A decade on, Norman Crowley’s climate change business is coming together. As the Enniskerry, Co Wicklow-based businessman turns 50 next month, what started as Crowley Carbon, an advisory business helping Irish SMEs to cut their greenhouse gas emissions, is maturing and passing milestones, too. Its clients now range from Google to Glanbia and GE Healthcare.

In the past year, Crowley has conducted a series of corporate moves to organise his group. Last April, Crowley Carbon bought a 30 per cent stake in the Welsh company Electric Classic Cars, which forms the launchpad for his own EV brand Electrifi. “What we’re doing is we’re taking old cars, and then we are converting them to very fast electric cars,” Crowley tells The Currency. “We’re calling this space hyper classic. So basically, it’s a hypercar, it’s very quick, but it’s a classic car.” The top-end models will be made in Ireland from the end of this year – with a price tag of up to €2 million.

Then last September, Cool Planet Clarity was formed to host the group’s central software business – the brains of the Crowley Carbon operation, which remotely monitors data streams from its customers’ industrial facilities. Crowley reveals in this interview that he is about to license out the software to other operators, including some yet-to-be-named “absolute monster companies”.

At the same time, the registration of Cool Planet Group allowed all interests to be placed under a holding structure ready to welcome outside investors. This is what happened in January when the French investment firm Tikehau injected €30 million in equity into the business. Although Crowley could fund this himself, having sold the previous company he co-founded for $500 million in 2008, he says: “There isn’t any founder out there who would sensibly invest €100 million of their own money.”

From starting a welding business at 15 to growing an energy efficiency multinational and an environmental and educational foundation at 50, this is certainly not the last chapter in Norman Crowley’s book. He told the story so far to The Currency’s podcast, which is transcribed below.


Thomas Hubert (TH): Hello, this is Thomas Hubert, Senior Correspondent with The Currency. I’m talking today to Norman Crowley who is known at the moment mostly for Crowley Carbon. We’re going to talk about this business in detail, and how policy is shaping up in this area as well and its interaction with business. But maybe for introductions first, Norman, you’re known as somebody who’s run a string of companies since you were very young. From the engineering, more hardware side of things you started with all the way to Crowley Carbon,  could you briefly go through some of the businesses you’ve started and sold over the years for people who don’t know you yet?

Norman Crowley (NC): I set up my first business when I was 15, which was a welding and engineering business, and I exited that when I was 20. Then I set up a software and technology company, built it for about eight years and sold it in 1999 to Eircom and retired at the ripe old age of 28. I then set up the next business pretty much straight away, which was Inspired Gaming Group. Inspired Gaming Group was in the digital gaming space. I grew that to about 2,500 people, half a billion in revenues. We sold that in 2008 to private equity for about half a billion bucks. 

Then we started looking around at the world, what the world needed, and started looking a lot at climate change. In 2009, we set up Crowley Carbon. Crowley carbon is a large-scale energy efficiency and energy services company operating in 23 countries. Then in 2015, we set up a foundation called Cool Planet Experience, which educates people about climate change in a very different way. And then in the last two years, because we didn’t have enough to do, we set up an electric car business called Electrifi. And also we’ve got property interests and other things.

TH: Going back to the major switch in your career when you sold your share in Inspired Gaming in 2008 for half a billion dollars, what was your share of that? Has it been what has fueled your investments and your new startups ever since?

NC: Generally, I think since actually 1999, we’ve been able to fund our own businesses. No matter who you are, you can never fund all the way through. An example of that is in Crowley Carbon. Early this year, we took on €30 million of investment into Crowley Carbon. So at some point, your own financial firepower is never enough. It’s just a matter of at what point in the business’s growth curve that happens. 

There isn’t any founder out there who would sensibly invest €100 million of their own money. There’s a point in the beginning where you can fund that as a startup and then a point comes in scale where you just need to be able to drop serious money into the business. At that point, you have to bring on private equity, or float, or whatever. Thankfully for us, we’re able to kickstart businesses, grow them through reasonable scale –  €20, 30 million in revenue without external funding.

TH: When you say “we”, who is with you on that?

NC: Well, it’s our family office that does it now, so me, my wife. Also, we’ve pretty much had the same team of executives, certainly for the last 15 years in the businesses. Now when we set up a new business, we generally set it up within the same group and therefore we’re using the same infrastructure of finance, marketing, people – which is a critical one. 

TH: When you mentioned this latest investment into Crowley Carbon – €30 million you raised earlier this year – who is investing in Crowley Carbon at the moment?

NC: It’s a French fund called Tikehau, which apparently is an island of French Polynesia. It’s a €24 billion euro debt and private equity fund. They have an energy transition fund called T2 and it’s T2 who invested in us. They’re a fantastic group, I have to say. They are not your typical private equity group. They’ve been really brilliant to the whole Covid thing as well. I’m very pleasantly surprised that they are acting the way they are.

Norman Crowley: “The only businesses you can really grow very quickly are software businesses that are consumed-led.” Photo: Bryan Meade

TH: Did that come under the form of equity? Was it into the whole group or just into the Carbon business?

NC: No, it’s in the whole group. And it’s an equity investment. So some of the original founders sold out at that point. We didn’t sell anything down. We’re in this for the long haul.

TH: Just to conclude on the past, any ventures that didn’t work out, and things you’ve learned from as they failed as well?

NC: Nothing that didn’t work… Well, after we sold Trinity Commerce in 1999, about a year afterwards, it went spectacularly bust. And I was still on the board at that point. So one could argue, on one level, I had sold out, and therefore it wasn’t me. But then I was on the board, and so it was a good lesson in what not to do. Other than that, no. We’ve had a few things where we’ve taken them almost to starting them up and then pulled the plug. That’s not a failure, I guess, but a set of assumptions that weren’t correct. 

TH: What was the lesson you mentioned from Trinity Commerce there?

NC: Nine women can’t have a baby in a month, I think, is the principal lesson. The only businesses you can really grow very quickly are software businesses that are consumed-led. Anything that involves hiring people, and good people, and then growing it globally just takes time. If you try and do that fast, and sadly we’ve tried to do this three or four times, then you’re not going to succeed. You will not succeed fully anyway. You might 50 per cent succeed, but you won’t succeed 100 per cent, because you’re relying on everybody you hire being amazing and trying to do that at a phenomenal pace. If you take what we’ve done in Crowley Carbon in the last three years, we’ve been adding 10 countries a year for the last three years. It’s very stressful and it doesn’t work perfectly. You’re relying on a lot of things to go right, and sadly they don’t.

“We’re an Irish business, very clearly, and we have no intention of changing that.”

Norman Crowley

TH: This reach, internationally, for Crowley Carbon – how far do you go nowadays, regionally? As you said, it’s been mostly the last three years. What’s the plan going forward as well, in that area of regional and international expansion?

NC: Over the last two and a half years, we’ve expanded pretty much across the globe. We have two offices in the US (in Raleigh and in Louisiana), we have an office in Canada, we have an office in Sao Paulo. We have a joint venture in Sydney, which is very successful, the Middle East out of Dubai, and dotted around Europe, then a stronger office in the UK, and then headquarters here. So the only place we’re not really at the moment is Asia. We’ve done projects in Asia, we don’t have a base there. That’s probably something, post-Covid, that we would do. So it’s been a fairly phenomenal expansion.

TH: Is that all still driven out of Ireland? Is the Irish-based company still the one doing the business in all those areas, apart from the joint venture you mentioned?

NC: Yeah, about 70 per cent of our staff are based here. Here’s headquarters, and that’s not going to change. We’re an Irish business, very clearly, and we have no intention of changing that.

TH: I was just having a look at the latest set of accounts for Crowley Carbon. It was growing in revenue phenomenally in 2018, from €12 to 17 million. I don’t know if you can give us any insights in 2019 yet?

NC: 2019 was about €37 million in Crowley Carbon.

TH: So doubling on 2018. 

NC: Yeah, it’s been doubling every year, and it’ll probably get its wings clipped a bit this year because of Covid. Up until Covid, the plan was, this year, to do about €70 million in Crowley Carbon. But Crowley Carbon is just one business. If you look at the group, the group has Crowley Carbon, which is the projects business. We have Clarity, our software company, which is becoming the jewel in the crown. Then we have our car company which has various investments in other car companies. And then we have an insurance business called Carbon Re, we have a financing business called Cool Planet Capital. It’s only in the 2019 year that the grouping of those happens. So you won’t really see the full scale of the group until the 2020 year when they’re all pulled into what’s called Cool Planet Group.

