Entrepreneur turns adversity into thriving Riverland business

By Ian Williams

It was an email that could have broken the spirit of less entrepreneurial people.

Riverland electrical contractor Mark Yates was on honeymoon in Bali when he suddenly found himself out of work and broke. The solar company he was working for had gone into liquidation owing him a six-figure sum.

That was in 2011. Today Mark, 32, is the owner of successful Paringa-based renewable energy company Yates Electrical Services (YES) employing 20 electricians and apprentices.

He’s also just launched his latest exciting new venture, Redmud Green Energy, an innovative solar scheme designed to help landowners tap into the growing national energy market.

“That email was the worst wedding present possible,” said Mark. “I didn’t want to spoil our honeymoon but my wife Sarah picked up straightaway that something was wrong.”

They immediately started work on a plan. Back in the Riverland they sold their house and offered a 10 per cent discount to everyone who had paid a deposit to the bankrupt firm if they used Mark to complete their solar installation.

“According to our sums the falling cost of solar products meant our discount was viable,” said Mark. “We advertised our offer on local radio and it triggered the craziest 12 months of my life. I’ve never been so busy.”

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Mark Yates, owner of Yates Electrical Services

Since then YES has completed more than 1,000 solar installations, and won major contracts for high voltage substations, wind towers and control rooms around Australia.

His new venture, Redmud, has been greeted with similar enthusiasm by the Riverland business community. Mark is offering to install solar arrays on vacant land so local landowners can take advantage of government incentives and sell electricity into the national grid.

He’s built his own test site, a 180 kW solar array in Renmark, which he estimates can earn $40,000 a year depending on the market price for electricity.

“We’ve been flooded with inquiries because it means that people reliant on traditional industries, such as growing grapes or citrus, can have an alternative income stream in tough times,” said Mark. “The scheme ticks all the boxes because land here is cheap and the market for electricity should be good in coming years as coal-fired stations shut down.”

Mark estimates it will cost $250,000 to $400,000 to install each 180 kW array depending on the site. An array of this size if capable of producing about 1 MW of power each day.

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