Since founding the company more than 20 years ago, Ecotricity has gone from strength to strength under Dale Vince’s direction. Hailed by The Sunday Times as one of the most disruptive companies in the country, the clean utility has brought wind, solar and green gas to the masses. But it isn’t stopping there. With SunEdison’s rooftop solar business ready to bring out of hiatus, a residential storage product emerging from development and at least one eye on acquisitions, Ecotricity is preparing itself for the long game. Inside Clean Energy spoke to Dale Vince to find out what else he has up his sleeve.
Ecotricity was recently lauded by The Sunday Times as one of the most disruptive companies in the UK. What did you make of that accolade?
It's the kind of language venture capitalists use, along with 'gamechanger', but I kind of embrace it in our own terms. We're a 20-year old company, and to still be considered disruptive I think is a good thing. We kind of like that.
You're involved in a lot of technologies, from wind to solar and green gas, is it a difficult balancing act for a company like yourselves?
It's what we're here for. When we started in 1995 we brought green electricity to the world. You couldn't buy it before. Then we did it with gas in 2010 and the Electric Highway [Ecotricity's EV charging network]. Bringing that change to the world is what we live for. All of the growth just follows in the wake of that. We don't seek it, but it comes. And that's good because it empowers us to do more. You know that old expression 'do you live to eat, or eat to live'? We eat to live. We make money to do our job.
Is that good mantra to adopt for a company wedded to renewables, which has had an uncertain time of late?
There has been a lot of upheaval. I see that as a good and a bad thing. It's bad generally for the sector, but it's the weeding out that comes with it that's the good thing. A lot of people piled into feed-in tariffs for example, a lot of city money men piled into solar rooftop funds and stuff like that, almost milking the system. I think the feed-in tariffs were overgenerous to start with anyway, and that created this gold rush. A whole rash of small windmills were made by people who didn't know what they were doing for example, and all of these things have the risk of giving renewable energy a bad name. It's weeded out the people that were in it for the short term gain.
With the contraction of subsidies - both utility and residential-scale - what's needed to nudge renewables towards grid parity?
That's called a Contract for Difference, isn't it? At least that's what they call it when nuclear gets it.
It's also been a difficult time for independent energy suppliers with volatility in the power price market, should the government be doing more to support them?
It's definitely a difficult environment. One of the things government has done to make it harder for small green suppliers is to apply a carbon tax to green energy. That's cost us about £1 million a year and it's an incredible thing to do. That's on top of the grid volatility, supply issues and general market conditions. CfDs are also imposing big new costs on suppliers as well, and that's even before Hinkley gets built. It's going to be monstrous when it does.
There are a lot of government schemes paid for through energy bills, and I think they should all be removed and paid for through general taxation. I think it's unique in energy that so many government schemes are paid for by energy bill payers, and that's a regressive way to get them paid as well.
This article originally appeared in issue three of Inside Clean Energy magazine. To view the article in full, and to read the rest of the magazine, fill out the form below to download the entire issue for free.