TH: If we look first at Crowley Carbon itself, it’s 10 years old at this stage. At the moment, as far as I can see, it’s still reinvesting constantly. You’re not at a point where you’re trying to pull profit out of it. When would that happen?

NC: We don’t have any business of profits, right? Profits are there to be reinvested. That’s the kind of operation we are. We always have more ideas than we have profits to reinvest. So it’s about generating profit and then reinvesting that. There are two reasons for that. If you look at the energy efficiency, energy services market, first of all, that’s potentially a trillion-dollar market. As more and more companies move towards an energy transition from fossil fuels to solar, then energy efficiency plays a key part in that. The migration to solar and wind plays a key part of that. The scale of that opportunity is vast over the next 10-15 years and so reinvesting makes perfect sense. 

We’ll also more than likely take on more third party investment, just to cope with that opportunity. And then if you look at something like our electric car business, it is sold out for the next 18 months. That needs a factory expansion at the moment, so there’s always more opportunity than there is cash to put in.

“That wouldn’t be an unusual deal now – outsourcing all your cooling to us, outsourcing all your heating to us.”

Norman Crowley

TH: With Crowley Carbon, how deep do you go into a business when you’re engaging with them? You’ve mentioned the software, I suppose that’s an important part. Then, how far down actually implementing change to save emissions do you go?

NC: We do everything, really. Our track record now with a corporate client would be something like a 50 per cent reduction in energy. The majority of that is efficiency, probably 30 per cent, and then the balance would be solar our some kind of alternative power supply. How we do that is we go to large energy users, particularly in the food sector and the packaging sector, a little bit now in hydrocarbons, in the oil and gas sector. It’s a kind of one-way bet for them, right? Because we say, “We’re going to reduce it.” They go, “We don’t believe you.” And then we go, “Well, we have an insurance company that’s backed by one of the biggest insurance companies in the world. And it is standing behind us saying that we’re going to save you 300 million bucks or whatever the amount might be.” 

And then if they say, “Well, we’d love to do that, but we don’t have the capital to do it.” Then we can say, “Well, let’s do a shared savings”. And in that regard, we have banking partners, who will bank that deal with us. So it’s very hard now to say, “Well, I don’t want to do that. It sounds like a rubbish idea.” 

Then it’s just a matter of where do we start. Corporations are busy people, so lots of things take time. Like Ben Horowitz, the venture capitalist, says it’s easier to get a bill through Congress than it is to close a deal with a large corporate. That’s not because large corporates don’t want to do it, but they’re busy doing other things. So it just takes a while to close a deal and then to expand that deal into a proper partnership.

TH: Do you go as far as choosing contractors and products, when you’re talking about solar and things like that, and taking that off the company’s hands?

NC: Yeah, taking it off their hands and off their balance sheet. We’re doing one deal with a particular packaging company at the moment where we’re taking over all of their air compressors worldwide. At that point, we’re installing new ones, managing the existing ones. They’re outsourcing their entire air generation to us, basically. That wouldn’t be an unusual deal now – outsourcing all your cooling to us, outsourcing all your heating to us. It’s because of our software that we can remotely manage those assets better than they can be managed individually in a plant. And the opportunity there is just insane. 

What’s happened over the years, really, is there’s been a dumbing down of suppliers to factories and to buildings. It used to be, 30-40 years ago, that you had a bunch of guys who just knew a lot about steam, air and chilling. Now a lot of those people have retired and all of the knowledge is spread all over the world. Nobody in a plant really knows how everything works anymore. The software is a great tool, then, because the software knows how everything works and it can manage everything in real time. More and more, we’re discovering how phenomenal an asset that is.

Norman Crowley: “The hardest thing to fund is an exotic technology in an exotic location.” Photo: Bryan Meade

TH: In terms of finance, when you were talking about taking assets effectively off a company’s balance sheet and taking on their management yourselves, how do you find access to finance is evolving in that area? Who do you go to? How do they react to those kinds of projects?

