"I CHANGE the campaign for clean energy by creating a commercial success in the solar sector to help show the way."
—Jeremy Leggett, Founding Director of Solarcentury and Chairman of SolarAid
I’m a social entrepreneur and writer. I helped found Solarcentury and SolarAid so that I could act as well as talk about my fears of climate change and my hopes of a global energy transition with which to abate it. I am a historian, futurist, minor investor in clean energy, and author of four books on the climate-and-energy nexus. I also chair Carbon Tracker, a climate-and-finance think tank analyzing climate risk in the capital markets.
Solarcentury is an international solar company, headquartered in London, active in 9 countries in the EU, Africa, and South and Central America. Annual revenue exceeds US $300 million, and our cash is uniquely good for a solar company of our size. Each year since 2009 has been
profitable, with the fifth fastest- growing profits (of all kinds of UK companies) in the latest Sunday Times compilation of such (2013-2015). We give 5% of our annual profits to a charity of our own creation, SolarAid.
Solarcentury’s business is divided into a projects arm and a residential business. In the former, the company is both a developer and an EPC, installing solar farms (largest 50 MW to date), commercial and industrial roofs (largest 5MW to date), and solar hybrid power plants (where we are one of only a few with MW-scale experience). We are the largest EPC in the UK, and the first company to install more than 500 MW. Other records include the largest solar facade in the world (Co-operative Bank, Manchester), the largest solar bridge in the world (Blackfriars, London), the largest solar roof in the UK (Bentley factory, Crewe), the largest solar farm in East Africa (Changoi, Kenya), the largest solar roof in East Africa (Garden City, Nairobi), and the largest hybrid project in Africa (Kenya, underway).
In its residential business, Solarcentury is partnered with IKEA – which recently announced the goal of being the biggest retailer of residential solar roofs in the world – selling domestic solar systems in Europe. Unique among downstream solar PV companies, Solarcentury manufactures and distributes proprietary BiPV products. The company has invested many US$m in R&D into its residential product range over the past 15 years, and won many awards, including a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Innovation (2011). Our latest BIPV product, called Sunstation, has just been launched. The key differentiator between this product and any other BIPV offer is that it is cost comparable with on-roof solar. This has always been the holy grail of BIPV and the Solarcentury innovation team have achieved this through smart design. Unlike most BIPV systems, Sunstation's manufacture is highly automated. It has a low-component count and is simple to install. The product is TUV certified and has already received a global iF design award. We have high hopes this will help finally crack open a global mass market for residential solar roofs.
Meanwhile, SolarAid has enjoyed growth too, pursuing a mission of playing lead role in displacing kerosene use with solar lighting in Africa. The charity owns a retail brand SunnyMoney (2008-present) that was until recently Africa’s top-seller of solar lighting, having sold more than 1.8 million solar lights, most in 2013 and 2014. Our intention was for all profits to be recycled to the cause, but after SolarAid’s success catalysing the first two solar lighting markets on the continent (Kenya and Tanzania), and nearing breakeven in both, we hit a rocky period, and learned some hard lessons. We hope we have stabilized our crisis by spinning off the retail arms in the two catalyzed markets, and will focus our efforts on the countries we have been in for a while, but have yet to catalyze Zambia, Malawi and Uganda. We will also add some solar-powered disaster relief work, worldwide, to our revised mission, and have already conducted two encouraging pilots in Sierra Leone (during the Ebola crisis) and Nepal (after the earthquake).
To reach out to me and to learn more about the actions we’re taking to address climate change, click here.