24 October 2010

I was at a crossroads. There are a number of different routes I could take at this point and driving on ahead seems like a potentially futile journey.

It was earlier this year when I could have gone one of 2 directions. Do I carry on the potentially expensive quest of developing our business in a carbon neutral fashion? Is there a guarantee at the end of it? Will I find a viable alternative?

I was ready to throw in the towel when I was challenged by one of the worlds greatest entrepreneurs. He didn’t directly challenge me, yet his words spoke volumes. I cannot give up. Here is a man who is pioneering space travel, undoubtedly one of the hardest of any of man’s achievements. But I think this is what great leaders and adventurers do. If you set out on a journey and you know the outcome, it sort of spoils the occasion. It’s the not knowing, the uncertainty, that makes life interesting.

I have realised that I love the uncertainty. This is why I love sport. I love competing because ‘win or lose’ is not really the point, but to fight for something, this is everything. And the longer the fight, the harder the challenge, the more enjoyable the journey.

So, I was unsettled to be reminded that “the world is changing and every business will have to adapt to meet the new climate changing demands.” The thought of our business, our sector, one of the fastest, if not the fastest growing sectors in the world, operating without an abundance of power is a scary prospect. The internet cannot run without electricity and its requirements are huge.

And this is where some of the guilt (or rather, realization) came from, when a power expert reminded me, “your data centres probably use more power than all the hospitals in Manchester combined.” This comment hit home.

And being around achievers like Branson makes you think, “I just have to try harder. I have to raise my goals to new heights if I am to compete and achieve at my highest potential.”

And so the journey began. Thousands of miles away in world apart from Necker, at the foot of Snowdon, I made my first step on this new journey of uncertainty.

In the pouring rain, I whistled the dogs and set off to climb Snowdon. I have lost count of the number of times I have climbed to the top of Snowdon, yet I never tire of the experience.

I love time alone to think and there is no better place than our valley, if not for the solitary nature but for the fact my mobile is inoperable in the area. It was whilst walking that I started tackling my goals. What was I trying to achieve?

The facts. We are building a datacentre. We use too much power. The power is incredibly expensive and the power companies are not the easiest to deal with. We are growing at an extraordinary rate. The internet is NOT going to get smaller and therefore the impact on the environment from not just UKFast but all hosting providers is substantial.

“Its easy,” I thought, “I need to set up an electricity company that somehow generates power from the elements.”

I will spare you every thought but on the way down from the summit of Snowdon, I took a different route. I don’t know why, I just did. For some reason, I just went off the track in a direction I’d never been before, towards our lake Llyn Llewlyn. I wondered, with all that water that we own, is there not a way we can harness the power from the weir at the end? I looked at the waves from the howling gale and contemplated wind turbines at the end of the valley.

I followed a river that I’d stumbled upon and carried on towards the farm above the railtracks.

I believe that if you focus on something hard enough you get the desired result.

I took a shortcut through our next door but one neighbours farm. And this is where the journey really began.

I’d never considered hydro-electric power generation as a possibility because I knew nothing of the subject. What’s the likelihood of finding a local farmer, a next door neighbour, in the process of building a hydro-electric power station with water that flows off Snowdon into our lake?

I dug a little deeper and realised that this is a massive opportunity to fulfill my goals. The further I investigated, the more committed I became. I remember the board of directors at UKFast when I first came up with a diagram on becoming greener. Paul asked me if one of my girls had drawn it. He was correct of course, it was an idea, not a plan at this stage.

When I came back to Manchester and explained that I wanted to invest millions into a scheme to power all our datacentres using gravity and water, they stared at me, waiting for a punch-line. But underneath, they were hooked. How can you not be?

The schemes create power. Green power. They are profitable and although capital intensive, the ROI is relatively quick over a 4 to 5 year period.

I put a team together of the absolute best professionals in the industry and we set about securing some if the top sites in North Wales. We now have 11 sites and every one of them is more than 1 year into a 2 to 3 year completion period.

And until we have enough power to generate our entire datacentre and network we simply registered and purchased a huge number of carbon credits for the interim, until all the schemes are ready. With all 11 schemes we anticipate being able to generate enough power to manage 5 or 6 datacentres.

In the meantime, it’s funny how things start to snowball. My passion for this subject is self-evident and since I have been allowed to talk about it openly, (as prior to this week I have had to keep this a secret for 7 months!) some huge opportunities have arisen and a serious number of entrepreneurs are taking an interest, in a BIG way.

I had originally intended on getting all the big hosting companies together and forming an alliance where we are able to make a massive difference and set a new standard. Branson kindly put me in touch with the Carbon War Room and I believe that the opportunity to help the environment is greater than conflicts that competition creates.

Meanwhile, back on Necker, I reflect on the immense progression we have made already this year. UKFast Energy is now incorporated. We are in the process of obtaining a license to sell electricity and we are already able to help businesses become carbon neutral and sell carbon credits. UKFast is the first hosting company in the world to be PAS certified, which is an awesome accreditation and one we are very proud of. It’s all incredibly exciting and it’s just the beginning.

And if you are wondering what’s next, I’ll let you into a secret. It’s Wind Power.

I am off kite surfing!


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