NC: We have about six major banks around the world that we’re dealing, with everyone from Citibank to Morgan Stanley to Greensill, specialist lenders, Close Finance in the UK, you name it, really. And we find it fine. As long as the end client’s credit is good or reasonably good, then we can get access to capital, no problem.

TH: Do you see any difference in the cost of finance when you’re funding a project that is more carbon neutral? 

NC: No, it’s purely down to the credit of the client, really. If the credit of the client is good, then it’s cheaper, if their credit isn’t so good, it’s more expensive. And then sometimes as well, it has to do with jurisdiction. So if you’re doing a solar project in Ghana, even if the client’s credit is very good, then you’re going to pay a bit more for it. If you’re doing a cogeneration plant in Munich, then there’s no problem. Everybody wants to fund it. The hardest thing to fund is an exotic technology in an exotic location. Sometimes we use our own balance sheet to do that, where we’ll take the risk, we’ll build up the asset, get it operating, and then we’ll sell it down once we have it operating.

“We cannot name a country that has a progressive climate policy that is functioning at the level it needs to function.”

Norman Crowley

TH: Now going into policy, and you mentioned yourself the fact that it’s easier to get a bill through Congress than to get a corporate to get something done. But I suppose a large part of your business depends on those bills in Congress, and acts here in the Oireachtas?

NC: No, not at all. We don’t do any business with any government globally. We deal directly with corporations. We find that governments are too frustrating and government programmes are too frustrating. They take too long to pass. They’re too convoluted once they appear. Government has a huge part to play in climate policy, but it’s not playing that part, not just in Ireland, but in every country around the world. We cannot name a country that has a progressive climate policy that is functioning at the level it needs to function. 

In the part of our job, which is to solve climate change as opposed to make money, we don’t involve government anymore. We think government is a busted flush. I think saying it’s a failing of policy is to let ourselves off the hook. Really, climate change, much more so than policy, is a failure of invention, a failure of technology and an arrogance around technology that’s there as well. 

What traditional green movements try to do is they say: “Here’s the shit technology. And now let me guilt you into using this technology.” And that doesn’t work. Consumers don’t do guilt. Consumers got enough problems. At the moment, they got to worry about COVID. They got to worry about their parents and the health of their parents. They got to worry about their kids. They got to worry about making money. They don’t want to worry about a problem that’s there in 20 years’ time, they’ve got problems next week, right? Like we always say, the credit card bill comes at the end of the month, climate change comes in 15 years.

Governments respond to that, too. It’s not like governments are evil. If you ran solely on a climate change agenda here, you wouldn’t win. Yes, the Greens gained ground in the last election in certain, mainly affluent constituencies. But the vast majority were worried about housing and health. They weren’t worried about something that’s going to happen in 15 years’ time. So our role as people involved in climate change is to put inventions in front of customers that they will be drawn towards that are better, cheaper options than what they have right now, and not try to guilt them into a change that they’re just not going to make. 

I’m in the climate change business, and I care deeply about it. And yet, I will still not do something that’s awkward or difficult. I will do things that are obvious and straightforward. And so this thing we’ve been trying to do for 40 years of guilting people into difficult decisions? Waste of time. Proven, proven to be a waste of time.

TH: At the moment, we have these government formation talks around a 7 per cent annual cut in emissions. Would you say that wouldn’t make a significant difference to your business in Ireland? Would policy influence companies in a way that they would turn to you more or less?

NC: No. It will make a small difference, but it’s not material. Things that’ll make a difference around the world are 1c/kWh solar, which is where we are heading to right now. That makes a big difference. Electric cars getting to $27,000 a car, that makes a huge difference. Electric cars getting to $20,000 a car is a game-changer. 

There are two things that nobody knows about in climate change that are more important than everything else. And they’re never written about. One is refrigerant gases. The number one problem in the world: refrigerant gases. Not a problem in Ireland really, because we don’t have air conditioning here, sadly – although if we wait around long enough, we might need air conditioning. But it’s a huge problem in India, China, Pakistan. That is a failure of global government. If you had a proper UN or a proper progressive government, they would massively regulate for natural refrigerants and that would make a huge difference. It wouldn’t cost anybody a penny, and everyone would be better off. 

