The Common Sense Colloquy: Q&A with Guido Patrignani of Greenwood Energy
Although our work is generally focused in the United States, we are beginning to have opportunities to bring our expertise in communicating about energy to clients working in other parts of the world. One of the first such clients is Greenwood Energy, a part of The Libra Group, and a partner firm to our client Greenwood Sustainable Infrastructure (GSI). [To learn more about GSI, read our Common Sense Colloquy Q&A with their CEO, Mazen Turk, from earlier this year here.]
Greenwood Energy is led by a dynamic, creative and fascinating CEO, Guido Patrignani. It’s our good fortune to have Guido as our guest for this month’s Common Sense Colloquy. Greenwood Energy is focused on developing solar and other renewable energy projects in Colombia and Panama and we’ve helped them with announcements about projects in both countries this year: the Terra initiative in Colombia and the Alma Mater initiative in Panama.
Guido brings to Greenwood a background in project development through his former company 2C Power. He also has more than ten years of experience in Argentina’s oil and gas industry, and he was previously the Latin American agent for PPG Industries Fiber Glass (now known as Nippon Electric Glass). And he partnered with Urban Green Energy in Argentina to develop a PV project for the Presidential Palace. He has an architecture degree from the Universidad de Belgrano. As I noted above, he's fascinating!
Greenwood Energy is an independent power producer that works with clients to “reimagine development with sustainable and scalable solar programs where communities and environmental conservation are at the heart of the project’s structure.” As they explain on their website, “The mission of this series of developments consists in achieving a higher degree of overall prosperity through responsible structuring of monetary, environmental, and social returns.”
Our team has enjoyed working with Guido this year and we’re looking forward to next steps and future project and other announcements. For now, we hope you’ll enjoy reading the insight and perspective Guido shared with us in this Q&A. We’re thrilled to have the benefit of his participation in this ongoing series.
My thanks to Guido for sharing his wisdom with us – and you.
Q: What does “reimagining development” mean to you? Why is it important and how do you think it will impact renewable energy development in the region?
A: Everything started with our core business, as Greenwood Energy is a problem-solving oriented company focused on bringing large industrial clients energy solutions to reduce their energy costs and carbon footprint, while securing increased power reliability. And it has been along this collaborative path that we discovered we could provide solutions for larger and more complex issues, which affect not only a specific client or industry, but thousands of human beings. This is how Greenwood Energy originated its “Reimagining Development” series of projects, where we combine utility-scale solar plants with social and environmental benefits, such as educational funding, environmental conservation, and the preservation of indigenous cultures. These benefits are not part of our initiatives as giveaways but are deeply integrated in the projects’ DNA.
“Reimagining Development” represents a new way of structuring infrastructure projects, based on the original pillars of sustainability, where its social, environmental, and economic features converge into an intertwined configuration – you can’t alter any of these without affecting the others. This series of projects developed by Greenwood presents an alternative to how companies can approach the development and operation of infrastructure projects in such a way that they create a positive impact on communities and the environment.
The world is now starting to grasp an idea of how the next decades will unfold in terms of extreme weather events, and we believe the public and private sectors are now called to work together in advancing innovative and sustainable ways of developing into a greener future to try to minimize some of the most harmful effects of those events. Due to their scale and impact, infrastructure projects represent the perfect field to start reimagining development, and at Greenwood we are driven by the hope that our projects serve as a catalyst for other positive initiatives around the world.
Q: How is developing renewable energy projects in Latin America different from other regions? What specific characteristics, requirements or considerations must you take in to account? How do those factors influence the ways in which you approach your work?
A: When developing renewable energy projects in Latin-American countries, the first aspect to consider for investors is the economic freedom and stability of the country, as it is a region where we may find extreme opposites one next to the other. The same happens with the institutional robustness of its public entities, although this is also unavoidably and deeply connected with the macroeconomic development of the country. Latin America is a diverse and dynamic region where we may find certain nations going through complex economic and political difficulties, while others present a responsible track record through stronger democracies and clearer rules, such are the cases of Panama and Colombia, which are the countries where Greenwood Energy is focusing its operations in this region.
