Invenergy Blog: April 12, 2021
Interviews with Innovators: Brad Purtell, Director of Invenergy Services Business Development
Today’s energy industry is an ever-evolving landscape of growth, opportunity, and challenges. It requires cutting-edge thinking, technical know-how, determined execution, and a willingness to take on challenges others deem too complex. But that’s what makes our work at Invenergy exciting, and we’re happy to share with you some of our expertise and experience that have helped us become one of the largest independent sustainable energy providers in the world.
In this first installment of Interviews with Innovators—a regular blog post series that dives deep into different aspects of the renewable energy industry with the help of Invenergy subject matter experts—we talked with Brad Purtell, Director of Invenergy Services Business Development, about the industry’s evolution, how efficiencies of scale are benefitting Services customers, and why he thinks the whole world is poised for growth in the renewable energy sector in 2021 and beyond.
Brad Purtell started with Invenergy in October 2010 after a six-year stint in the Navy where he worked on nuclear submarines. Brad has held a variety of roles at Invenergy on the Operations side, including managing the Invenergy Control Center and overseeing the remote operations of the Invenergy fleet, cyber security compliance, as well as the Operations Support and SCADA engineering groups. His extensive experience in Operations positioned him well to start up a new team at the company in 2018—Services Business Development—which focuses on expanding Invenergy’s award-winning operations and maintenance platform to serve new regions and third-party customers.
What is Invenergy Services and what do you do?
Invenergy Services provides operational and management services to all the projects in our fleet, which includes handling the on-site operations and maintenance of the generating equipment and remote monitoring and control from the Control Center. Our first employee was hired in March 2004 and we’ve been operating our own projects since then, which include wind, solar, natural gas, and battery storage facilities. Some of the lesser-known functions that Invenergy Services performs are the back-office services of energy management (power scheduling), engineering support (data analytics) and asset management (financial services). We have expanded our offerings to customers to include power performance assessments, engineering consulting services and major component repairs.
We expanded the third-party operations side of the business in 2015, putting our expertise to work handling the maintenance and management tasks of power projects for other businesses. In fact, much of Services’ work today involves contracting with utilities and financial owners to provide operations and management, balance of plant, asset management and energy management services for their facilities.
You started a new team within Services – can you talk a bit about that?
In 2018, I began the Services Business Development team to bring Invenergy Services’ expertise to new customers. After more than fifteen years operating Invenergy-owned and Invenergy-developed projects, Invenergy Services expanded to serve other asset owners. We work with utilities, financials, and developers to tailor solutions to meet their specific needs. These can include any of the services previously mentioned, and there are some customers that are just looking for an “owner’s representative” onsite to provide oversight of their manufacturer’s maintenance teams. Our customers also rely on our due diligence expertise to foster their own success. We help them with planning and day-to-day operations, but we are also able to conduct complete mechanical and compliance reviews of a plant and help identify areas of improvement that can be of additional value to the project in the future.
The work we’ve done with Development has really broadened our perspective about what’s possible with renewable energy. The utility mind frame and private equity mind frame are very, very different, and our skillset has expanded working with each customer. We appreciate being able to work on different kinds of projects with different kinds of clients, and we’ve been able to grow these relationships into strong partnerships that will help build more sustainable world.
How has Services role changed as the industry evolves?
The market for owning renewable generation has evolved. Nowadays, we don’t have as many busbar PPAs with utilities – we see more build-transfers, development-transfers and divestitures – and that has shifted our focus to include more third-party operations. We are no longer majority owners on the heavy portion of our portfolio, and this trend seems to fit the mold going forward for the foreseeable future. This presents an opportunity where we can leverage our experience and knowledge into providing plant management services for customers.
Given the complexities of operating energy projects, what is Services’ philosophy of managing risk?
