“Changing people’s lifestyles won’t be enough to address the challenges we face. Instead, let’s invest in innovation, scientists, and clever solutions”.
This week, we introduce a powerhouse in the green energy and real estate industry, Chairman of Lisarb Energy, and founder of Nalu Homes, Jamie MacDonald-Murray. Harnessing the power of nature’s greatest gift, Jamie has made his mark by developing, implementing, and operating Solar Energy Parks across Brazil, and building zero-carbon homes in Southwest England. In a surprising twist of fate, he also recently became the proud owner of his local pub, affectionately nicknamed the Chich. In this interview, we delve into Jamie’s journey, uncovering the secrets behind his success and exploring the role of Home Grown Club in his growth as an entrepreneur.
Brace yourself for a high-voltage exploration of innovation, connections, and limitless potential.
We ask Jamie how it all started before he got into Lisarb
“I went to Brazil to Kitesurf in 2005, the Northeast coast has great wind and idyllic beaches, it’s a truly amazing country. I fell in love with the place and people, and decided to stay. Setting up a kitesurfing school and bar allowed me to have a great time while making valuable contacts. After 5 years playing on the beach, it was time for a ‘proper’ job and I ventured into construction, dealing with builders became a challenge, but I quickly learned to monitor their work closely. When I learned about the Brazilian government’s housing program, Minha Casa Minha Vida, I positioned my company to win contracts and funding from the banks. This led to a significant project constructing 224 houses.
Over the next eight years, we successfully completed many projects ranging in size across three states, the largest being a 440 home development. Additionally, we took on the challenge of building luxury apartments on the beach, which was a departure from our previous focus on social housing. After some time, I moved back to the UK while still maintaining business operations in Brazil. Seeking a more scalable opportunity, we explored various ventures such as coconut farming and shrimp farming. Eventually, we settled on solar energy and established a UK-based company in 2017 to secure funding and expand our business in Brazil,” says Jamie.
We ask Jamie about the challenges of doing business in Brazil
“The early years were marked by learning experiences. While we were knowledgeable about land regulations and environmental licensing, we had much to learn about grid connections in Brazil and expediting the process. The energy sector is well regulated and well run in Brazil, better than in Europe in many ways!
In 2019, we achieved a breakthrough and relocated our offices from the Northeast to Rio de Janeiro, known as Brazil’s energy hub due to the presence of Petrobras, the oil company. This move enabled us to recruit more talent and assemble a team of over 45 individuals, including 30 specialist engineers, we design all our solar PV plants in-house, including the grid connections. In addition to our administrative and finance teams, we have separate offices for environmental licensing, an area which really sets us apart from our peers. We handle every stage of our projects, from acquiring land or leases to operating the assets.”
“Just before the COVID-19 pandemic, we opened an office in Lisbon, where my business partner now resides. This allowed us to develop a portfolio in Portugal and Spain, totalling 1.1 gigawatts. However, Brazil remains our primary focus, with a massive portfolio of 3.4 gigawatts spanning 120 project sites across 14 states. This extensive reach demonstrates our comprehensive coverage throughout Brazil. Notably, we recently expanded by reintegrating construction into our operations, by buying an existing and well established EPC business based in Braga. We now cover the full spectrum from development to construction to operation – we are now a vertically integrated independent power producer.” Jamie says
That’s quite a success! We ask Jamie how this and the learning phase until 2019 contribute to his growth and how COVID-19 affected his business.
“During that stage of the business, we were fortunate because everything was still in the development phase, with no ongoing construction. This meant that all operations were conducted virtually, using communication platforms like Teams. Surprisingly, Gustavo didn’t have to return to Brazil for two years. From Lisbon, he successfully managed a team of 45 people remotely. In fact, we experienced remarkable growth during the COVID-19 period. It was almost surreal. We managed to elevate the value of our business from around 20 million to over 300 million.”
We ask Jamie: how does Lisarb Energy address Brazil’s infrastructural energy problem? And what about wind and biomass?
“Brazil’s energy demands have significantly increased due to its large population and the rising middle-income segment over the past 15 years. The country requires a substantial amount of energy to meet it needs. Despite the high demand, Brazil’s power system is remarkably reliable compared to other countries experiencing a similar population boom, like South Africa, which faces frequent blackouts. Brazil’s energy network is robust, the distribution network, consisting of high-tension and statewide lines, is sophisticated and of high quality. In fact, Brazil has a better electrical grid compared to many European countries.”
“From an environmental perspective, Brazil has been one of the greenest countries, with hydroelectric power accounting for 50% of its energy sources. However, solar energy is predicted to surpass hydroelectric power and become the largest energy producer in Brazil by 2040. Onshore wind energy is also a massive market in Brazil, and we are currently developing two wind farm sites, which require extensive wind measurements for licensing purposes. Additionally, we plan to integrate solar energy into existing wind farm sites through partnerships.”
With everything Lisarb is doing, what is Nalu Homes about?
“I think if you ask anyone who has developed real estate from scratch, taken a site from zero, dealt with planning permission, the banks, the contractors, and come out the other side with a profit – it gets under the skin. I love driving down a road knowing I built the homes; I changed this part of the town or city, it’s a cool feeling.
Nalu Homes is all about delivering high quality homes at accessible prices, providing homes that are warm in winter, cool in summer and always energy efficient.
I’ve not perfected the delivery model yet here in the UK, hitting issues with unreliable contractors. We now have a team that’s working really well, and ready to expand the business experientially, on our own developments, and working in partnership with others”.
What is Jamie’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs looking to make a positive impact on climate change?
