Octopus Energy’s Greg Jackson: ‘Climate change is no longer a vague thing’ | Energy industry
greg Jackson starts each day by turning on the radio and “sliding” into his bath. The owner of Octopus Energy has a small tank, which he likes because it is efficient and fills up quickly. His morning routine echoes the tycoon’s underprivileged childhood. “You can tell if someone grew up in a cold house: we often prefer baths – when you get out of the shower you get a real shock,” he says.
Jackson, 50, grew up near Middlesbrough. After her parents separated, her mother worked as a bartender and later studied while on welfare. He now runs Octopus, the £4bn valued green energy provider founded in 2015 with more than 3m customers in 14 countries and backers including former US Vice President Al Gore.
He believes his thrifty upbringing allows him to sympathize with troubled customers. “It’s actually more than that: reducing energy costs is one of the reasons I started the business,” he says. “It’s demoralizing not being able to cut short-term bills when we need it most, but we’ve done a tremendous amount so far.”
Octopus last month pledged £50m to reduce customer bills until the price cap rises in October, as part of a longer-term package worth £150m. pound sterling. “We’ve never made a profit and we were going to, but we’ve invested everything we’re going to do in customer support, so we’re not going to make one this year,” he says.
The mopping energy boss, dressed in a gray t-shirt and jeans, has become the acceptable face of an industry pariah. As 31 energy companies have gone bankrupt since the start of last year, public anger has been directed at failed challenger bosses. They were characterized as inexperienced and reckless for not covering their energy far enough in advance.
“You can’t be a car dealership if you don’t have the money to buy cars,” Jackson says, exasperated. He says it took years to find the £10million he needed to launch Octopus. “You can’t just enter this market by shaking your piggy bank.” He believes that providers with more than 10,000 customers should be subject to coverage checks. Another green energy group, Bulb, went bankrupt last November and remains under “special administration”. It could cost taxpayers £2billion.
Could Octopus become another light bulb? “We raised 16 times more investments than Bulb. We have a technology licensing business with major customers like E.ON and EDF, and we have invested in production and a heat pump center. We are nothing like Bulb.
Prior to Bulb’s collapse, Octopus flirted with taking over his rival. Jackson said the size of the provider – with 1.5 million customers – meant there was “no viable path” for the business to be taken over by a competitor before it collapsed. Since our interview, Octopus has joined the race, submitting a last-minute offer. Jackson declined to comment.
Octopus took over 600,000 customers from Avro Energy’s collapse last year, and Jackson accuses administrators of “arguing and quibbling over totally unimportant technicalities”.
As the crisis that has toppled so many providers continues to rage, Jackson believes Chancellor Rishi Sunak is right to invest £15billion to meet the cost of living: “It makes economic sense for the government finds ways to reduce bills and inflation. . I lived through runaway inflation in the 1980s and double-digit interest rates. These are things we should do everything to avoid.
He believes the energy crisis has underscored the need for Britain to move away from oil and gas. “The first nail in the coffin should have been climate change, then it should have been the fact that renewables are now cheaper than fossil fuels. Now we see this as a national security issue as well – if that’s not the final nail, I don’t know what to do.
As the Observer Arriving at headquarters near Oxford Circus in central London for our interview, Jackson happily leapt from his desk among the troops. There are bright pink octopus toys scattered around the half-full offices, and crisps and candy on a communal table. Octopus’ young workforce is poring over energy consumption charts and getting excited about this bespoke technology, called Kraken, which will now be licensed to other utility companies.
One department looks after Electric Juice, a service that allows customers to add car recharge payments to their electricity bill. Elsewhere, a large screen shows the progress of Plots for Kilowatts, a program that matches areas where residents have said they would accept an onshore wind farm in exchange for lower bills with areas where landowners want to host one. Internally, it is called Winder (wind-Tinder, geddit?).
“We want an effort similar to the vaccine rollout,” Jackson says, sweeping the bags of Frazzles aside. “It takes seven years for a wind farm to go through the planning process and be connected to the grid. The engineering part only takes a year.
Octopus’ other renewable energy ventures include a huge push to replace gas boilers with heat pumps and an investment in what will be the world’s longest undersea power cable, linking Devon to a vast solar farm in the moroccan desert.
The collection of projects reflects Jackson’s entrepreneurial background. He started his career at consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble before running businesses including a coffee shop and mirror manufacturer. In 2006 he sold a customer relations technology business for £4.5m.
Now his mission is to turn Britain towards renewables, despite the efforts of a vocal small group, including Nigel Farage, attacking net zero targets. “Climate change is no longer a vague thing: people are literally cooking in India and Pakistan,” he says. “I’m just stunned that anyone is objecting to this.”
Does being a green energy standard bearer get him in hot water at dinner parties? “I’m literally not invited to their house. I think I’m too opinionated. My mom is very, very politically opinionated and I have that.
Jackson will not be attracted by the duration of the energy crisis: “He is a fool who predicts the commodity markets. Europe will enter this winter with more gas storage than last year, but if Russia stops sending gas to Europe, prices will skyrocket.
With that, he rushes off to race the school, ready to pass on his opinions to the next generation.
Family In a relationship with; has two children from former partners.
Education Huntcliff Secondary School in Saltburn-by-the-Sea, east of Middlesbrough (left at 16); wrote video game software before returning to do A-levels; degree in economics from Pembroke College, Cambridge.
Pay “Minimum wage”; Jackson gave up his £150,000 salary when the energy crisis began last autumn, donating the rest of his initial salary to Octopus staff welfare and its financial hardship fund, Octo Assist. He has never taken a bonus and owns a 6% stake, worth around £240million.
Last holidays Cotswold Water Park, with family and friends.
Best advice ever given “Integrity is what you do when no one is watching.”
Biggest Career Mistake “Do not look for backers for the Octopus Energy idea sooner.”
Word he abuses “Awesome. Or the F-word.
how he relaxes “Beer and sweet geekery.”