Before the formation of Ecotricity in 1996, green electricity essentially did not exist. When the company brought the concept to market it became the world’s first green electricity company, kick-starting a global movement. Having spent the previous year studying the market and designing a new way of supplying electricity through an ‘embedded supply’ model that uses the local grid to match local customers to local generation, Ecotricity delivered green electricity to its first customer in April 1996 and by the end of the same year had built its first windmill.
Two years later the company took a massive step on the road to long-term success when it established a ground-breaking joint venture with Thames Water to produce and supply green electricity. It was this same joint venture that saw Ecotricity chosen as the sole supplier of energy to the Millennium Dome in 2000. The growing interest in the company only increased when later that same year the founder of the Body Shop chain, Anita Roddick, announced Ecotricity would supply all her shops.
In 2003 the company, which at the time only supplied electricity to businesses, began to bring what it termed the ‘green energy revolution’ into people’s lives by commencing the supply of green electricity to homes with six windmills now on its books. By 2005 the number of windmills had grown to 17 – two of which were used to supply power to motor company Ford at its Dagenham base – and domestic customer numbers were close to 8000.
Despite the difficult backdrop created by the global financial crisis, the company spent the years between 2008 and 2010 signing further contracts with both home owners and businesses, B&Q being one of the most prominent, bringing it to a point where, by the end of 2010, the company could claim a client base of some 45,000 people. Today growth in the generation and retail sides of the business should pull company turnover over £50 million this financial year. As if this wasn’t a big enough achievement, 2010 also marked the launch of the company’s Green Gas Tariff, the first green dual fuel tariff of its kind, and EcoBonds, a revolutionary way to fund green energy projects and share the benefits with its customers.
“We’re a not-for-dividend company with no shareholders to answer to, and we power more than 55,000 homes and businesses across Britain from our fleet of 53 windmills and one Sun Park,” states Ecotricity founder Dale Vince. “The company invests more per capita in building new sources of green energy than any other electricity company in Britain and is the only energy supplier in the country to be supported by both Oxfam and the Soil Association. We challenge traditional business thinking to achieve our mission. Ecotricity offers a radical business model based on the idea of social capitalism, an approach where customers are part of our team, ethical business is the norm and people and the environment come before the ‘bottom line’.
“Ecotricity’s 53 windmills include a 20-strong Wind Park at Fen Farm in Lincolnshire and eight at Bambers in the same county. Alongside these we also have a number of what we call ‘Merchant Windpower projects’ that supply electricity directly to companies like Sainsbury’s, Ford, Bristol Port and Michelin to power their operations and reduce carbon emissions. Our focus for 2012 is to build the 19 windmills across five locations for which we’ve already gained planning permission – and gain permission for another 50 or so for the following year.”
Ecotricity’s mission is to change how energy is made and used in Britain, to bring about Energy Independence and long term sustainability: “On the supply side, as well as green electricity, the company provides green gas and is developing projects to make green gas in Britain – Gasmills as we like to call them,” Dale continues. “Ecotricity is pushing beyond the boundaries of traditional energy companies to bring about the revolution we believe is needed across the Energy, Transport and Food sectors that account for approximately 80 per cent of everybody’s personal carbon footprint.”
As Dale goes on to stress, the work being carried out by the company could not be more important to the future of the energy industry: “As it stands right now, Britain is on the brink of what many rightly describe as an energy crisis. Our North Sea oil and gas reserves are all but depleted and this coincides with a massive rise in demand for fossil fuels from the developing world, a trend that has pushed prices above and beyond previous record levels. We believe it axiomatic that our country needs to become energy independent once more – through a massive investment in new sources of renewable energy.”
Continuing the pattern of bringing new, innovative green concepts to market, 2011 has seen the company launch its Electric Highway – the world’s first national network of charging points for electric vehicles: “Teaming up with the Welcome Break group of service stations to put charge points on all of Britain’s motorways, the aim of this undertaking is to create the infrastructure needed to get the electric car revolution in Britain moving,” Dale says. “This already links London to Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and Exeter and in the next six months we’ll complete the national network.”
This work is just one example of many that helped see Ecotricity recognised at the UK Growing Business Awards with the Company of the Year award in November 2011. This prestigious award was bestowed in recognition of a number of factors including the company’s superior customer service and its ability to increase its customer base by some 30 per cent in the last 12 months alone. The awards body was also keen to highlight Ecotricity’s innovative EcoBonds financing initiative and the fact that it became the first utility company in the UK to earn the gold standard EMAS European environmental accreditation.
“Ecotricity is an independent business that possesses a unique business model,” Dale says, explaining the qualities and characteristics that have brought the company such incredible success. “The money we make is used to build new sources of green electricity and gas, rather than pay dividends to shareholders or investors. Over the last seven years this approach has allowed the company to spend a higher proportion of its customers’ bill money on building new sources of green energy than any other energy business in the UK. In fact, as much as 82 per cent of this money has been reinvested in green solutions over the last seven years compared to an industry average of just eight per cent.”
“As important as this area of the business is to Ecotricity, so too is its commitment to providing real customer service, something that its staff truly believe in. Each phone call or enquiry is answered quickly and that first person that is spoken to resolves around 90 per cent of all queries there and then. If Ecotricity promises to do something, it follows through every time and in the event that something goes wrong it has its own in-house ‘Customer Champion’ to fix the issue, in most cases within 24 hours or less.”
With a strategy in place to triple the number of windmills currently on order, to proceed with its rollout of motorway charge points and to increase its customer base, Ecotricity will push forward in pursuit of bringing to life its vision of a Green Britain. This is a place where us Britons all live a more sustainable and meaningful life and ethical business, conducted by companies pursuing outcomes rather than simply profit, is the norm, not the exception.