In December of last year, we published an interview with Dale Vince. In case you are not aware, Dale Vince built up a renewable energy company in the UK, which is a not-for-dividend company, and has as its aim not just to make a profit, but to use the money it makes to invest in more renewable energy systems and schemes to enhance the environment locally and nationally. Dale also initiated and developed the rapid charging network on the motorway system, starting in 2011, and is therefore mainly responsible for enabling a market for electric vehicles in the UK. He is therefore a very important figure in the clean tech world, and we were very privileged to be allowed an extensive interview.
We consider this such an important interview that we are running it again, because, as you know, we publish such a lot of high quality content every day, that it is easy for people to miss important things, so we are giving everyone a second chance to catch this interview with one of Clean Tech’s greats.
Rather than just repeating what we published before, I have broken the interview up into separate parts, and am running a series of articles, which will include new material by way of a review of what was discussed, what has happened since, and what we can look for in the future.
The first in the series covered the fascinating story of how Dale started with absolutely nothing, and without borrowing from banks, or having shareholders to cater for, built up a £multi-million business in the renewable energy sector.
The second was dedicated to the remarkable Electric Highway fast charging network in the UK started in 2011, and largely responsible for creating a market for electric vehicles in the UK.
This is the third article in the series where we delve into Dale’s plans for the future.
Dale Vince, the founder and Managing Director of Ecotricity, gave this interview on 16th November 2017, and I am very pleased to present the third part of it here.
Q: Things have gone from strength to strength since you started, with more embedded supply contracts, and by 2015 supplying nearly 90,000 homes with green energy. Ecotricity is now a well-established force in the UK energy market. It has been a huge success. Do you still have big ideas for the future, and do you intend to diversify into energy sources other than wind, such as solar farms?
Solar: Yeah, we’ve built a solar farm. We built the first one in 2010, just before the Conservative government closed it down as an industry with a future. But that’s coming back: the price of solar panels has fallen so quickly since then that we can see the day coming soon when we can recommence our solar program. (It has recommenced since this interview)
Marine Hydro: We’ve got some interests in wave power and tidal power: these are R&D projects at the moment.
Gas From Grass We’ve got green gas. We unveiled a concept recently to make gas in England from grass. We published a paper that showed that maximizing land use in Britain, we could produce enough gas for just about all of Britain’s homes from green gas, which is carbon neutral, creates massive wildlife habitats, and won’t compete with food production. It would create 100,000 jobs, and be of massive economic benefit to this country.
Energy Storage: We are just getting into grid-scale energy storage, and have planning permission today for 10 MW, our first big project, and we have home-scale energy storage with our black-box, which has been in R&D for a while, and should be in the world in the first quarter of next year, and that’s quite exciting.
Water Purification: We have a water device coming out of our labs next year, which recycles all our household waste water, from rain, drains, and even toilets, and turns it into better than tap-quality drinking water, which is quite exciting. We have various other applications in development.
Electric Vehicles: And yes, have we got any big ideas? Yes, our electric car and electric van projects, which are going really well, on the cusp of mad growth, because the sector is that way.
Eco-Talk Mobile Phone Service: We are just launching a UK mobile phone service, called Eco-talk, this year. That’s a carbon-free mobile service, piggy-backing on one of the big networks, harnessing our customer phone bills, and using them for buying land to create habitats for nature.
Top-Secret: And then, one more top-secret project that will be announced next summer, which for me is probably the most incredible and crazy idea we’ve ever come up with.
Anything we have left out?
Q: Top-secret? Sounds intriguing. I’ve just signed up to the phone service: I was just waiting for the contract to end with the previous supplier. It has been great to have this opportunity to ask you questions about the huge achievement that Ecotricity has made towards putting green energy on the map. This has been your own personal vision, and you have provided the driving force to bring it to fruition. It all makes an inspiring story. Is there anything else you would like to say, to add any details to that story, which we have not yet covered?
No, I don’t really think so. The questions have been well researched, and well structured. Thank you for the opportunity.
Q: Thank you so much for this interview. I have learned such a lot, and your answers have been so insightful, and detailed. It has been really fascinating, and I’m sure our readers will feel the same. We wish you and your enterprise every success in the future. I can’t wait to hear more about your EV projects, and that top-secret project you mentioned, when its finally announced. Perhaps you will allow us to do an article about those too. Thank you very much.
