Invisible Heroes: Sarah Merrick
As part of our Invisible Heroes series, we speak to some of the individuals doing incredible work in the journey towards net zero - both within our energy sector, and beyond. In our latest piece, we caught up with Sarah Merrick, Founder and CEO of Ripple Energy, the largest wind farm owned by the customers it supplies globally.
Having recently announced So Energy’s brand new partnership with Ripple, we’re excited to be working closely with Sarah and her team in future. We spoke to her about setting up Ripple, shaking up the energy industry, and why the most effective way to incite change is to start small.
To learn more about our partnership with Ripple, and how you can own part of a wind farm, click here.
Can you tell us about your current work; what do you do, and what are the steps you’ve taken that led you to where you are today?
I’ve always worked in the wind industry; I started my career working for a large wind turbine manufacturer, before going on to work for a wind farm developer and later becoming Vice Chair of the wind trade association. My role has always been in regulation, and looking at how wind functions within the wider energy market.
As Vice Chair of the wind trade body, I was looking at subsidies for the wind industry. This was at the point when wind had become the UK’s cheapest source of power. Everyone was very keen to sell their power to large companies and it seemed wrong to me that, as an individual, I couldn’t enjoy the benefits of owning this kind of renewable power source too.
So I set up Ripple to enable exactly that. Once I’d worked out how much of a wind farm someone would need to own to meet their household’s electricity needs, it just seemed like a no-brainer; all I needed to do was gather together enough people and give them the power that the likes of much larger corporations have got. There’s no way people could do it alone, but there is enormous power and potential in the collective.
The work that Ripple is doing to move towards a renewable future owned by people, not companies, marks a significant step change in the way customers supply their homes with energy. To what extent is the sector embracing this change?
So far it's been really well received. Because I’ve worked in the industry for so long it’s been lovely to hear so many people telling me they’ve been watching from the sidelines! Wind developers have been trying to allow direct benefits to flow to consumers for some time, so having those consumers be the owners of the project is a really good way to make that happen.
People are excited because this is a genuinely new way for lots of individuals to own their own source of greener, cheaper electricity. That’s not to say it’s going to be the only way, but I do strongly believe that consumers should be able to be part of the ownership mix - it shouldn’t just be big corporations such as utility companies and pension funds. Ultimately people are the ones using the energy, and so they should be able to own the wind farms themselves too.
Customers who own part of a Ripple wind farm will, amongst other things, benefit from stabilised energy prices. Do you think that rising prices will drive greater appetite from consumers to seek out these types of innovative, renewable options?
We’ve had a fantastic reception from customers. So far more than 3,000 people signed up to become owners of our new Kirk Hill wind farm in just ten days, which is incredible.
The current situation with energy prices highlights the need for consumers to own their own source, not just of green, but - crucially - stable-priced energy. Irrespective of what’s happening in the energy market, the cost of running the wind farm stays stable for its 25 year lifetime. And that means that the owners of that wind farm get that stable price power for 25 years too. This can really protect people from the volatile prices we’re seeing at the moment.
Currently there's really no other way of getting such long-term protection, and it's possible to do so affordably without investing too much up-front. You can buy as little as £25 worth of a wind farm, and although that amount won’t lead to huge savings, it’s a good place to start.
The accessibility point is important for us, we don’t want it to be an exclusive thing. We want everyone, no matter where in the country and in what sort of home they live, to be able to own their own source of green power.
If you could encourage readers to make one small change to their day-to-day lives in order to positively impact the planet, what would it be?
It would have to be to buy a part of a wind farm, no matter how small.
We’re already seeing amongst our customers that once they’ve started making small changes to live a greener lifestyle, the more they want to do. The first step can be quite daunting but once you see how easy it is, and that there are financial benefits too, you then start looking around to see what other changes you can make.
What was the book/podcast/show that got you through lockdown?
In lockdown we rewatched the whole of Buffy with my teenage kids, and it was just brilliant!
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