Catapults

From spare bedroom to the Baltic Sea: James gets his big break

James Madden set up Dynamo Electrical in the teeth of the recession in October 2008. Even then, when he was changing lightbulbs and rewiring domestic homes as a single-handed electrical contractor, he had his sights set on breaking into the renewable energy market.

It was a bold vision. In those early days, the office was a spare bedroom in his parents’ home in Cramlington, Northumberland, and he had bought a van with money borrowed from his dad. 

Less than seven years later, James’s company has just completed a near-£600,000 contract on a major windfarm in the Baltic Sea – completing the job three and a half weeks ahead of schedule.

It’s the big breakthrough for James, a four-month cable installation project that comfortably eclipses the £300,000 annual turnover of his still-profitable onshore business, managed by his right hand man, Steve Fowle.

James Madden-Dynamo Electrical2-300x302Apart from James’s tenacity in pursuing business opportunities as an electrical contractor in the offshore wind sector, that growth has been partly unlocked by accredited training. It was funded as part of a European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) programme delivered by the Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult.

Dynamo ultimately benefited from £5,500 worth of health & safety and technical training in a range of disciplines such as working at height & rescue training, non-destructive testing, blade inspection and repair and IRATA rope access. It was all part of a suite of support services available to SMEs.

James explained: “Training gave us the accreditation, which overcame a lot of hurdles. Thanks to the Catapult, we’ve been able to put our guys through the courses. It’s allowed us to tender for work and win our first contract.”

He is in no doubt about the value of the support, which also included help with PR and marketing and market awareness, adding: “I’d like to think we’d have done it anyway but it has certainly accelerated growth and opened a lot of doors.”

He hopes that EnBW Baltic 2 is just the start. It’s a German-owned windfarm of 80 turbines in the Baltic Sea with a capacity of 288 MW. Some 340,000 households will ultimately receive electricity from the wind farm.

“It was always the plan to take the company into renewables,” said James. That’s why I spent three years going off working on these contract jobs, in the hope of getting offshore contracts for my company.”

Still based in Cramlington, Dynamo is a very small company in the sector, working alongside the likes of multi-million pound businesses such as Balfour Beatty and JDR Cables.

Aside from management expertise, Dynamo offers a highly-skilled, hands-on installation resource – combining electrical and project engineers with cable and fibre-optic jointers.

James explained: “Some clients want a big company to share the risk but we can offer just as much, if not more. With our knowledge, we can streamline the install process to make them money, also taking care of the safety side and providing all the statistics and test results.

“We had six people on Baltic 2 in management positions and some 30 guys on various vessels doing the electrical installation, effectively putting the cable package together so that it can generate electricity in the middle of the Baltic Sea. With the money they’re spending on these vessels, we’ve got to ensure that ‘down time’ is kept to an absolute minimum. Every minute extra costs thousands of pounds.”

Finishing the first job nearly a month ahead of schedule is a matter of huge satisfaction for James, whose wife Lyndsey is fully involved in the business – at least until her maternity leave at the end of this year.

James is no doubt that the future lies in renewables. “We will pursue solar and wind, both on and offshore, and whatever new renewable discipline comes up, as long as it’s got an electrical aspect to it.”

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