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The global green energy movement is well underway. However, when it comes to renewable energy ownership, the barriers to entry remain high.
It can cost up to £8,000 to install solar-power infrastructure on a house, and that infrastructure isn’t a viable option for those who live in flats or plan to move home in the future.
The very first renewable energy ownership platform, Ripple allows its customers to own part of a large scale wind farm and have the clean electricity it generates supplied to their home via the grid. Ripple is proud to have Octopus Energy and Co-op Energy as supply partners for its first wind farm. Ripple’s platform allows everyone to act on climate change, simply and affordably.
We sat down with Founder and CEO Sarah Merrick to discuss how the idea was first born, and what’s next for the business that’s putting people in control of their clean energy future.
When was the moment you decided you needed to change course and start this business?
Back in 2015, I led the wind industry’s strategy group looking at the post-subsidy world. The industry was keen to sell their electricity to Google and Facebook, which is great, but wind had just become the UK’s cheapest source of electricity. I thought it was unfair that this technology was available to big corporates, but ordinary household consumers couldn’t access it. I thought someone would plug the gap in the market, but a year or so went by and still no one had. So I decided to do it myself.
What’s been the biggest change in your industry over the years?
In 2000, my first job was to organise a trip to the UK’s very first offshore wind farm – two small turbines off Northumberland. Over the last 20 years wind energy has gone from small scale and almost experimental, to becoming a real contender in the green energy marketplace, supplying 20% of the UK’s power today. Last week, the government announced plans for every home in the UK to be powered by offshore wind by 2030. The transformation has been incredible – and costs have fallen dramatically too. People used to dismiss wind energy, saying it would never be taken seriously. Those critics have been proven wrong at every count.
Government dedication to acting on climate change has also taken a turn. It’s an issue that’s taken more seriously now than ever and the transition is inevitable. Whether it be a ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2030, or a ban on gas connections in new homes by 2023, the future will look a lot different and there’s no denying that wind energy will play a big part in that. Now everyone, even the fossil companies, are racing to be the best at it, instead of trying to water down the ambition.
What about Ripple makes it such a unique proposition?
We’re doing something that’s never been done before in the UK. Until this past summer, if you wanted to own your own source of green power, you had to put solar on your roof – that is, if you owned one. Now you can own a piece of a large scale wind farm and have the green electricity it produces supplied to your home via the grid instead. It’s way cheaper and loads simpler. And we’re the only ones who can do it.
What does the competitive landscape look like and what will be Ripple’s competitive edge moving forward?
We expect people will try to copy us eventually – that’s inevitable when you bring a great idea to market. Our competitive edge will be our understanding of the market, the legal framework we have developed and the robustness of the technology platform we’ve built. Our existing relationships with suppliers, and the loyal support of the customers who love and respect what we’re doing will be crucial moving forward.
What has growth looked like to date?
We launched the first wind farm on our platform in June 2020. We have over 500 customers who have spent on average £2,000 each. It’s been great, but we’re really only getting started. We now want to get our first wind farm built as soon as possible. After that, we plan to move on to the next one… and the one after that.
What’s been the biggest success for the business so far and how did your team celebrate?
The biggest success was launching our platform in June. We were all sat on a Zoom call together, watching the first customers sign up. We each had a glass of something to hand. It felt amazing to see real customers buying shares in the wind farm. It was mid-lockdown and it’d taken so much work to get there. That was a really special moment.
What’s next in the pipeline for the business in the way of product, partnerships and more?
We have loads of partnerships in the pipeline. As part of the Free Electrons startup program we took part in this year, we’re in discussions with ESB, Ireland’s largest utility and Origin, Australia’s largest utility, about launching Ripple in those two markets. We just signed an agreement with a property developer, so that the new homes in their latest development will all come with a bit of a wind farm. We’re also developing partnerships with employee benefits companies so they can offer wind farm ownership as part of company benefits packages. Ripple’s core model is strong – it can be flexed to suit loads of different propositions. The next role we’re going to recruit for is a partnerships manager to open even more doors for growth. There are so many opportunities, we need someone on it full time.
You’ve successfully crowdfunded many times now on Seedrs, what’s been the greatest takeaway from each round?
Probably to be really open with potential investors. In our first round, we made a conscious decision to be open and comprehensive in our responses on the discussion forum. People really noticed and appreciated that. I think it played a big part in us being voted Startup of the Year by Seedrs investors a few months later.
What is your personal passion outside of work?
I got into cycling during lockdown. It’s great for getting out and switching off. Just me and my bike, with Strava in the background. I love it. I also spend longer than I should on Twitter.
If you had one piece of advice for the next generation what would it be?
Climate change is a huge and overwhelming issue but it’s also created a huge amount of opportunity. There is now space for entrepreneurs, investors and consumers to identify what their individual opportunity is, and use it to drive positive, constructive change. Over the next 10 years the industry will evolve even more than it has in the last 10. The rules are being rewritten, which in turn creates huge opportunities for the next generation.
Who has been your mentor in building a startup?
My sister. She built up a small group of nurseries from scratch, which she then sold – all whilst being a single mum to two young boys. She’s given me so much practical advice on running a successful company and shown me what hard work and determination can achieve. She’s distanced enough from the day to day to give me a fresh perspective. Our angel investor, Richard, is another mentor. He’s always at the end of the phone and has been incredibly supportive at every milestone.
To find out more about Ripple and invest in the Green Revolution, visit the pitch now.