by up to five times, expanding to become a £60 million enterprise, without needing to move again,” says Dr Mardapittas.
“If we are able to achieve 1,400 per cent expansion during a recession, what happens when the recession finishes? We have to be prepared for that demand.”
EMSc’s new facilities bring production, testing, research and development, sales, marketing and finance under one roof and has trebled the space available to manufacture the company’s pioneering equipment, while also providing space for further growth.
Dr Mardapittas says EMSc has only scratched the surface of the market in the UK.
“There are probably 10,000 voltage optimisation units out there and there are two million industrial and commercial buildings, so we have done less than one per cent of the market,” he says.
And then, there is the rest of the world.
In the UK, the main motivation for installing VO is to cut energy and maintenance costs resulting from running everything from machinery to lighting at voltages higher than it is designed for.
However, in countries whose national grid electricity supplies are unstable – including, believe it or not, Germany, VO is prized for its ability to deliver a consistent voltage, which ensures equipment keeps running, despite supply fluctuations that can be as high as 25 volts.
The move towards less predictable renewable electricity sources also fuels the demand for VO.
“The more you rely on renewables, the more unstable the grid becomes,” says Dr Mardapittas.
“In the UK, at the moment, Voltage Optimisation is rarely needed to compensate for electrical variability, but we see a greater need overseas. We installed a small system in Malta, where the grid voltage can change by more than 40 volts from one day to another.”