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Financial Times: Intern’s energy project set to make millions

By Jonathan Guthrie, Enterprise Editor
Published: October 12 2007 04:24 | Last updated: October 12 2007 04:24

Jaded office workers tend to regard summer interns as a seasonal scourge as irritating as wasps at picnics. But Iain Whiteside, 21, has proved the detractors wrong by completing a project expected to generate revenues of £4.3m a year for his employer, Martin Energy, and its customer Tesco.

While many work experience recruits are fobbed off with filing jobs by older colleagues desperate to get on with some real work, Mr Whiteside was charged with finding solutions to some thorny problems that Martin Energy was having with a green energy project for the supermarket chain.

The intern, who still has two years of his science and maths course at Edinburgh university to complete, said: “The project really captured my imagination, and that really helped me to achieve so much.”

Alastair Martin, managing director of the energy business, said: “If Iain had not been an intern with us, we would still be struggling with this project. Iain did the analysis, programming and other secret bits that have made this happen.”

The undergraduate worked out how National Grid could take occasional control of the air conditioning in Tesco stores. This means the transmission business can briefly reduce energy use in the shops to offset sudden jumps in demand from other customers. National Grid will pay Tesco for its co-operation, which will in turn split the revenue with Martin.

Martin Energy expects the “demand buyback system” will be deployed across all Tesco shops in the UK over two years.

Mr Whiteside has won the title of “UK’s most enterprising student” in a programme sponsored by Shell. But his £1,000 prize pales into insignificance with the tens of millions of pounds his breakthrough is expected to generate for Tesco and Martin in the medium term. Might he not have done better to keep his knowledge to himself and set up his own consultancy to sell it?

Mr Whiteside said: “I would not have done that – it would have been acting in bad faith.” Mr Martin is now hoping to lock in his former intern with an attractive job offer. But Mr Whiteside says he has yet to decide what he will do after graduation.

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