And then the other one that nobody ever talks about is educating women and girls, which is the fourth-most important thing on climate change. We would argue it’s probably the second-most important thing with climate change. And that’s a big one. 

The other one in Ireland that they’re not going to do, but it’s huge, is meat. We have this crazy situation in Ireland where our farmers don’t make enough money to live on and yet, we’re very meat-focused and meat export-focused, and that’s a huge problem. Even then our meat companies here don’t make that much money. So we need to move towards plant-based. We are moving that way, we need to move faster. It will make more money, the food sector will make much more money. And if we can do that here, then that would be a game-changer. We’ll be ahead of the posse. Some of that is happening. Kerry Foods have a plant-based division now, it’s doing quite well. We’re getting there. But government’s inaction in that area is just a disgrace.

Norman Crowley: “The cars that are going to be made in Wicklow are all $1.2 to 2 million cars.” Photo: Bryan Meade

TH: Do you have plans yourself in the area of food production that would be different from what you’re doing strictly at the moment?

NC: No. I mean, we work a lot with food companies. We looked at setting up our own food company in the area of plant-based, we were pretty far down the road. And then a lot of our clients just went to plant-based very, very quickly and got to scale quite quickly. We realised then we were too late to the party. We were happy to be too late to the party because our core skills are engineering, be it software or hardware, and plant-based is not in our core skill set. We were doing it to prime the pump, to get the sector moving. But the sector moved on its own. And there’s a massive wave of plant-based companies like Strong Roots here. And you have companies like Hilton Meats moving to plant-based. In fact, you have Denny sausages and rashers, ABP – they’re all moving to plant-based. We look at that now, to a degree, as problem solved.

TH: You’ve mentioned another area of your business I hadn’t heard about before, which is insurance. What is your role in that? 

NC: So if you’re doing a project for a client, and you say to them, “Look, we’re going to save you a third of your energy bill by doing efficiency,” they quite rightly don’t fully believe you because the last guy you try to succeed, it’s complicated or whatever. So in order to give them comfort, we will insure the risk. If we say to you, “We’re going to save you €100 million a year,” then we will insure that with either Munich Re or Axa. That allows us to strengthen the offer to the customer. They can go to the board and say, “Look, it doesn’t matter whether these guys can save us this money or not, it’s insured.” We’ve had an insurance product for about six years. It’s really become more sophisticated in the last year. But we’ve never had a claim, because this is just engineering. At the end of the day, we will save you the money. But the insurance offering really strengthens the story.

TH: Is that your own funds covering the risk or do you go out to reinsurance?

NC: We have an insurance company called Carbon Re, which is a fully registered insurance company, and then it reinsures the risk with a bunch of reinsurers. 

TH: And what’s the uptake on that among your clients? Do they feel they need the insurance? 

NC: Every project now is insured. So the price of doing the project includes the insurance.

TH: In terms of Electrifi – you mentioned that earlier, the electric cars. It’s about a year old, I think. I remember there were plans for a factory in Wicklow working with another one in Wales. What’s the progress so far in terms of actual car production in Wicklow and the overall business?

NC: Weirdly, in the middle of Covid, you would think that selling cars that range in price from €60,000 to €2 million would be in a tough spot, but actually, it’s gotten really brilliant. At the moment, the factory is in Wales, as you know, and that factory in Wales would produce, this year, probably about 40 cars. So this is low-volume, high-price-tag cars. We are not Hyundai and we have no aspirations to be Tesla or Hyundai. If you’re going to set up a car business in Ireland, you can’t be mass-market. Some people think we’re being elitist by doing what we’re doing. But actually, if you’re going to run a car company in Ireland you can’t be making Hyundai Konas at €30,000 a pop. We don’t have the supply chain for it here, we’re on the wrong side of the world, our labour rates are too high. 

So what you do here is you go high-end, and we’re going high-end for two reasons. One, because it’s our only choice in terms of this country, but the other one is, we want to use it to inspire people. If you are into cars, and you were a kid, then you had a poster on your wall of a car, right? And we want that poster if you’re a kid nowadays to be an electric car. So what we’re doing is we’re taking old cars, and then we are converting them to very fast electric cars. We’re calling this space hyper classic. So basically, it’s a hypercar, it’s very quick, but it’s a classic car. 

