December 2, 2020 — Company
10 steps to 10 years: Our story so far
Greenbyte turned ten years old in October 2020. We haven’t been able to celebrate in person yet – and, frankly, that can’t come soon enough! – but we did want to look at ten steps we took in our first ten years that got us here. By Jonas Corné, CEO.
Greenbyte is ten. Now we wanted to be able to celebrate our tenth birthday with you at the Greenbyte Forum in Gothenburg in November. Sadly, that was not to be.
Instead, I wanted to take a few minutes to look back at where we’ve come from and share some of the main steps we took as we’ve grown these first ten years. It also gives me the chance to thank everyone who’s come on this crazy journey with us.
1. We committed to our vision
Our vision from the get-go of Greenbyte was to build a sustainable world powered by renewable energy. Because really, why do anything else?
It was a big goal then and it still drives us today. Since 2010, the world has seen total installed wind grow by more than threefold to over 650GW, while solar has grown by 14 times to 585GW. We have seen the cost of onshore wind and solar drop 60% and 86% over that period, and the emergence of green leaders from Tesla to Thunberg.
But there is much more to be done. There is no global tax on carbon and the Paris agreement’s target to keep global warming well below 2°C higher than pre-industrial levels remains out of reach. There’s no letting up as we enter our second decade.
2. We went deep into customer problems
In our early days, we were focused completely on wind resource assessment. Our customers were developers seeking to capture and make sense of data from met masts, Sodar and Lidar systems that were made by a host of manufacturers.
The technical challenge then was to understand rickety proprietary protocols and data structures with little or no documentation. This enabled us to homogenize and display it in our first product WINFO, which we later named Breeze Development.
It’s an early example, but we’ve faced similar problems with rickety protocols many times over the years. It is our drive to solve our customers’ real-world problems that keeps us moving forward.
3. We always focused globally
We also realized early on that only being active in Sweden – a country with 9million people and 1GW of wind in 2010 – wasn’t going to cut it. That’s why we started to provide our services to an international customer base pretty much from day one.
That’s the great thing about renewables. It was no problem for a developer in Costa Rica or South Africa to buy from a small Swedish company. After all, wind’s pioneers had been building turbines out of retired helicopter blades from the Soviet Union for years! And we’re now active in 30+ countries so we must be doing something right.
4. We stopped being afraid of failure
Another thing we learnt in those early days is that it’s fine to fail. We had an ethos of experimentation that is still an important part of our culture today.
For example, alongside Breeze Development we built:
- Windmap.se: a service using mesoscale long-term wind data on a Google Map overlay that we provided for free for very early stage site assessment. Developers were hunting for land leases like there was no tomorrow!
- Windpool.com: we attempted to create a marketplace for wind resource assessment data. It failed.
- Soldata.se: a service to display production data from small-scale solar sites. Everyone we spoke to was interested in the product, and we installed it at 50 sites in Sweden, but in the end small sites did not have the finances to pay for the service. It failed.
However, this also helped remove the fear of failure that is a barrier to trying things.
5. We kept learning from customers
After a while our customers had been through the hoops required to build wind farms and asked if we could provide a similar service to Breeze Development for operating projects. It was exciting as it got us nearer the action of producing clean electrons.
In hindsight we applied a perfect ‘lean start-up’ methodology when we listened to our customers while developing the first version of the Greenbyte Platform.
First, we got a few wind farm owners involved: Power Wind Partners, Rabbalshede Kraft, VindIn and Svensk Naturenergi. They provided knowledge and even a little bit of funding. Thanks to Tord Östlund, Peter Bjelkengren, Åke Nyhlén and Kaj Lamton.
We asked about the metrics they used to make sure business was going well and mocked up some dashboards. We then got access to connect to a few of their wind farms to understand the data. This showed us that protocols and data structures where just as rickety and poorly documented in wind resource assessment.
This continued through those early days when we worked with great customers who were open to collaborating with us to improve the product. Things were so fast back then. There was little legacy code and things could literally be changed overnight.
These customers helped us to do three things: iterate, iterate, iterate.
6. We’ve celebrated small wins along the way
We’ve found that it’s important to mark our progress along the way.
By January 2014, we had a product we could sell. We launched what was then called Breeze Production and is today called Greenbyte. By the end of 2015, we had grown from five staff to twenty and reached 2GW capacity, while continuing to iterate our business models.
Our first idea was to charge for the Greenbyte Platform per MWh, to perfectly align ourselves with our customers. It proved very difficult, so we opted for megawatts.
That was a good choice because it meant we could start to celebrate every time we had installed a new gigawatt in our platform. By mid-2016 we had doubled installed capacity again to 4GW. And once we hit 20GW, we decided to celebrate every 5GW instead!
7. We kept up-to-date with new trends
We found that renewables is a fast-moving sector and it’s impossible to stand still.
With a few gigawatts installed in the platform, ideas started to emerge that perhaps somehow all of the data could be used in an aggregated sense to provide an edge for our customers. Could the data be used as input to machine learning models?
After some research the answer was a big yes! This was the starting point of our Greenbyte Predict product, which identifies future component failures in turbines.
By 2016, solar was also entering the scene in a big way, and that year almost all of our customers started asking us to manage solar PV in the same way as we did their wind sites. We were eager to get into solar and launched a product called Bright.
8. We picked the right investor
It was in 2016 that investors started to contact us, and with good reason. Renewable energy offers great fundamentals for investors. But picking one was a big choice.
We know this sector has great long-term potential, and the positive macro scenario for renewables will be there for the next 10, 50 or even 100 years. To capitalize on the head start we had on the competition in terms of technology (being cloud native), we decided to raise money and invest even more.
We had three criteria for our ideal investor: long-term perspective, values that match ours, and deep pockets. In the end we decided to partner with Korys, a family office from Belgium. It’s been a great decision and we’re grateful for their support.
The support from Korys has helped us to go from 60 to 90 Greenbyters in the last two years and build our executive team. We even have departments now!
9. We’ve kept meeting our customers
Teaming up with Korys gave us the ability and funding to do marketing for the first time. We participated in many events between 2016 and the start of Covid-19.
One great initiative has been our annual customer day, Greenbyte Forum. We held our first one at the European Wind Energy Association 2016 (now WindEurope) event in Paris. It was modest but the seed was sown, and we’ve held a Greenbyte Forum every year from then until 2019. And my oh my was that a great event.
Meeting customers is always challenging when you have a global customer base, but we always find it hugely valuable. We are sure we’ll be back together soon.
10. We’ve learnt the importance of data sharing to a green future
By 2018, our customers were asking us to share data with other stakeholders in the value chain. It became clear to us that the industry needed modern ways to transfer data as electricity production becomes ever-more decentralized.
We decided to build a modern and well-documented API (application programming interface) for data exchange. That was smart! With the API, we had other software companies approaching us to get access to the data so they could provide services to our customers. That’s the idea that became the Greenbyte Marketplace.
But it’s early days for the industry. There are still large numbers of data barriers we need to break down if we are to build the electricity system of the future – a system that is open, autonomous and smart. The best is yet to come.
In October 2020, Greenbyte turned ten years old. I would like to thank everyone who has interacted with us over the years and helped make the company what it is today – which I think is pretty great! We would not be where it is today without you.
I will soon share my thoughts on what the next ten years hold for Greenbyte and the renewables industry. Keep an eye on the blog for that one.