When thinking of prominent figures in the renewables arena, one of the first names that spring to mind is that of social entrepreneur, author and clean energy advocate, Dr Jeremy Leggett. Most well-known for founding the UK’s largest independent solar company, Solarcentury, and as a popular Guardian and Financial Times columnist, Leggett is an individual who lives and breathes the renewables cause and who focuses his considerable business savvy, influence and intellect on advancing global progression towards a more sustainable future.
As founding director of the UK’s largest independent electric company, Solarcentury, Dr. Jeremy Leggett is a British green-energy entrepreneur, author and activist and founder and Chairman of SolarAid, a charity set up with 5% of Solarcentury’s annual profits.
Leggett is perhaps the UK’s foremost voice supporting and promoting the renewables revolution. He is a strong and outspoken advocate for the industry, described in the observer as “Britain’s most respected green energy boss.”, and a man who started life working for the ‘other side’, researching on behalf of oil and gas companies.
“I always wanted to be a geologist,” Leggett says in his Q&A interview on his website. “I collected fossils, rocks, and studied that subject hard, right through school to university. Ten years into my first career, as a university lecturer and researcher in earth science, if someone had predicted what I would be doing today, I’d have laughed at them.”
In his first career, Leggett was an award-winning earth scientist on the faculty of the Royal School of Mines, Imperial College. Among other things he researched shale deposits, funded by BP, Royal Dutch Shell and other energy companies from 1978 to 1989.
It was through this work and the developing of his knowledge in this area that Leggett reached a critical juncture in his ideology.
“My conversion came suddenly. Though I consulted a lot for the oil and gas industry, my research was on the geological history of the oceans. That led to a quite sudden but abiding fear about climate change from the late 1980s on. I acted on it first by becoming an environmental campaigner for six years, then a solar entrepreneur for 13 years and counting.”
Following this watershed moment in Leggett’s life he left a lucrative career in oil and gas to work for Greenpeace in 1989, at a fraction of his former salary, campaigning for clean energy. He then left in 1997 to set up a non-profit organisation advocating clean energy which he turned into a for-profit company in 1998 because he viewed it as “the best possible way I could campaign for clean energy – by creating a commercial success that could show the way.” That company was Solarcentury, the UK’s largest independent solar electric company.
Leggett headed up Solarcentury as CEO until 2006 and then Chairman until 2014, and is today a board director for the business, alongside the variety of other roles he holds spanning the renewable energy and clean energy sector.
The company is an international, profitable, downstream developer, operating in all areas of solar installation, from the development of proprietary products right the way up to the manufacturing and installation for applications spanning a number of different customer bases – be it residential installations, corporate contracts, off-grid work in developing regions or public sector contracts.
Solarcentury is one of the few companies to have been around since the early days of the solar industry and has been one of the catalysing elements that have helped make the industry what it is today – it has installed solar on more types of sites than any other company in the industry, and has won multiple awards for product innovation.
After deciding to take a slightly less hands-one role and stepping down as CEO to Solarcentury in 2006, Leggett and Solarcentury set up the charity SolarAid, which helps African communities access solar power. The charity promotes, clean, safe, affordable energy for all and its brand, SunnyMoney, is now Africa’s top-seller of solar lighting. With the main goal of eradicating the Kerosene lamp from Africa by 2020, Solarcentury contributes to its charity by donating 5% of its profits every year – a commitment that has underwritten its success – over 1.7 million solar lights have been sold since inception, with all profits being recycled back into the organisation.
“Our hope, both at SolarAid and Solarcentury, is that if other companies copy this model of giving a small percentage of their profits for poverty-alleviation and climate-abatement work, then we create a whole new pool of capital for social good in the world, one that grows quickly as companies can do – are especially bound to in the solar revolution – so massively amplifying the impact of the kinds of funders who have supported SolarAid to date.”
Leggett also serves as Chairman of the Carbon Tracker Initiative, a think tank which was set up to align the capital markets with international climate policy making. He has worked as a consultant across all areas of the energy markets and is a strong advocate for the rapid strategic withdrawal from fossil fuels.
Described by Time Magazine as ‘one of the key players in putting the climate issue on the world agenda’, Leggett has authored four books on the subject, his most recent being ‘The Energy of Nations’, and written numerous articles for the Guardian and Financial Times on the subject.
Added to his already long list of achievements in capital markets, philanthropy, as an educator and an advocate for the industry, Leggett has won numerous awards for his work, including Entrepreneur of the Year at the New Energy Awards, the US Climate Institute’s Award for Advancing Understanding and Champion of the Year in promoting the green economy for the Business Green Leaders Awards 2014, to name a few.
Leggett sums up his life’s mission as follows: “To make as big a difference as I can in combatting climate change. That breaks into three sub-missions across the organisations I chair. First, with Solarcentury, to create the most respected solar solutions company in the world. Second, with SolarAid, to rid Africa of kerosene lanterns by 2020. And third, with Carbon Tracker, to align the capital markets with climate policymaking.”