The progress in the last couple of months has been phenomenal. Now we’ve signed up three of the top six car designers in the world. I can’t disclose who they are yet, sadly. They are each re-imagining their most famous car, the car that they became famous for. That’s a huge coup for Ireland. Those cars are going to be built in Ireland. At the moment, everything is being built in Wales. The plan was to open this year in Powerscourt. I think that’s gonna get pushed to next year. I think we will be making cars in Wicklow this year but not in this site in Powerscourt, because I think we’ve been set back by Covid. But we have a number of locations near Powerscourt where we will be assembling this year, and assembling some very exotic cars. The design center, which will be in Powerscourt, will be opened this year. That’s where the cars will be designed. So this year, they will be extremely famous designers appearing in Powerscourt designing cars.

TH: Have you actually started construction of an assembly facility in Powerscourt or not yet?

NC: The shed is still being constructed, basically. We haven’t just lost three months with Covid, we’ve really lost seven or eight months. That’s a pain because the problem is, the factory in Wales is sold out for quite a long time. The extension to the factory in Wales will go ahead pretty much as soon as everyone’s back to work over there, so that’ll give us capacity to get out of trouble this year. And then we’re saving Powerscourt for the very high-end cars. Some of the new cars that are going to go on sale – I guess they’ll be delivered in 2022 – are all being made in Powerscourt. The cars that are going to be made in Wicklow are all $1.2 to 2 million cars. Because of the scale of the designers involved. They’re going to be featured in a major television documentary as well. Our cars that are built in Wales were in a TV documentary this year for the Discovery Channel, a kind of 10-episode documentary, but the cars that we’re building with the designers are going to be part of a very major documentary. That’s going to be with one of the global broadcasters.

TH: I read somewhere the plan was to get the powertrains from Tesla. Is that still the way it’s working?

NC: We’re moving away from Tesla now. I don’t have their permission to say who they are, but there’s an Irish company who are doing the battery box technology. If you think about an electric car, in the powertrain and control, there are three elements. There’s the battery cell, which is like an AA or AAA battery. There’s the box that it goes into, which has to be bombproof, really, because it has to keep out water and it can’t get damaged. And they’re going to be made in Ireland, they’re going to be made in Galway now, pretty much as soon as we get out of Covid. The cells obviously come from either Panasonic or LG, but that’s a lower-sophistication part of the train. And then the BMS, the battery management system, will be made between our company and another Irish company. So actually 80 per cent of the powertrain is going to be made in Ireland. 

“If you’re going to build a green centre in Ireland, build it in Powerscourt. The third-most beautiful gardens in the world, that’s where you build a green centre.”

Norman Crowley

TH: This is all being developed in Powerscourt and Crowley Carbon as well is based there. What’s your relationship with the estate that is not traditionally associated with industrial development in people’s mind?

NC: We’re a tenant and they’re our landlord, but it’s also a wonderful partnership. Sarah Slazenger, who’s the boss there, is just amazing and runs an amazing team. Ten years ago or seven years ago, when we met, we painted a vision together of what a green centre would look like. These last seven years have been the evolution of that between Cool Planet Experience that is based there, the global headquarters of our energy business is based there, and then the cars. That’s been just a fantastic partnership. She had the confidence in us when she had no right to have confidence in us, and now that confidence has paid off and it’s a great partnership. 

A couple of people in Ireland have tried to build green tech centres, they always end up building them in sheds near the airport or whatever. That’s not Ireland. If you’re going to build a green centre in Ireland, build it in Powerscourt. The third-most beautiful gardens in the world, that’s where you build a green centre. It’s been a phenomenal story. We’re going to expand and expand in Powerscourt. At the end of the next five years, we can easily see 300 or 400 people working in Powerscourt.

TH: Do you find the talent in this area that you’re working in, in Ireland? Are people getting trained in that, or are many people coming from overseas?

