Earlier this year, Buccaneer Delft had the pleasure to welcome FLASC at the Paardenmarkt in Delft. A start-up from Malta with big ambitions in offshore renewables, launching an energy storage device that can be integrated directly within offshore renewables. It’s one thing to move from your home country, leaving everything behind but setting up a business during a global crisis at the same time is next level. In an interview with co-founder Daniel Buhagiar he talks about his journey coming here and of creating opportunities instead of the limitations when times are uncertain.
Silicon Valley for offshore start-ups
FLASC was born as a spinoff by the University of Malta. What started as a research project gained commercial interest which was reason enough to turn it into a company. Early on, a decision was taken to set up the company in a strategic location, at the core of the offshore market, and close to key industry players and potential customers: so, the Netherlands it was. Besides, Daniel and his wife were also attracted to the country because of the lifestyle here, so the move felt all the more natural. Daniel explains: ‘The offshore industry is globally represented, and other countries may offer more opportunities for start-ups in general but if you combine those two together, the Netherlands, and Delft, offers the best combination for an offshore renewable energy start-up. The “Silicon Valley of offshore start-ups” it was called.’ The Netherlands offers access to the North Sea value chain, the language is accessible, and the business climate is very welcoming. In fact, it was very easy to make the move and get started. The founders also have a softspot for Delft, as one of them completed his PhD at TU Delft and Delft and has maintained good links with the university. But it really clicked for them when they attended the Offshore Energy Exhibition in Amsterdam in 2018: ‘All the big companies where there, there was a dedicated start-up zone which greatly represented the offshore start-up climate in the Netherlands’. And after several recommendations from different people they decided to put their flag in Delft and setup FLASC at Buccaneer Delft.
Access to talent by working remote
Being a remote company was not really an active decision, it was a natural consequence. Next to Daniel, the FLASC team includes university academics who are still teaching and weren’t therefore able to move abroad. So, the most obvious choice was that Daniel would be the one to do it. But if there is trust in the team, anything is possible. They didn’t experience any limitations, being not together as a team. In fact, it created opportunities when attracting new talent: ‘When FLASC is mainly focused on the commercialization of the technology, there are also still some research projects on which we collaborate with the university. One of these projects involves hydrogen and the team found a very good contributor to the project who lives in Italy. So, now our team is operating from three countries: Italy, Malta and the Netherlands. For a lot of companies working remote can still be quite a challenge but it can also open doors and offer opportunities when looking for new talent. Daniel: ‘When working remote people can still pursue their personal goals or lifestyle choices, like living abroad, and companies can still have access to their talent. It doesn’t have to be a limitation, just look for the possibilities.’
Transition in offshore wind
This transition towards a more remote environment also requires changes in onsite projects, like in offshore wind. How will these offshore wind projects be affected by this? Daniel: ‘The biggest fear, is fear itself. Times are uncertain, we don’t really know if there’s a big problem ahead of us because we don’t know what’s going to happen. The consequence is that the big companies are taking a step back from spending money. The CAPEX seems to reduce, companies will wait and see what happens which creates a real challenge for start-ups and scale-ups. They need to raise money and attract investors to grow.’ Investments will for certain be postponed because of this uncertainty caused by COVID-19 but at the same time the corona-crisis creates investment opportunities as well. Companies still have goals determined related to new technologies, particularly the energy transition. ‘This will remain a priority, even as investments are postponed. Corporates and ventures will need to be willing to take the risk. Oil and gas companies will probably keep investing in start-ups and scale-ups who will push the green transition, including solutions like energy storage.’ As long as the energy demand is growing alongside a green transition, companies who are both in oil, gas and renewables will keep moving forward.
Dealing with (post) COVID-19
And how is FLASC preparing for post COVID-19 and responding to the growing energy demand in renewables? Daniel: ‘Now is a great time to innovate. The disruption is already there, so we only need the innovation. Decarbonization in oil and gas offers us opportunities. A lot of renewables in the energy grid are attractive for FLASC because we can co-locate storage within offshore wind farms to build in a flexibility which responds to the energy demand.’
And then there’s talk of a ‘green recovery’ where we have the opportunity to really do things differently. Working remotely turns out to be very beneficial for reducing carbon emissions. How can we turn back to normality while keeping these reduced emission records? Daniel: ‘Keep working remotely as much as possible and avoid unnecessary commuting. People are also more productive and efficient. Much like encouraging the uptake of renewables, encouraging a remote workforce can also contribute to a reduction in carbon emissions. If someone would have pitched this idea a few months ago, as one of the solutions for decarbonization, it might not have been as credible. But now we have real concrete data available. Only together we can make the difference’.
What is FLASC?
FLASC is an energy storage device that can be integrated directly into an offshore renewable energy system. Energy is stored using a hydro-pneumatic liquid piston, driven by a reversible pump-turbine.
Charging Mode: electricity is used to pump water into a closed chamber containing pre-charged air.
Discharging Mode: the pressurized water is released through a hydraulic turbine to generate electricity.
FLASC leverages existing infrastructure and supply chains, along with the marine environment itself as a natural heatsink, resulting in a safe, reliable and cost-effective solution.
Learn what FLASC can do for your company: https://www.offshoreenergystorage.com/