Founder of Ecotricity, Dale Vince has single-handedly changed the face of the energy industry. When he created Ecotricity in 1996 it represented the world’s first renewable energy company and its ethos is still to invest every penny paid from its customers back into new green energy build in the UK. With 13 wind parks operational, and nine more planned, as well an ecotricity forest complete with 20,000 saplings in the ground, his company are putting their money where their mouth is. It’s been a long journey from a caravan in a field in Stroud. We ask him, what happened in between?
Q: What’s the best thing about living in the South West?
A: I live in Stroud, which is a very interesting place – it’s quite green and alternative. I like it because it’s got character. I was living as a new age traveller and I passed through Stroud and kind of settled here. One of the best things about living here for me is the countryside – I go out walking every day.
What would you like to see more of in this area?
Windmills, because we’ve hardly got any and we need to be getting a certain percentage of our energy from wind in the next decade in order to make a real move against climate change.
Are you responsible for the turbines that have just been erected at Avonmouth?
Yes, we built those three and they’ll almost power the entire port each year, in the process saving about 15,000 tons of carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere.
I think they’re lovely – you can see them from the motorway, which is really important because nine out of ten people around here will not have seen a wind turbine in the flesh and I think these machines are going to spark and drive a debate now and no doubt lead to more wind turbines in the South West. I’m certain of it.
What’s your biggest achievement?
It has to be Ecotricity, the world’s first green electricity company. We started in 1995 at a time when nobody had come up with the idea of supplying green electricity and we started it here in Stroud. To get from what was at that time a bizarre concept to where we are today is great.
How did Ecotricity come about?
I was a travelling hippy, parked on a hill outside Stroud in the early 1990s using a small wind turbine to power my home and I decided to drop-in from my dropped-out life-style in order to pursue the idea of building wind turbines, which was a new idea at that point in the UK. So I just began the journey of learning more about big wind turbines and technology, the ergonomics of planning and all that kind of stuff. Then along the way I realised that to get a fair price for the electricity we needed to actually be an electricity company. And so I got a supply licence and just started to build the company from there.
I’m not a person lacking in confidence so I didn’t give it a lot of thought really, I just did it. And yes, it’s been a steep learning curve but I’ve loved every minute of it. And I do things my own way. I don’t go to meetings I don’t want to and I don’t wear clothes that I don’t want to, I’m myself.
It’s great to be able to do that and it’s also interesting because we do meet with banks and business people and borrow tens of millions of pounds and I think it’s an eye opener for people like that because they all put a suit on to meet us, but me and the rest of my team wear what we like. We are not driven by that sheep mentality where everybody wears the same grey suit so that they don’t look different – it’s a terrible waste of life to run around just trying to blend in.
What has been your biggest mistake?
Starting an electricity company! It’s been a massive job and half of me thinks that if I knew what it was going to be like in the beginning I wouldn’t have done it. It’s been a real rollercoaster – there’s been massive upheaval in the industry, changing processes and systems, bankruptcies of big companies etc. and we’ve had to survive all of that. Then of course we’ve had to build the infrastructure for computer systems for billing and customer registration and call centres and all this technical stuff. It’s a full-on, seven-day-a-week job and now we’re just cresting the rise of that long slog. But, I didn’t found Ecotricity in order to make money, I founded it to change the way electricity is made to fight climate change and that’s what we carry on doing.
What drives you mad?
Injustice in the world, of any kind. It doesn’t matter if it’s big picture stuff like in the Middle East or a more local issue with a planning decision or false claims in newspapers, any kind of injustice whether it’s personal or global makes me very angry.
What gets you into trouble?
My mouth probably! And my refusal to back down or be pushed around by the corporate world. I’ve definitely got into some scrapes because of it, but I wouldn’t do it any differently.
What’s your favourite book?
I read a great book a couple of weeks ago, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday. I don’t know if I’d say it’s my favourite but it’s one I’ve read recently and it’s a lovely story.
What was the last cultural event you enjoyed?
I’m a bit of a film buff. I don’t have a TV, but I do watch a lot of films and I went to the pictures last week and saw a Jodie Foster film. Does that qualify as cultural?
What has been your best trip/holiday?
I took a trip in Egypt a few years ago and went down to the border with Sudan to a shanty-town with a camel market. We set off at dawn, it was rebel country so there was hardly any traffic on the roads, but plenty of army roadblocks and checkpoints and it was a real experience.
I’m not a big fan of travelling to be honest, which is weird for an ex-traveller! You have to fight to get me out of Stroud. I prefer staying here and getting on with the job.
How do you relax?
Walking and running every morning and riding my motorbike to work every day. I’m very conscious of the whole life/work balance. I put in a lot of work to get us to where we are but I don’t want to be doing this forever. I’m not saying I want to retire but I certainly don’t want to be working seven days a week forever.
What has life has taught you?
Be your own person – think for yourself and act for yourself. Being independent in thought and action is very important because it gives you confidence and a sense of belief in whatever it is you want to do.
interviewed by Fiona McClymont • photo by Jo Halladey
first published issue 51 - winter 07/08
Disclaimer – details were correct at time of going to press, but may now have changed. Please make your own checks.
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