Meeting of minds
Dale Vince is the daddy of the eco-energy movement, founding Britain’s only truly green power company, Ecotricity. He talks to the big mama of the vegan movement (!), Viva!’s founder Juliet Gellatley...
The concept of green energy has been around for a long time but it wasn’t until Dale Vince founded Ecotricity that consumers were offered the genuine ability to buy it. That was 1995 and today Ecotricity supplies 35,000 UK customers and has invested over £50 million in building wind turbines.
So who is Dale with his OBE and green business awards by the bucketful and what inspired him to take this path? I met him at his Stroud HQ in a characterful building which mixes the quaint with the ultra modern. His office, unlike mine, is minimalist – to the degree where I thought it was a meeting room and asked if I could continue to use it to talk to his marketing staff!
His past is refreshingly unconventional. He left school at 15 with nine O-levels but no desire to follow the usual route to jobs and money. He explains:
“I’ve been concerned about the sustainability of life since I was a kid and had a different set of beliefs to most people around me. I didn’t want the mortgage or career I felt were being forced down my throat by the system. I quit town and house to live in buses, trucks and benders. I was searching for an alternative way to live and was what the media would call a ‘new age traveller’.”
Dale spent some of this life as a peace campaigner, occupying the Molesworth air base in Cambridgeshire. And at one Glastonbury festival he rigged up a windpowered telephone for fellow revellers!
He continues: “In the early 90’s I was living on a hill, in an old military vehicle I called home, using a small windmill to power the lights. That’s when I was inspired to ‘drop in’ and promote the use of large-scale wind energy. That was the start of this long journey.
“The idea for Ecotricity came about a few years later – getting a fair price for wind power so that more could be built. Green electricity just didn’t exist as a choice back then. I built my first windmill in ‘96 after a five year battle with NIMBY’s, bigots, planners, big power companies – you name it!”
Like Viva!, Ecotricity started off as a one person band on the back of a few quid, both launched around the same time and have moved from the fringes to mainstream(ish) in double quick time.
Another thing we have in common – I support his aims and Dale mine. Sadly, there are still people who call themselves environmentalists and green campaigners who aren’t vegetarian or vegan. Thankfully, Dale has joined the dots.
“In 1998 I was in Buenos Aires at the follow up to the Kyoto conference and I had dinner with several Greenpeace people. We’d been arguing all day in a friendly way about saving the environment and I assumed they were hardcore environmentalists. And then they stunned me when they all ordered big fat steaks at dinner, and rare at that…!
“I went vegetarian when I left home and started to feed myself. Meat has always revolted me but I came from a family of meat eaters to whom my ideas were heresy. But the world has moved on massively and Viva! has played a big part in that – today vegetarianism is a pretty normal lifestyle choice. Give it another few years and vegan lifestyles will be, too.
“My reasons for not eating meat were always taste, cruelty and health – by which I mean it is revolting as a food and a concept; it involves the most absurd cruelty, an animal holocaust; and it’s bad for human health. These ideas have found root but it’s only recently that I’ve seen diet as an environmental issue. The enormous carbon footprint of a meat and dairy diet and the incredible waste of resources involved – truly, you could feed at least 10 vegans for every meat eater in the world.
“And then there’s fish. The speed at which the seas are being hoovered clear of life is frightening. Three quarters of ocean ecosystems are collapsing and over 80 per cent of fish species are on the road to extinction. Much of what we take from the sea we feed to other animals! Has our world gone mad?
“Viva!’s environment campaign is so important – if you care about the planet you should be vegan. And it’s not so hard to do.”
I asked Dale what I am now asked all the time. If global warming reaches crisis point and the world is shattered with extreme weather events, will our noble spirit fly or does he think it’s going to bring out the worst in us?
“Probably bring out the worst! But if we can work together to act now, to spearhead change, we won’t need to face that catastrophic point. Hopefully, we’ll have time to create a better world and democracy as we currently know it won’t do it. Governments are interested in short term gain and profits. I really do think democracy is a bit of a mockery. My interest is the next industrial revolution – how to live without burning up the planet?”
And that brings us on to our next topic – one which I’m secretly excited by. I’d given up on ever buying a sports car and am resigned to plodding along like Noddy in an eco car, beep beep (yes, only when I can’t train it) but guess what’s in the pipeline.
Dale enlightens: “Transport is one of the really big issues we have to face up to. How are we all going to get around post oil and post carbon? I think the answer is electric cars – cars charged using wind energy.
“We’re building one right now – a car to smash the stereotype. An out and out sports car. Capable of 0 to 60 faster than a V12 Ferrari, able to top 100 mph for sure and do 150 miles on one ‘tank’. All with zero emissions. Cake and eat it! Petrol head meets zero carbonista!
“We’re making this car with current technology, throwing down the gauntlet to the big car companies. If we can do it why the hell can’t you? They aren’t doing nearly enough. They bleat about needing decades and billions of pounds to perfect fuel cell technology. With that comes the need for big new infrastructure – hydrogen infrastructure – and that’ll take decades, too. I think they’re hooked on burning things, hooked on the internal combustion engine – it’s what they know, what they’ve built their business around and they don’t want to move to cars without engines.
“Modern batteries can be charged in 20 minutes or so if you have a threephase supply – and guess what every petrol station in the UK has? So the infrastructure for electric cars is already in place. Picture a world where you pull into a garage, plug into one of a row of charging posts, go and have a coffee, take 20 minutes off and drive out with a ‘full tank’. More than possible. Much more than.”
Ecotricity are clearly green energy pioneers. What surprised me is the amount they spend on renewable energy sources compared to their competitors – more per customer each year than all the other UK electricity companies put together – by a long way.
And yet energy companies are always boasting of greening up. How do you know if it’s just marketing and hype? Dale’s been asked that one before!:
“Just look at how much each electricity company spends building new sources of green electricity each year. We call it ‘New Energy’ – the only electricity that does anything to reduce CO2 emissions and our dependence on fossil fuels, the stuff that gets built today and tomorrow. If you’re not building you’re not achieving anything green at all.
“Some energy companies are bigger than others of course so to get meaningful comparisons you need to see how much is spent per customer.”
I looked at www.whichgreen.org, which shows the spend per customer. The results are staggering, enough to make your hair stand on end! In 2007 Ecotricity spent £555 per customer, compared to a measly £17.28 by Powergen, £3.89 by Npower and £2.63 by Scottish Power! Let the big boys wriggle out of that one.
I’m proud to be in partnership with Ecotricity. The world is choking to death and desperately needs all of us to take responsibility for our actions. The solutions are staring us in the face. Fossil fuels and animal consumption are the two biggest causes of global warming – Viva! and Ecotricity are a force whose time has come.
It’s fast and easy to switch to Ecotricity (they promise to match the standard price of your regional supplier) – and Ecotricity will donate £15 to Viva!. Go to www.ecotricity.com/viva or call 0800 0326 100. Please mention Viva! when you do. Thank you!