A sustainable future, empowered communities and rural growth – renewable energy can tick a lot of boxes, but is not without its challenges. Good Energy CEO Juliet Davenport fills us in
Juliet Davenport has an impressive CV. She’s the founder and chief executive of Good Energy, a visionary energy company that sources all its power from local, renewable sources across the UK. The company has won several awards including the Sunday Times Best Green Company and the Observer’s Ethical Award for best online retail initiative. In 2012 Davenport was named as PLUS CEO of the year, and at the beginning of 2013 she was awarded an OBE for her services to the renewable energy sector.
Positive News: Why did you start up Good Energy? Where did the idea for such an organisation originate from?
Davenport: The journey really started when I was at university. I did metrology as part of my final degree and we were studying climate change, looking at the issues, and I thought, “Right, this is the area I want to do something about.” I wasn’t quite sure where to go from there, but I realised that I needed to understand more about the energy market, which is a key driver in terms of carbon emissions. I spent some time in Brussels looking at European energy policy, understanding the European and worldwide energy scene, what the drivers were, and then came back to the UK and got quite disappointed with the lack of progress on renewable policy here. But I was lucky enough to meet an entrepreneur from Germany who felt the same, and together we thought, let’s try to create a retail product and involve individuals in making this change.
How do you view the role of renewables moving forward?
Renewables is a really interesting area because it challenges a lot of the old-fashioned thinking around energy. First of all, it’s not big and centralised. It’s actually de-centralised – it’s among the people – so it becomes communities and individuals that host renewables. The issue you’ve got is that it’s not always there, it does change because of the weather, so that’s something that’s a challenge, but there are lots of ways technologies and human behaviour can meet that challenge.
Do you think it is possible for consumers and communities to be empowered through renewables?
Completely. The thing about renewables is that it gives people the opportunity to actually own and operate power systems themselves. So traditionally we’ve just switched on the lights and completely forgotten about the very large coal or gas power station at the end of the wires, chugging away producing the power that we need – by generating our own, we’re aware of energy. I did a small study on the original people that signed up with us, who did generate their power through solar, and around 65% of those people used less energy as a result of installing those solar panels.
What are your thoughts on the investment opportunities involved in renewables, particularly in regards to community ownership schemes?
I think it really depends on the communities. Some communities will be very capable because they will have people within those communities who will understand how to make investments, and I think we’ve seen that already with certain initiatives. One of the best examples is probably Westmill Farm, where Adam Twine, who is the organic farmer that owns the land, has invested in a solar farm and a windfarm. Essentially, Adam worked to get the site developed, and then the community bought that back from the developer once it was built. Adam is just a visionary, he’s brilliant.
You’ve also got the Isle of Gigha in Scotland, where the community has put three turbines in. They raised the money themselves through various funds and that is now a long-term annuity to that island. Could you tell us more about the Good Energy local tariff initiative?
One of the things that was repeated every time I went and talked to people about developing windfarms was, ‘How can I benefit from it? Can I buy cheap electricity?’. In this case, with the windfarm in Delabole in Devon, we had to wait until the windfarm was operational, and then did a load of work on the regulatory aspect of it all, but found that yes, that could happen, and we were then able to sell power to approximately 250 homes within 2km of the site at a 20% discount.
Do you hope to roll it out in more places across the UK?
Yes, that’s the plan, that every windfarm has its own community that is supplied with energy at a discount. A lot of farms are in rural communities that have issues with infrastructure and wealth creation, and what we’re trying to do is to put some wealth back into those areas, so it becomes more cost-effective to live there.