From New Age Traveller to wind-power tycoon

The story of Dale Vince

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Dale Vince was a grammar school pupil in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, but soon realised that he did not want a conventional career. He got his first taste of the hippie way of life at music festivals: “I’d seen people living in old buses and knew there was an alternative.”

So, at age 19, Vince decided to become a New Age traveller and his first home was an old ambulance. Eventually, he was living in a truck that he had converted into a home and he had an entire alternative lifestyle.

He had a little wind turbine to charge old batteries and even ran a laptop computer from it.

Vince wanted more, however, than to just lead a low-impact lifestyle, so he drove to Cornwall to see Britain’s first wind farm. It gave him the dream of building a wind turbine on the hill where he lived in Gloucestershire.

It took five years of challenges and appeals before he managed to get planning permission.

The next hurdle Vince was faced with was actually selling the power he generated. The energy sector had not yet been deregulated at that time and the price he was offered to supply the national grid was lower than he wanted.

Undaunted by that, however, he came up with a bold solution. He was going to cut out the middleman and supply the customers direct. At that time the electricity industry was just liberalising and it was possible for him to get a supplier licence.

The company he created, Ecotricity, has grown rapidly and now incorporates a wind-development arm, which deals with the turbines, and a retail arm, which delivers the energy to customers. In 2007 alone Ecotricity invested £25m in wind energy. In 2007-8 it made a £1.9m profit on £28m sales. It has £37.8m net assets and has been valued at more than £100m. Cautiously, in this difficult climate, we value Vince, 48, at £85m.

Green entrepreneurship is possible still today as it was then and all one needs, probably, is vision and the strength of conviction to make it all happen.

© 2010