ESB is forging a new path forward (sponsored)

Dec 04, 2018
ESB doesn’t just supply energy, it is also a major player in the betterment of society, the environment and the economy.

Accountants taking up new roles in ESB today are probably joining at the most exciting time in the organisation’s history. Not since rural electrification in the 1940s and 1950s, which saw 50,000 miles of cable strung to connect 300,000 homes, has Ireland’s energy market undergone such a radical transformation.

Ireland, along with Denmark and Luxembourg, has the most challenging target for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions from energy in the EU. A 20% reduction on 2005 emissions levels by 2020 is required. There are also two binding EU targets for renewable energy by 2020 – 16% of final energy use must be sourced from renewables and 10% of energy used in the transport sector must be from renewable sources.

This new reality not only means radical changes on the consumer side, it entails a complete transformation in the way that electricity is generated and distributed. Indeed, ESB is investing across its business to prepare for a completely reimagined energy future. 

“This is a really exciting time for our sector,” says ESB Group Finance Director Pat Fenlon. “Electricity has a critical part to play in decarbonisation. To meet the targets flowing from the Paris Agreement, deep electrification of society is needed. Clean electricity must become the energy source of choice for the transport, heating and industrial sectors. By 2050, electricity will make up over 50% of end use energy consumption, compared with just 20% today. ESB has a massive part to play in making that a reality.”

This means significant change on the generating side. “A lot of people are familiar with renewables such as wind,” says Fenlon. “We are now seeing the cost of solar generation coming down, offshore wind is coming to Ireland, while ground source heat pumps and biomass will also be part of that generation mix.”

Smart Energy Services

All of this means change in the sector, explains Fenlon. “ESB is leading the transformation to a low carbon future. This is important for the country and for ESB. We are now seeing a move to smart electricity networks with a lot of smart technology being deployed. This will enable greater efficiency and facilitate greater deployment of renewables. We are also investing in our generating fleet. Over the last 25 years the carbon intensity of electricity generation in Ireland has been halved. Over the next 10 years, we will completely replace our generating fleet with low-carbon and renewable alternatives to reduce our carbon intensity by a further two-thirds.”

The customer side is changing as well. “From a customer perspective, we are helping them gain greater control of their energy consumption through the use of smart devices and smart meters.”

The establishment of ESB’s Smart Energy Services three years ago was aimed specifically at assisting business customers reduce energy consumption by the adoption of new technologies such as LED lighting and combined heat and power solutions. The division offers novel funding arrangements to customers whereby it will finance the project and recover the cost by sharing in the savings over a number of years. “There is a huge commercial and financial dimension to all of this and that makes it a great time to work in ESB,” says Fenlon.

Careers

The organisation also offers enriching and rewarding careers to accountants, as illustrated by Fenlon’s own history with the organisation. “I am a Chartered Accountant,” he says. “I trained with PwC, joined ESB 25 years ago as a financial accountant and have worked overseas with ESB International. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to work in a variety of financial and non-financial roles, such as financial controller in different business units, General Manager of Electric Ireland, Corporate Change Manager and Group Treasurer before becoming Group Finance Director. There are great opportunities for finance professionals in financial, commercial and general management roles across a variety of businesses and geographies.”

There are 200 people in the broader finance function across the group, he adds. “A large number of them are Chartered Accountants and we keep recruiting from that pool every year. We have a very strong career development framework which we are very proud of. We look at the individual’s development, mentoring and training needs with an eye to their future career progression while meeting business needs. Our finance people get exposure to a wide range of functions and businesses – they get experience in the SAP ERP system, generation, networks and supply businesses in both Ireland and the UK as well as new business areas such as e-transport and Smart Energy Services.”

From a treasury point of view, ESB has one of the biggest corporate debt portfolios in Ireland and issues its own bonds on the corporate market. “That offers great opportunities in debt capital markets. We also have people engaged in energy trading and risk management.”

The other aspect of a career with ESB highlighted by Fenlon is the sense of purpose. “Everything we do in ESB is with a view to an end purpose to lead the transition to a low carbon energy future. What we do is for the good of society, the environment and the country.”


A CHALLENGING BUT EXCITING EXPERIENCE


Louise O’Hanrahan joined ESB in February 2016 as a commercial analyst in the group finance and investment department, having qualified as a Chartered Accountant with Deloitte in 2014. “I was attracted by the range of different areas you could work in at ESB,” she recalled.

“Initially, I worked on a variety of things from reviewing and challenging monthly board papers, carrying out post-investment reviews to working on the financial model for a solar PV (photovoltaic) project,” she continues. “I was then given a difficult but exciting opportunity to be the finance lead on the project team tasked with creating a business case for the organic entry into the Great Britain (GB) electricity and gas residential market.”

This was not an easy task. “ESB ensured I was well equipped for the role by providing training with Great Britain market specialists. I had to work with group finance and tax but also got the opportunity to work with many non-finance teams such as legal, trading, procurement and IT. When the ESB board approved the business case to enter into the GB supply market, I got to experience first-hand what it takes to set up a new company and ESB Energy was established in the summer of 2017. It was like working in a start-up but with the support of a large organisation behind you.”

She is currently working as a Finance Business Partner with ESB Energy, having been offered the opportunity to remain there following its establishment. “That’s the great thing about ESB,” she concludes. “The organisation is so invested in developing its people, ensuring they receive good training and then assigning them exciting projects. I was delighted to stay with the GB business. There is still so much to do, and I am still learning so much every day from the experience. I am conscious that there are a lot of other opportunities in the wider group which are quite appealing, and I’ll keep my eye on those as well.”