Charlie Blair is the founder of Gravitricity – an energy storage technology company. We caught up with Charlie about climate change, coworking vs homeworking and 5-a-side football…
“The Melting Pot is a good place to be, there’s nice people around and broadly speaking everyone’s engaged and doing good stuff.”
When did you join The Melting Pot?
So, this time round it was about 2 months ago, that one’s easy! But, I’ve been a member at various times probably when I came back to Edinburgh, so 4-5 years ago I joined properly. I think before that I’d also been a member – almost 10 years ago.
I used to work at the Sustainable Development Commission as their external clean energy person and they had an event in the bit next door (our lovely Workshop Space), I remember spotting the coworking space. I’ve gone through stages of being self-employed rather than really employed and I tend to come and join on some sort of basis when I’m self-employed.
What attracts you to The Melting Pot?
It’s the place: it just feels, to me, like it’s a safe space. It’s getting out of the home office, the people around are friendly, interesting, engaged and doing interesting things. For me it’s the fact that it’s a good place to be, there’s nice people around and that broadly speaking everyone’s engaged and doing good stuff, that’s what makes the difference to me.
Can you tell me about what your organisation does?
Now I am more or less full time with Gravitricity Ltd, which is an energy storage technology company. We develop a mechanical grid scale energy storage technology, simply put: what happens when the wind’s not blowing and the sun’s not shining in this future renewable energy world?
So, it’s got a 3-4 year R&D (research and development) pipeline. Me and my two co-founders, well I’ve been 15 years, they’ve probably been 30 years each in the renewable energy industry – we’ve been doing this stuff for a while. Right now we’ve got a very small team one other guy, our lead engineer, will hopefully be coming to The Melting Pot next month. We’re going through the early stages of an R&D programme to prove the technology works and from there get some investment and start building projects.
How would you sum up the difference your work makes to people’s lives?
I’ve just been trying to explain this for grant applications actually. Climate change is the big problem that I identified a long time ago, 20 years ago when I left school probably, as something I wanted to do and wanted to work on. And that’s about people’s lives. Everything I’ve ever done is about trying to mitigate climate change, stop it basically, rather than adapt to it. This kind of thing is just as important as the generating technology to get to a 100% renewables world. Which is what I want to see: that we’re not burning any fossil fuels at all, we’re leaving it in the ground.
The benefit on people’s lives is very indirect in the sense that it’s benefitting people in Bangladesh and in the Caribbean who won’t get quite as munched by all the tornadoey type stuff.
10 years ago everyone would say you can’t have more than 10% renewables on a network. That’s been proven to not be true by bringing in integrating technologies. A lot of the work I do separate to Gravitricity, before Gravitricity, is about understanding how the whole lot fits together. You can’t just have endless wind turbines, cause there’s also periods where the wind doesn’t blow and there’s lots of much more complex versions of the “what happens when the wind’s not blowing” scenario. Energy storage is a better way of keeping the lights on, basically, in a world where you have lots of electric cars and renewable electricity.
How has membership at The Melting Pot helped your organisation and you personally?
Well me personally it’s really clear: it’s kept me sane. Having a few, supportive individuals who are just amazing people. In a more general sense, I’ve learnt from experience that I can get depressed if I work from home, so it is kind of as simple as that.
Also, in a practical sense it’s enabled me to, more or less, successfully give up real, proper jobs, with like a real, proper lifestyle and offices and things, and have an in between. Have a period like Gravitricity, which took 1 and a half years to set up. In that build up time I was doing a bit of consultancy and things, classic self-employed, and the flexibility that’s kind of inherent in the way The Melting Pot works, just works for me! That’s what’s enabled me to have my career, that I’ve done bits and pieces here and there, which has somehow worked up to what I’m doing now.
What’s your favourite thing about being a Member of The Melting Pot?
I could cop out and say 5-aside-football! That was another thing I didn’t mention, the informal stuff that happens because there are nice people that like getting together. That realisation that I wasn’t, I thought I was the single worst footballer in the whole world, but by no means is that true!
The Melting Pot celebrates its 10th birthday on Friday 10 October.