NC: In Ireland, now, it’s a complete melting pot. People are coming in from overseas to us, and then we’re getting Irish people as well. Traditionally in Ireland, there isn’t a talent pool for car manufacturing, but what you do have is massive software skills and massive chemical engineering skills. Because of our pharma and software background, and because modern cars are much closer to iPhones than they are to internal combustion engines, there’s a fantastic chance to migrate to this capability. 

I was on a train recently from Zurich to somewhere in Germany. I was on my laptop, I wasn’t really taking any notice of what was going on. Then something caught my eye, I turned and there was a train full of Mercedes cars, two storeys high of cars. The train was going very fast, and as fast as the train was going, all we could see was just car, car, ca,r car. There must have been, like, 2,000 cars on the back of this train. You’re reminded by the sheer scale of that – that comes from 1888, Bertha Benz inventing, with her husband Karl, the first automobile. But here’s the shocker: all of that knowledge is now useless because a modern car (electric) is some chemical engineering, a motor, four wheels and then an iPad. All of a sudden, knowing that the tappet gap in a multi-valve engine should be this is redundant information. All of a sudden, you can pitch up in Ireland and go, “Let’s build multi-million dollar cars.”

TH: My final question is, what can we expect from Norman Crowley in the next year or two? When things reopen after Covid, will there be a surprise or new ideas coming out? You’ve been very clear on continuing to expand what you’re doing, but are there any new areas you’re looking into?

NC: Well, we have a bit of a rebuild because during Covid, our projects business has taken a bit of a hammering because all the factories are closed. So it’s about rebuilding that, which is going to be nine months’ worth of work. Thankfully, our software business has expanded quite rapidly. So there’s a bit of rebuilding there, that’s been a bit of pain. Then more on the cars, more on energy, there’s gonna be some very big announcements in software licensing. We’re going to license our software to some absolute monster companies – can’t say who they are. And then in our foundation, there’s going to be a massive expansion in the foundation and a massive push into global education to try and solve this educating women and girls problem. So that’s a big focus for us. To a degree, more of the same and then a massive push into education. 

“Something we should have known for hundreds of years is that women are just better at doing shit than we are.”

Norman Crowley

TH: If I take you up on two points there: on educating women and girls, it reminds me of what I was reading from the Drawdown Project. It’s about helping control fertility and helping women choose what they do with their fertility – is that how you see an impact on climate change?

NC: It’s broader that that, even. There are countless studies about when you educate women and girls, everybody is better off in their community. Yes, it’s about fertility; it’s more about infant mortality because the fertility thing, if you’re religious – and I’m not – people go into contraception and controversial issues. It’s much more about infant mortality: an educated woman, their child will survive a lot better, it will get a lot more healthcare, which means that they will have less children because they’re a lot less concerned about their child dying. 

Also, 20 million children a year die because we burn biomass for cooking and then our children inhale that. If they’re educated, they can build smokeless stoves, they can do solar projects in their community. And something we should have known for hundreds of years is that women are just better at doing shit than we are. Also, as a father of girls, there are over 1.5 billion women and girls in the world who are not edited because of non-religious and religious traditions. That’s hurting climate change, it’s killing north of 100 million people a year, and that’s just unacceptable. It’s a human rights issue, it’s a climate change issue. 

For us as well, we’re excited because a lot of the work we do on climate change is frustrating. We do something now and we see the impact in 15 years. Education is a thing where we can do something now and we see an impact in three or four months and that’s exciting to us. There’s a huge history in Ireland of digital education and that’s very exciting, that’s something we want to call on. It’s also the first one of these programmes we’re doing where we’re going to partner with some very big global education players both in the not-for-profit and the for-profit area, so it is exciting.

TH: The other point you mentioned was licensing out your software. How can you do that without cannibalising your own business, because as you said, your software is at the core of the service you sell to companies trying to reduce their emissions?

NC: We’re very happy to cannibalise our own business as long as we sell more software in the process, because software is higher margin and more recurring revenue. The other thing about cannibalising is that the world needs to expand the energy efficiency supply base. We wouldn’t have a competitor problem for another 10 years as it is. We have problems, Covid has caused us problems, but our problem is not competition. The demand is just too much. So seeding competitors is exactly what we want to do, but much better to seed a competitor that is using your software platform than not.

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