Founder Stories

Good Energy founder Juliet Davenport: On climate tech & disrupting the energy industry

Founder Stories

Good Energy founder Juliet Davenport: On climate tech & disrupting the energy industry

Words Simon Lovick

April 3rd 2024 / 4 min read

The UK energy crisis has been felt hardest by consumers. A perfect storm of factors in the past six months has caused energy companies to fail, dire petrol shortages, and the sky-rocketing cost of fuel. For ordinary people, this boils down to something simple: losing control over energy, where you can access it, and how much you pay for it. 

Entrepreneur Juliet Davenport saw this coming over 20 years ago. Having worked around the energy industry—on the policy and commercial side—Juliet saw a growing demand from consumers to have greater control over their energy. In one respect, this was a response to energy liberalisation and increasing competition between suppliers. More importantly, though, it was to tap into a nascent, but growing, awareness around the climate crisis, and the impact of consumers’ decisions on the environment. 

In 1999, Juliet seized this opportunity and set up Good Energy, one of the first clean energy suppliers in the UK. In 2002, they crowdfunded their Series A, raising just over £600k in two weeks and becoming one of the first customer-owned energy companies. In 2012, Good Energy went public on the AIM market. After stepping down as Good Energy CEO in March 2021, Juliet sought other opportunities disrupting the UK energy industry.

She now sits on the board of Solivus, a solartech startup pioneering ultra-thin solar panel films for commercial properties, among other products. Solivus is part of Founders Factory portfolio through G-Force.

We asked Juliet for some of her most valuable lessons learned along her journey as a climate tech entrepreneur and leader of an energy disrupter. These include:

  1. Make the most of your hardcore customers

  2. People-centric products will have the biggest impact

  3. Growing awareness is changing consumer behaviour towards green solutions

  4. The funding landscape for climate tech has changed

  5. Businesses should make strong statements about their mission

This article was originally published in April 2022, and was updated in April 2024.

Lesson 1: Environmentally-driven businesses should make the most of their hardcore customers

Good Energy came out of wanting to empower individuals to do more about climate change, and to make one particular decision that would have a significant impact. While I had no experience of launching or leading a company, I understood the energy industry, and more specifically, its shortcomings. 

At the time, there weren’t really any other big clean energy suppliers. But this proved to be a bigger challenge than we first thought. After our first investor went bust, we struggled to find venture capital funding. So we decided to tap into the people who believed in us most—our core customer base. Startups with an environmental mission will find this group to be both incredibly loyal and critical to the business. For us, crowdfunding meant bringing these dedicated customers even closer, and giving them a financial stake in the business. 

If anything, we didn’t tap into them enough. These consumers can be your biggest ambassadors, and should be core to your marketing and growth strategy. Tesla, for instance, has a members’ club for their owners. Giving those customers a platform to talk to each other, but also as a wider outreach to get more customers, can be very powerful.

Lesson 2: People-centric products will have the biggest impact

Good entrepreneurs are those who can solve problems for the everyday consumer. This particularly applies to climate technology, especially if you’re trying to change behaviour. 

The UK is witnessing a particularly pressing challenge around the rising cost of living. This creates a huge demand for products or services that can stabilise, or even reduce, costs for consumers. Climate technology, in many cases, is able to do this alongside any environmental benefits. Solar panels, for instance, can reduce your reliance on fossil fuels, which as we’ve seen, are liable to extreme price increases. For this reason, I believe the energy crisis will accelerate the transition towards renewables. 

Creating consumer-centric products will also help you navigate the risk that comes with policy. Governments are liable to changing regulation, taxation, or other mechanisms which can quickly shift a cost-effective technology to being an unaffordable one. Products with strong customer loyalty, however, will see longer term engagement and can therefore weather this volatility.

So ask yourself—what is the value proposition beyond environmental benefits? If you can put it in the context of solving a problem such as saving money, then that’s brilliant.

Lesson 3: Growing awareness is changing consumer behaviour towards green solutions

Success, in large part, is down to market timing—whether a number of determining factors line up to create fortuitous conditions for your product. Climate tech is reaching this.

For one, there’s a much wider awareness of the climate crisis now than there was twenty years ago when I founded Good Energy. People around the world, by and large, have woken up to the very real impact of climate change—most visible when vast parts of the globe (from Siberia to Australia) are actually on fire.  This is combined with the associated health impacts of climate change. As soon as it starts to affect individuals, people take it seriously.

More importantly, the cost of technology has fallen considerably. While solar panels might have once been way out of reach of the ordinary consumer, companies like Solivus are now able to provide affordable solar panels that are suitable both for homes and commercial buildings. 

More than just being cost effective, in the face of an energy crisis, solar panels will actually save you money. A solar-powered economy could have vast benefits. If you could say that 20-to-30% of power costs are always fixed, then you know anything manufactured in the UK isn't exposed to that same level of inflation. For businesses, any rational boardroom would make a decision that would secure them long term energy prices. 

Lesson 4: The funding landscape for climate tech has changed—for the better

Back when we crowdfunded in 2002, it wasn’t really an established option. We almost did it out of necessity. We had really struggled to find investors, the majority of whom were put off by the green premium that came with our product. Fundamentally, they didn’t think it would work. 

For green entrepreneurs today, the funding landscape looks very different. For one, there’s a huge array of grant funding available to entrepreneurs at a very early stage. I until recently did some work with Innovate UK, the funding organisation for UK startups. While their emphasis might have once been on automotive, aerospace, and pharmaceutical companies, a huge proportion of their funding now goes to climate tech. This non-dilutive funding gives entrepreneurs much more wiggle room to test their technology and see if it works. 

In turn, this is increasing the amount of private capital going to climate entrepreneurs. Investors and VCs are now seeing a much larger pool of new innovative companies to invest in, at a stage when they are far more developed.

Lesson 5: Businesses should make strong statements about their mission

I love seeing that something like the B Corp Certification has become so important for businesses with green credentials. By codifying your ESG values into your legal framework, it allows founders to make a clear, strong statement about their intent as a business. Any investor who comes on board will understand this from the off.

B Corp obviously came along a number of years after us, and by that point, we were already listed, making it very difficult for us to pass any special resolutions. For founders now, though, I’d say there’s tremendous value in pursuing a B Corp assessment, or something similar, from the beginning of your venture.

Bonus: What opportunities are there for founders in energy?

Having worked in the energy industry for nearly three decades, I’ve got a good idea of where the opportunities lie for founders. For me, these are:

  • Electricity/power generation

  • Electric vehicles & transport

  • Heating & home generation

I believe the heating and home generation market is a vastly untapped opportunity that could benefit significantly from innovation in the coming years. I like the thinking that your home is a power station.

Take heat pumps, which have been around for a while. For one, they’re quite ugly; more importantly, I don’t think they’re as efficient as they could be. They’re due a big evolution. 

On home generation, solar panels are an equally big opportunity. There’s growing demand for domestic rooftop solar panels to help households make the clean energy transition and become more energy independent. The Solivus Arc (the domestic solar panel unit by Solivus) meets this: a simple-to-understand technology that can have a big impact on your energy bills. Founders who can apply this thinking to other areas of home generation could have a huge impact. 

About Juliet

Juliet Davenport OBE is the founder of Good Energy. Before setting up Good, she worked in energy policy at the European Commission and the European Parliament. She sits on the board of several clean energy companies, including the REA, Aurora Energy Research, and Solivus. Until recently she was a council member at Innovate UK.

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