I’d love to have a peek at his R&D lab to see all those fascinating projects in the pipeline. Maybe a chance for a future article. I did approach Ecotricity for an update on these items but their response was, “come back to us in about 3 months time.” I am not sure if that was a “don’t call us; we’ll call you” type of response, but either way it was not very helpful, and Dale’s Top-Secret device remains as secret as ever.
Forest Green Rovers Football Club
I know Dale is a football (soccer) fan, and currently devotes much time and energy to his own Forest Green Rovers Football Club. I found an item on the web site as follows:
“Forest Green Rovers is the greenest football club in Britain, and the only vegan club in the world. Forest Green Rovers spreads the message of sustainability to the world of sport, and is successful on the pitch too, having been promoted to League Two in the 2016/17 football season.”
As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, Dale is working on an eco-park, which will include a new 5000 seat stadium for Forest Green Rovers.
The 10MW of storage he mentioned appears to be at Alveston in Gloucestershire, which is the last onshore wind farm they have been allowed to build. As I have mentioned before, the perverse UK Tory government designates fracking wells as “Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects,” allowing them to be foisted on to local communities and local governments, who are fighting every inch of the way to stop them. Onshore wind farms, on the other hand, as they might obscure the view from some wealthy Tory donor’s mansion house windows, are a blot on the landscape, to be obstructed by corrupting the planning laws to make it almost impossible to get permission, and also by banning onshore wind farms from bidding in renewable energy provider auctions. As the old biblical saying goes, “By their fruits you will know them.” Our Tory government is well known for its honeyed words and bitter deeds.
Not to be deterred, Dale has started a company, Britwind, to manufacture and install private small wind turbines for domestic and business use. The domestic turbine is vertical, and aptly named an “Urbine.” The item on their site about the company is as follows:
Britwind is a step up for the small wind industry, delivering 100% British windmills to landowners, and businesses across Britain.
Britwind brings big wind performance to small wind – producing energy at almost half the cost of the best selling small windmill on the market.
The company unites experts with unrivalled experience, and ability from both the big, and small wind industry – designing radical new horizontal, and vertical axis windmills that will bring lower bills, and energy independence to people in Britain.
And it’s all designed, and made right here in this country – vertically integrated, fully British from start to finish.
Dale says –
“We’re proud to be able to make cutting-edge, small windmills right here in Britain., and this is only the beginning for Britwind; we’ll see much more innovation come out of research, and development.”
There’s plenty of wind, in built up areas, and other places that don’t suit a full-sized, or conventional windmill.
To harness this wind we came up with the Urbine concept – our urban wind turbine.
The Urbine is what’s known as a ‘vertical axis turbine’ – instead of having blades on one side that rotate like the hands of a clock (for example), and face the direction of the wind like a conventional (old school) windmill, vertical axis windmills rotate around their tower, and the blades catch the wind, whatever direction it comes from.
There’s a certain elegance in the look of these vertical axis machines – there’s also an elegance in their engineering, and their interaction with the wind. That’s what attracted us.
Our prototype Urbine is installed at the site of our first windmill, at Lynch Knoll in Stroud, where we carry out rigorous testing on it. It’s one big step on the way to the finished article.
I also found on the Ecotricity site some other avenues Dale is exploring to increase renewable energy despite the insane government we have here. I found the following references for marine energy projects:
Ecotricity has today presented the government with two alternative tidal lagoon proposals, ahead of a joint select committee review of the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project ……(Swansea Bay has since been rejected on cost grounds)…….
The two new plans unveiled today are in the Solway Firth, one on the English side of the border, and the other on the Scottish side. Both projects would generate as much electricity as the Swansea Bay proposal, but at half the cost to build. That means they can make electricity for half the cost.
The superior economics of these proposals are delivered by siting the lagoons offshore instead of onshore. Offshore tidal lagoons cost less to build, operate more efficiently, and have significantly less environmental impact.
Ecotricity have partnered with Tidal Electric – the originators of the tidal lagoon concept, to develop the Solway sites; …..
Dale Vince, founder of Ecotricity, said: “The government has done well to resist the last couple of years of intense lobbying pressure from backers of the Swansea scheme, ……….. The case for an open competitive process, to kick start this nascent industry, and ensure value for public money, remains compelling.”
Dale is also involved in wave energy by supporting, and partnering specific projects in the development stage. I found the following reference on their site –
Green energy from the sea
As an island we’re surrounded by the sea, of course we are – less obvious perhaps is that it’s a potentially vast source of renewable electricity, if we can develop the technology to harness it effectively.
Whether it’s the ebb, and flow of the tides, the movement of marine currents, or the oscillation of waves, these truly vast energy sources present serious technological challenges – electricity, and water aren’t a natural fit after all 🙂 -, and they’re not currently commercially viable.
We’d like to add the power of the sea to our green electricity mix, to join the power of the wind, and energy from the sun. So we’re working in partnership with a number of organisations to see if we can turn the concept into reality.
We already produce green energy by harnessing the power of the wind, and the sun – now we’re developing seamills using the power of the sea. This innovation is called Searaser, and it gives us low cost energy on demand.
Invented by Devon engineer Alvin Smith, Searaser harnesses the almost constant power of ocean swells to create electricity on demand.
It’s such a simple design, and we believe it’ll produce electricity cheaper than any other wave-power technology, or indeed any other type of renewable energy.
Potentially it could be cheaper than all existing sources of electricity – including gas, coal, and nuclear –, and it’s carbon free.
How it works
Most existing wave technologies generate electricity in the ocean environment. But as we know water, and electricity don’t mix – and seawater is particularly corrosive – so most other devices are very expensive to manufacture, and maintain.
But Searaser doesn’t generate the electricity in the water. It simply uses the almost constant motion of the ocean swell to drive seawater through an onshore turbine.
Searaser pumps seawater using a vertical piston between two buoys – one on the surface of the water – the other suspended underwater, and tethered to a weight on the seabed. As the ocean swell moves, the buoys move up-and-down, and the piston pumps pressurised seawater through pipes to an onshore turbine. This produces electricity.
Searaser units could also supply energy on-demand by pumping seawater into a coastal reservoir, with a hydropower turbine, solving renewable energy’s problem of fluctuating output.
The Electric Highway
The Electric Highway currently stands at around 300 charging stations, which is quite an achievement. I know Dale has plans to extend it to destinations, and has made a start with IKEA, which has installed fast chargers at all its major UK stores. He mentioned plans to extend it to London at existing large fuel stations. I have found an item on the site with more detail about that as follows:
The Electric Highway, Britain’s leading electric car charging network, will expand into London next year, (this year), with 30 new electricity pumps set to be installed on petrol station forecourts.
The move makes Ecotricity the largest rapid charging provider in the capital, with the electricity pumps placed at key commuter points across London to help bring the benefits of emission free electric driving to some of the country’s busiest roads.
The Ecotricity pumps will be installed on Motor Fuel Group’s (MFG) Shell, BP, and Texaco branded service stations in the first half of 2018.
Jeremy Clarke, MFG’s chief operating officer, said:
“We are delighted to be extending our fuel offer to customers. The growth of the electric, and hybrid vehicle market is an important part of the fuel mix going forward. MFG is determined to be at the forefront of this technology, satisfying this growing demand.”
The Electric Highway is the most popular charging network in the country by far, having powered almost 8 million miles so far this year, providing almost 1,300 MWh of electricity for drivers.
Dale Vince, founder of Ecotricity, and the Electric Highway, said:
“We began building the Electric Highway when there were almost no electric vehicles on the road, but we wanted to kickstart the revolution. Now there are around 40 models to choose from, falling prices, and a growing number of drivers. Having established the network on motorways where it was needed most, we are now moving into the major towns, and cities on petrol station forecourts. The day is coming where charging an electric vehicle will be no different to what we’ve come to expect – just popping to a forecourt to refuel.”
The network was launched by Ecotricity in 2011, and has now powered almost 50 million miles of emission-free electric driving, all supplied by energy from the wind, and the sun.
IKEA – Destination Chargers
Dale Vince, founder of Ecotricity, said:
“The Electric Highway is fast becoming vital to the electric car revolution. We began by installing fast-chargers on core motorways to enable electric vehicles to be driven on long journeys, and we are now including key destinations, of, which IKEA are the first. Our vision is to be able to travel the length, and breadth of the country in an electric car.”
Ecotricity Energy Suppliers
Ecotricity continues to expand as a domestic supplier, and it now supplies 200,000 homes. That roughly translates, at an average energy bill of £1000 per year, to £200,000,000 turnover for domestic supply alone. Ecotricity also supplies businesses, and has revenue from the Electric Highway. It is a huge commercial success, and remains a private company. It has raised £50,000,000 of extra capital by issues of “Green Bonds” to members of the public wanting to invest in Ecotricity. These Green Bonds not only raise capital, but provide an opportunity for savers to be able to join in the green revolution by investing, and benefiting financially.