“Don’t buy an electric car! I believe that these vehicles are not as effective as they claim to be in terms of reducing environmental impact. The batteries used in these cars have significant environmental drawbacks, and our energy grid won’t cope with the energy needed to charge the cars soon. Consider buying a powerful gasoline car, preferably a four-litter V8 engine instead! Now, I understand this might sound contradictory, as gasoline cars also have their negative environmental aspects. But the extraction of rare minerals for batteries, which involves questionable labour practices and significant energy consumption, is not a preferable alternative either. I will buy a hydrogen fuel-cell car in the next four to five years, I’m sure.”
“Well, my initial comment was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. In all seriousness, when it comes to climate change, I believe that as entrepreneurs we need to focus on innovation and technology. Changing people’s lifestyles and behaviours alone won’t be enough to address the challenges we face. Instead, let’s invest in science, scientists, and clever solutions that can help us capture carbon, generate solar and wind energy, and find more sustainable alternatives. We should work towards creating a future where we can reduce our reliance on coal and eventually transition away from oil as well. By generating clean energy from renewable sources and finding ways to capture carbon emissions, we can make significant progress towards achieving net-zero emissions,” Jamie explains.
“Not 2050. Unless we double down on utility scale solar, offshore wind, move towards green hydrogen solutions for heavy industry and transport, and invest in the science of carbon capture”.
Does Jamie think that the Brazilian government does enough for supporting sustainable renewable energy?
“Certainly, during the previous president’s term they did take a positive step by reducing import duties on solar equipment. However, challenges remain, especially in protecting the rainforest and combating deforestation due to armed militias and landowners. On the renewable energy front, there has been progress with the passage of legislation for offshore wind, influenced by UK regulations. A senator who played a key role in this legislation is now in charge of Petrobras, Brazil’s largest company. It remains to be seen what new initiatives will be introduced under the current administration led by President Lula,” says Jamie.
Could Jamie expand for those who might have no idea on this concept of offshore wind and why it’s valuable? What’s the potential?
“Offshore wind emerged in the UK after onshore wind development was banned. The idea behind offshore wind is that even when there is no wind on land, there is often a sea breeze due to temperature differences between the land and sea. The turbines used in offshore wind projects are taller and have longer blades, allowing them to capture lighter winds and generate significant amounts of energy. In the UK, fixed-bottom offshore wind turbines have been installed in shallow waters, utilising most suitable locations already.
However, floating offshore wind presents a promising opportunity. These massive structures, comparable to the size of a football pitch with turbines as tall as the Eiffel Tower, will each generate at least 12 megawatts of power. They will be positioned around 50 miles offshore, making them less visible from the shore. Floating offshore wind structures, often triangular and semi-submersible, provide stability and are either anchored or tethered to the seabed. The advantage of floating platforms is that they can be deployed in deeper waters, where wind conditions are more favourable. Although the upfront costs are high, these installations can generate a significant amount of energy, making them cost-effective in the long run.”
That makes us think about how the war has thrown in relief UK’s lack of self-sufficiency. Has Jamie got any thoughts about that?
“Prior to the invasion of Ukraine, the UK was not self-sufficient in energy, the focus on renewable energy was primarily driven by the goals of reducing carbon emissions and securing affordable energy. However, the invasion and subsequent increase in gas prices shifted the agenda towards energy security. Now, there is a growing emphasis on achieving energy independence, but they could be and should be doing so much more. This change in perspective is not limited to Europe but is observed worldwide, as governments recognise the risks associated with relying on countries over which they have little control or unstable relationships,” says Jamie.
We ask Jamie about his experience at Home Grown and whether he has made any good business connections?
“I joined Home Grown before it opened, as I was a member at Home House. I was informed that Home Grown would be more business-oriented and a good place for meetings. The availability of rooms and packages here appealed to me, and that’s why I joined.
“I have indeed formed numerous business connections at Home Grown. I’ve had the opportunity to meet people in the energy industry, which has been fantastic. We have ongoing discussions regarding potential partnerships. I’ve also met individuals involved in property development, as a house builder of zero-carbon homes I have had many fruitful interactions, although there have also been heated discussions with people who don’t grasp the benefits of solar and batteries in a home”.
Did Jamie change anyone’s mind?
“I think so.”
Any fun facts about Jamie?
“I just bought my local pub, the Chichester Arms, nicknamed the Chich, it’s renowned in the Southwest. Best Sunday roast. I bought it as I didn’t want it being gentrified. I also wanted a distraction from the day job. My wife’s not talking to me anymore,”.
Does Jamie have any plans for Lisarb Energy? Where does he see the company in a couple of years from now?
“With Lisarb Energy, we have transitioned from being a developer to an independent power producer. Currently, we have 225 megawatts under construction. Over the next five years, our plan is to build 3 gigawatts of solar energy across Brazil, Chile, Portugal, Spain, USA and the UK. Last year we successfully acquired an engineering, procurement, and construction company in Portugal with a team of 85 professionals and a track record since 2008. We have integrated their team and become a fully vertically integrated company, which sets us apart from the typical developer or IPP. Our goal is to grow the business over the next five years and consider other opportunities, or potential looking at an IPO.”
“As for Nalu Homes, our plan is to increase our homebuilding capacity. Instead of constructing 10-12 homes per year, we aim to build 50-60 homes annually. This expansion will allow us to meet the growing demand for sustainable housing. We’re also going to be installing solar, batteries and our clever tech on homes built by other developers, helping them deliver efficient homes”.
And to finish, what is a quote Jamie lives by?
“Go big or go home – on that note, I think I’ll go to the bar.”
From Lisarb Energy’s transformative journey to becoming an independent power producer with ambitious solar energy projects across multiple countries, to Jamie’s vision for Nalu Homes, redefining the homebuilding landscape, Jamie’s impact (and cheek!) is undeniable.
Keep joining our journey of growth, as we uncover even more remarkable stories from the dynamic minds shaping the world of business.
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