Nevertheless, even in the most responsible countries in Latin America, we can’t avoid the most common issue that currently affects the development of renewable energy projects elsewhere, which is the interconnection availability. In many countries, we find that the renewable resource is more abundant in remote areas where there is no power infrastructure to connect the projects to the grid, and in other cases we find this infrastructure is located at a convenient distance from the project site, but with not enough spare capacity at the substation and the transmission lines to transport that energy. In some Latin-American countries the expansion of the power infrastructure is not restricted by a lack of investments or political will, but due to the lack of approval of environmental licenses, which usually require the approval of indigenous communities living in the area impacted by the project. We can find numerous cases of large corporations that have downplayed this aspect, and still have their projects on stand-by, for several years now.
So, the third aspect to consider is the Environmental Licensing, with special focus on the indigenous communities located in the areas near the projects. I personally value this requirement for what it stands for, as it is the most important regulatory defense to our environment and cultural diversity. Latin America has abundant biodiversity and rich indigenous cultures, which humanity is called to protect at any cost for its own sake; 80% of the land belonging to indigenous people and local communities absorbs more than twice the equivalent CO2 per hectare than lands not belonging to them. This presents a great challenge for companies and governments: how can we develop without negatively impacting the environment and the local communities? The diverse answers that may arise out of this question will take us far from the “business as usual” mindset, but closer to where we should be at the time of developing projects in Latin America. Thus, to approach Environmental Licensing processes in a successful way, companies are called to turn their perspectives around, not asking how a certain project can be approved by the community, but rather how it should be structured so it improves the lives of the people around it while protecting nature. Our experience in this kind of approach has shown us that by creating a project structure with positive social and environmental impact in partnership with indigenous and local communities, this license ceases to represent a strain for developers.
Q: Your diverse professional experiences would seem to give you a unique perspective on development, partnerships and collaboration. Can you share a little about your background, how it has shaped your approach to your work and the lessons you’ve learned about communications?
A: Since my early professional years I have been involved in diverse industrial manufacturing processes in plants across the USA and Latin America, as I have acted for more than a decade as the representative agent for Latin America of global corporations dedicated to fiberglass production. This led me to work closely in product development with a multitude of industries, but particularly with wind energy, civil infrastructure and oil & gas clients, with the latter our strongest and most consolidated market. I’ve spent more time than I can remember in industrial facilities all around the continent, understanding diverse manufacturing processes so I could deliver an appropriate solution to our client’s problems and needs. I soon discovered the importance of asking the right questions to identify the right problems, as industrial plants are constantly facing numerous challenges; some might be self-created when looking for ways to improve the efficiency of their processes or the quality of their products, while others just appear during their normal course of operations. But the common denominator when facing each of these challenges has always been the need to listen through the noise to reach the true causes of any given issue, as I have experienced how fully understanding the root problem represents 50% of its solution.
This mindset helped me form the habit of taking my time to observe and fully understand any given situation before exploring potential solutions. And by doing so, I discovered the importance of communications to develop the right questions, organize my ideas, and express them in a clear way. In the following years, when my focus switched to developing power generation projects, all those lessons were of great value to successfully detect the problems I could help my clients with, and later explain the different solutions in a clear and compelling way so they are able to make the best possible decisions.
Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you’ve received?
A: Some years ago, a reputable investor who is known for his simple but effective approach to business and leadership was asked to share advice for entrepreneurs; “if you can’t communicate, it’s like winking at a girl in the dark – nothing happens; you can have all the brainpower in the world, but you must be able to transmit it; and transmission is communication” he stated. This “common sense” reflection brings light to the fact that the accurate transmission of our questions, conclusions and ideas is crucial for any project or solution to succeed, or even to exist. And the more complex or unique an idea is, the higher the need of communicating it in a clear and accurate way, as you need investors, clients, and any stakeholder of the project to fully understand the scope and processes involved so true collaboration can be attained.
Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you've given to others?
A: To communicate effectively we must be clear about what needs to be transmitted to succeed in any given objective, and although there are several ways to achieve that end, my favorite is to break down complex ideas into simple allegories, as by doing so we will bring gains in three different fronts. Firstly, we will exercise creativity, as making the complex easy to understand requires us to train in the art of storytelling, which stimulates the right hemisphere of our brain by creating new connections; then, facing the challenge of simplifying an intricate concept into a simple and effective narrative while keeping its essence, will help us encounter new questions and angles about the original concept, which creates a productive self-generated feedback that may provide improvements and refreshing ideas to it; last but definitely not least is the understanding achieved by the audience by facilitating mental associations that help them process information in a comprehensive and perdurable way, as every time they think about that concept or idea, they will go back to the story that helped them understand it in the first place.