Overall, Invenergy’s operating philosophy is very much based on managing risk. Unlike much of the market, we don’t do full warranty agreements with the major original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Having well-trained technicians with their eyes and ears at the project sites, a back-office engineering team, a state-of-the-art control center, and a robust feedback loop between those teams provides us the ability to manage that risk successfully and demonstrate to our customers why we are one of the most respected companies in the business. Our strong procurement program allows Invenergy Services to leverage scale and maximize purchasing power.
We also conduct all our training in-house, allowing our technicians to become deeply familiar with their equipment, and we optimize our maintenance practices to reduce the number of repairs and time uptower, which in turn benefits the safety of our technicians.
How do "efficiencies of scale" factor into what Invenergy Services does, and what does this mean for customers?
Efficiencies of scale directly impact our purchasing power. This means that the more you buy of a product, the better the price. Our purchasing power improves as we can commit more volume to vendors, which helps lower costs on the operational side for our projects and our customers’. By expanding into the third-party market, we improve our efficiencies of scale with every new contract that we sign, and every new state or country that we put someone physically in.
We’ve also been able to develop effective and reliable supply chains and sourcing capabilities given Invenergy’s size and experience. This is not only advantageous to our customers, who can benefit from these supply chains (especially customers with smaller portfolios, or even a single project), but also allows us and our customers the chance to continually fine tune the performance of our projects. Operating and maintaining more equipment provides more data points to compare our data against, helping the data analytics group identify performance issues quicker, which again helps mitigate risk.
In your opinion, what is the key to reaching customers and building strong customer relationships? How has this changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Over the last few years, we have learned what customers are frustrated with from their service providers and what they truly value. Customers value transparency and honesty, and Invenergy Services’ customers have said they admire that we act in the best interest of their projects and that inspires a level of trust in our onsite and back-office teams.
We believe this reputation speaks for itself, but we are also interested in bringing awareness of what we can offer to an increasingly renewable energy-driven world. Marketing is a big part of what we do in Business Development; we’ve sponsored conferences and taken on speaking engagements. We are adept at getting our marketing materials, such as case studies and videos, to new and old customers, and we of course take advantage of the reach of social media.
With respect to the pandemic, in-person contact was of course minimized as much as possible. Our new customer engagements have been reduced due to the limitations of travel. However, because we have such a large organization that interacts with various partners in the industry, we have been able to leverage other groups’ conversations to our advantage.
The restrictions of the pandemic have also led to us beefing up our online presence. We’re active on LinkedIn, share industry and company updates on our blog [link], and have launched a quarterly newsletter. These initiatives have helped customers, current and potential, stay up to date with everything Invenergy Services is doing even when we can’t connect in person.
What trends do you anticipate seeing in the industry for 2021 and beyond? Where do you see Invenergy Services going from here?
The entire world is poised for growth in the energy sector. Renewables are a big focus of that growth, and Invenergy Services is well-positioned to work with customers to accelerate this transition to a cleaner energy future. We provide expert services that customers can take advantage of to maximize long-term returns on their projects.
Overall, we are seeing an increasing shift in the United States and other parts of the world away from traditional fuel sources, and with it, smart, capable technicians who can transition smoothly to natural gas O&M from managing other types of energy facilities. The transition to renewable O&M might not be as straightforward, but that’s why comprehensive training programs will be so important to driving much of the growth of the renewable sector. Fortunately, Invenergy Services has a lot of experience on this front as well. Ninety-five percent of Invenergy Services’ training is done in-house, putting us in a position to quickly bring our workforce to where they need to be for the renewables boom taking place over the next several years. Invenergy Services will also continue building out our major component repair teams to ensure we have the bandwidth to support these aging fleets. We also want to expand our knowledge of various kinds of equipment in the industry. Not only will this open us up to new customers, but it will also continue building efficiencies of scale and allow our teams to be more intelligent with various manufacturers’ equipment.
More broadly, we want to grow our US footprint to bring the efficiencies of that footprint to support smaller projects in the same location, as well as continue to grow internationally. We have development offices in Colombia and projects in Mexico, and we want to bring these regions into the Services market.