Juliet Davenport: The profits blowing in the wind

Concerned about the environmental impact of the energy sector, Juliet Davenport set up a multi-million pound business supplying a green alternative. Matthew Partridge reports.


Juliet Davenport combined business with helping the enviroment

Juliet Davenport, 44, may be one of the very few people in the world who can honestly say that the course of their lives has been altered by atmospheric physics.

When Davenport was studying physics at Merton College, Oxford, a module on the atmosphere stoked her interest in climate change. Realising the energy sector was a major contributor to the problem, she decided to study the sector in depth, doing a Masters in Economics and Environmental Economics at Birkbeck College, University of London.

She then worked at the European Commission, helping to formulate energy policy, before moving to an environmental consultancy, Energy for Sustainable Development.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

But as "a practical person" she longed to put her "training into practice by getting directly involved in renewable energy". In 1997, backed by Germany's Unit Energy Europe, she launched Ofex, an energy supplier specialising in renewables.

She admits that the stresses of running a firm gave her "sleepless nights" at first. But she quickly rose to the occasion. When her major backer pulled out a year after the company's formation, she marshalled enough support from angel investors to complete a management buyout.

In 2002, she raised more cash by selling shares in the company to customers. This money was used to buy the Delabole wind farm in north Cornwall, Britain's first commercial wind farm, which Davenport had been buying energy from. This turned the company from a retailer of energy into a producer.

In 2003, she changed the name of the company to Good Energy, and further fund-raising rounds followed in 2004 and 2007, enabling the company to upgrade the wind farm.

Delabole now produces about 20% of the energy that Good Energy sells to its 100,000 customers, with the rest sourced from various renewable energy providers. Last year, turnover reached £28m, and this is set to grow further in 2013, with £18m turnover posted for the first half of this year.

The company also went public last year, listing on the Alternative Investment Market (Aim). Davenport says that the need constantly to speak to institutional investors which goes with being public provides an important discipline for the company.

It also makes communication easier, compared with when the firm had a large number of individual shareholders.

Davenport has received public recognition for her work in the form of an OBE for "services to renewable electricity supplies" in January's New Year Honours list. She puts her success down to her listening skills and regular discussions with people at all levels of her company: you have to "talk to your audience and be close to your product".

On that score, energy bills have been in the firing line, with many blaming rising bills on the government's renewable energy mandate. However, Davenport points out that non-renewable resources are also highly subsidised, and that renewables help with energy security as well as the environment by reducing imports.

She believes the "government will keep to its commitments [on renewable energy], at least in the short and medium term". Indeed, she is confident enough in the industry's future to expand Good Energy's capacity further, recently launching a £5m bond issue.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri