I am often asked why I started working in the renewables sector back in 2003. At the time I was in my 8th year of running mobile telecoms conferences (including the Mobile World Congress) and had recently moved to Sao Paulo, Brazil. Everyone I knew back in the UK had decided to get married and rarely a month went by without a trip back.
On one of the flights I struck up a conversation with my neighbour who was reading a yachting magazine, “did he have a yacht or the dream of a yacht?” I asked. “Neither” I was told but as a frequent flyer, he liked to buy random magazines or books to help broaden his knowledge and learn something new to pass the time.
On my return flight suitably inspired, I grabbed a copy of a book “Carbon War” by Jeremy Leggett from a bookstore by the gate. I don’t remember why “a personal journey and insider’s perspective through the world’s climate negotiations leading to the historic Kyoto Climate Summit” piqued my interest but it did, and Im glad it did!
Well written and easily accessible for a non specialist such as moi, Leggett’s story successfully wove a narrative around the work of the fossil fuel lobbyists. One memorable scene has stuck with me. As the US climate team negotiators broke from session they were met by the US Chamber of Commerce representatives led by Brian Flannery, External Relations Director of ExxonMobil. Dr Flannery’s wagging finger body language gave Leggett the observer, little doubt who was pulling the strings. Leggett’s positioned the fossil fuel lobbyists as luddites blocking technology change (the luddites were textile artisans who smashed new labour saving machinery in the 18th century). The fossil fuel lobby clearly did not want climate change to exist, they had the money, the access and the influence to prevent change.
This point about allowing change reasonated with my own experience of the mobile telecoms and internet sectors where change was allowed to happen and which I had witnessed in depth with eight years of researching and attending telecoms conferences and witnessing amazing new companies emerge, like Vodafone being spun out of Racal Telecom (a minor UK corporate telecoms provider) to become a global giant).
At the end book (which I finished lying on the Brazilian beach of Camburi) Leggett signs off with a memorable rallying call “right I’m off to start a solar company” which he did (UK’s largest solar business, Solar Century and he spoke at Green Power’s very first solar conference). Hence when Informa recalled me to London to rejoin my old conference team I found myself saying “no I’m staying in Brazil and I’m off to start a renewable energy conference company!”.
I can’t say the journey has been easy. I had lots of friends and contacts tell me “climate change isn’t real” and “renewables will never become serious business”. Initially I knew nothing about the energy markets and I remember vividly attending the 2004 Bonn renewable energy conference and asking the VP for Marketing of Vestas what his company did!
Soon I became convinced that renewables would become serious and needed to become a money making opportunity in order to scale and become cheaper. There have been some great moments, the inspiration of hearing a powerful speech from Hermann Scheer at a conference in Rio (he later became a Green Power speaker), Al Gore presenting at the World Bio Markets Congress in 2007 and many, many more.
So thank you unknown passenger, thank you Jeremy, thank you Hermann and finally a special thanks to all of our customers who have helped drive renewables into the very serious business it is today!
My #KeyTakeaway is if you want to change something in your life, do something different, read something different.