“It’s a bit like the chicken nugget thing – children eat chicken nuggets but often don’t realize the whole chicken. This is about the whole process that goes with energy. Renewable energy is a bit like that, one of its biggest criticism is its visibility. We want people to have the realization that when they flick the switch there is a whole process, which sits behind that, and a whole set of consequences”. Matthew Clayton, Triodos Renewables
What is your work about?
I run Triodos Renewables PLC. Triodos Renewables was established 20 years ago. I have worked for them for 9.5 years nowTriodos Renewables was set up to provide a rewarding connection between individuals and renewable energy. In 2005 there was a shift in government policy around renewable’s and we really saw room for grow there. Since then we have been incrementally growing the number of investors and people putting into the company and also growing the business side of things. WE run 15 different renewable projects around the UK. One is Hydro and the rest are wind farms. We unite 5,800 people in the business through their shareholdings. We have grown 10 fold in capacity since 2006. One of our recent projects is at Avonmouth sewage treatment plant. We have built wind turbines there and it is a brown field/industrial site. It’s less controversial to build there. We secured the site and went out to raise some investment 380 people clubbed together and that allowed us to realize that site which now generates around 5000 homes with renewable power. We generate around 40,000 homes with power across the company. Each one of our shareholders is effectively generating power for themselves and 6 of their neighbours. We could have grown faster but we always wanted to have our feet firmly giving individuals access. Last October we reduced our minimum investment to 50 pounds to allow more people to get involved. Triodos Bank also only work with organic farmers, renewable energy and ethical investments. One of the ways we summarise it is by saying if you are lucky enough to have £3,000 and you want to put solar panels up on your roof, but you don’t own the roof or it faces the wrong way, if you put the same amount of money with us we can generate 7x as much renewable electricity from it. It’s a very environmentally efficient way of doing it.
What issues do you or did you address?
It’s a bit like the chicken nugget thing – children eat chicken nuggets but often don’t realize the whole chicken. This is about the whole process that goes with energy. Renewable energy is a bit like that, one of its biggest criticism is its visibility. We want people to have the realization that when they flick the switch there is a whole process, which sits behind that, and a whole set of consequences. The real principle is tying together and providing a relationship between a positive return and renewable energy. Our investors have a direct and real relationship with the renewable energy and by extension combating climate change. Last year the 20% of the UKs electricity demand was met by Renewable energy.
What moved you to take action?
It was the Chernobyl disaster that really kicked off this movement. Triodos Bank’s founders realised the needed to do something about energy. The guys who established it back then got the first assets in and really got it going. That was the trigger event to get Triodos involved in renewables.
What were the obstacles that you had to overcome?
I think the two biggest challenges are :
Energy policy – at a very high level I commend the government support and commitment, but at the day to day level and the way they pitch it to the press is very uncertain and difficult. Simplicity is key and if we were transparent about the realities and impact of the choices that need to be made, we’d get further faster.
The biggest challenge for me was in 2012. We had been working with a developer who had done everything properly for a two turbine site on the Suffolk coast. The development company ran out of money and went bust so we undertook to complete the project. Three years after the planning process we were building the project. Because there had been such a big gap between the planning and actually building it was a bit of a shock for the community. There was a really passionate anti feeling in the village. I thought the right way to address it was to meet the people and see what we could do. I was expecting 10/15 people and was greeted by 120 very passionate people. It was a very sobering experience; we are mission driven and want to do the right thing. We found that it was actually a couple of people with the main issues.
What helped you keep going in hard times? Was there a time when you thought you would give up? (What did you think or say to inspire your self to keep going?)
We were able to remedy the issue with the people by planting trees, education and changing the ways the turbines run. They generate slightly less power but they make less noise at sensitive times of the day. It was a great learning.
It is the right thing to do, we are the kind of organization that wants to do the right thing.
What first prompted you to become interested in environmental issues and when was that?
I have always enjoyed being immersed in nature and being outdoors. I loved scouts and being outside. I was one the first generations learning in geography about the ozone layer and rainforest degradation. I went on to do a geography degree and spent most of my time realizing that there was the economy and the environment and there was a conflict. I had a sense that I wanted to see if there was a win-win in there. I went in to energy because it was relevant for people. I went into trading of energy. There was one day when Yasser Arafat’s residence was bombed, the gas price went up and everyone in the office cheered. I thought really… is this where I want to be? At that point I looked for a different way to engage. I joined Energy for Sustainable Development, they had done some work around the Kyoto mechanisms. I worked around the world in Egypt, Bulgaria and Kenya. It was brilliant but my life was travelling. It got to the point where I wanted a base. I came across Triodos in Kenya and went for the role here. Both the emissions trading and now the renewable business allows me to be contribute to change by demonstrating that environmental, financial and social performance can be delivered hand in hand.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being very happy) where would you rate how you feel about your life?
What’s important for me is sitting comfortably in your skin, your relationships, your contribution and your heath. I would say I’m very high on that scale.