Spotlight on....Zoisa, Octopus Energy Generation CEO
Octopus Energy is made up of 1000+ fantastic people working on stuff you'd never expect, all pushing hard towards a shared goal: driving the global green energy revolution. In our Spotlight series, we'll introduce you to some of the brilliant people behind the scenes.
Meet Zoisa, CEO of Octopus Energy Generation: one of Europe's largest investors in renewable energy. Our energy generation arm is doing something unheard of in the world of fund management. Instead of focusing on profit, we're about investing and operating energy projects to create an abundance of cheap green electrons to power the world. The woman at the helm of that massive undertaking? CEO Zoisa North-Bond.
I sat down with her to discuss her journey to Octopus Energy Generation, and how they do things differently.
Samsam: What do you do at Octopus?
Zoisa: I lead the team that run Octopus Energy Generation as well as Octopus Energy for Business which provides our business customers with green energy. I also manage our Electric Universe, which is our virtual network of 300,000 chargers for EV drivers.
I lead the team that run Octopus Energy Generation, a business that looks after 4 billion pounds worth of renewable energy generators.
The #1 Fan in Market Weighton
Samsam: Why is it so important that we’re tackling generation ourselves, and how do we do this differently?
Zoisa: It's really important for us to take control of the way that we supply our customers so we can provide a great and reliable service. We want to be in a position where we are making as much energy as we supply. We genuinely care about improving the energy system to one that is 100% green, and provides cheap energy to consumers. I just don't think there's another organisation out there with this approach to investing in generation.
Our approach is vastly different; we want to create an abundance of free, green electrons that are super cheap for customers to use – rather than making profit.
Floating off-shore wind farm in Ireland
Samsam: How did Octopus Energy Generation come about?
Zoisa: Our goal has always been to utilise renewable energy in the most efficient and customer friendly way, so focusing on generation just made sense. In the most practical sense; when the wind blows, we want customers to be able to get a cheaper energy bill and the most obvious way to make that a reality was to buy our own wind turbines. We started investing in areas where there was a strong demand and it was immediately a huge success. In fact, as I speak we have over 5000 inquiries from people wanting turbines near their homes to provide cheaper electricity.
Interesting side note, we did a big survey recently and 87% of people said they would want a turbine in their area if they could get 50% of their electricity, which is extraordinary.
Samsam: How has the idea of renewable energy generation changed in the past 10 years?
Onshore wind is the lowest cost of generation that we can possibly build.
Zoisa: There is a lot of public misconception around the support we need from governments, for example, we actually don’t require any subsidies. Recently, the Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng, sent us a public message of support on Twitter, and we have had a lot of support from the Government and the public are more interested than ever. Ultimately, it’s about working together to give people what they want; which is wind farms and affordable energy.
Great to see Octopus Renewables backing 690MW of new wind projects across the UK, France, Finland and Sweden— Kwasi Kwarteng (@KwasiKwarteng) March 10, 2022
A fantastic British company working to strengthen European energy security
Wind power is now much cheaper than fossil fuels. We need to generate more cheap, clean power
Samsam: What are some other challenges that you have faced in leading this forward-facing work?
Zoisa: I’m not someone that ever looks at things as challenges, but I do see lots of opportunities. Particularly, there is a massive opportunity for renewables here in the UK and around the world and we have a long way to go to fulfill our potential.
One thing that has just blown me over is the strength and power of people in voicing what they want; the people are voting for Net Zero and we have to make that happen.
Samsam: What are the most hopeful and inspiring things about the work you get to do?
Zoisa: Definitely the people I get to work with, who bring so much to the table. I wouldn’t have been able to achieve any of the things we have without the inspiring, motivated, brilliant people helping to drive this change. I first started working in sustainable energy 13 years ago when people didn’t really understand the importance of renewables so seeing public perception evolve has made me hopeful. Particularly, seeing the impact of people like David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg driving awareness of climate change is inspiring.
We have a quote on a wall in our office by Margaret Mead that has always stuck with me that says ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has’.
Samsam: Can you tell me more about Fan Club and your approach to community energy?
Zoisa: Our Fan Club is the UK’s first energy tariff that allows customers to benefit from cheaper electricity by using the energy their local turbines produce. Our vision with Fan Club is to supply everybody in the area, and pass on the savings of local power to them: whether they can afford to invest in the wind turbine or not.
Typically previous community energy projects involved large upfront investment, £1000s of pounds that most people can’t afford. It can then take years to get a full return on that investment. That approach can leave out people in the community who most need access to affordable energy.
With the Fan Club, everyone can get access to cheaper energy – so our approach prioritises people and puts equality first.
Samsam: As a renewables expert, you must be used to people asking how we'll get power in the future when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining. What would you say to them?
Zoisa: That's the inherent challenge of renewable energy and why it’s so important that we continue building our green electrified world, where we can use all those generated electrons. By 2040 we will have at least 40 million electric cars on UK roads, which will allow us to return energy back to the grid through innovations like vehicle-to-grid charging, where your car powers your home. Over the next decade, we will have more domestic and business models to consume and store energy so we shouldn’t be dealing with this problem for long.
Samsam: As part of the team, it’s been wonderful working on the Octopus Energy Equality Fund. Can you tell me more about what inspired you and Greg to start OEEF and allow so much autonomy for the team to shape it?
Zoisa: That was an easy decision, looking at the sheer passion of people across the business that wanted to make a difference, and make the energy industry accessible for all.
It was clear it was a time to act, in the days after the Black Lives Matter protests, and we felt this people-driven Fund would allow us to make the most impact. As a woman of colour I was delighted to be involved, knowing the difficult history my family experienced when they first migrated to the UK in the 40’s. At Octopus, we always want to empower people to take action, and it’s been wonderful seeing the work.
I remember being so impressed with some of the interns from our Tech and Ops Internship, that I asked the team to offer them jobs or I would!
Samsam: On a more personal note, what led you to Octopus?
Zoisa: I originally studied history and Archaeology at University, and what I loved about those two degrees was the knowledge that there was a story behind every fact. It taught me to always look at the bigger picture. After graduating I quickly realised that I didn’t want to be an archaeologist, as it was far too cold and I didn’t want to spend my time turning blue in the UK rain.
Instead, I knew I liked being creative and storytelling so I started a decade-long career in PR. I ran two PR agencies and at 30 realised I had hit a ceiling so I started working in Communications for an Energy client that was building an offshore wind farm. Within two or three years I went on to run that company which was super exciting. One day, I came across a newspaper featuring Greg talking about the energy industry and I reached out for a chat as I loved his approach of marrying technology with energy to benefit customers. We had lunch and by the end of it Greg had offered me a job.
I left my position as CEO for a big corporate company to work at a startup because I knew it was the right thing to do.
The Octopus Energy senior management team
Samsam: You were the CEO of Octopus Energy for Business during a period of immense growth, what was that experience like?
Zoisa: I’m really proud we were able to create a sustainable and customer-focused business. We incorporated technology, sustainable energy sources and innovative tariffs to provide a great service to businesses across the country. We even created a charity pot for our clients to donate to which was really successful. I also loved engaging with sustainable projects like vertical farming which is crucial in our fast-changing world where conventional farming is often very unpredictable.
We were also able to support the rapid roll out of Electric vehicle charging and the highly successful Electric Universe, which allows EV drivers to have easy access to charging ports all across Europe and which has been a runaway success (check out my interview with Gurjeet to get insight into our incredible EV team).
It was amazing running OEB as they were an incredible team, although it was terrifying as they were all a lot younger than I was. However, the great thing about that was that they were really passionate and hungry for success. I think a big reason for our huge growth is that I had a lot to prove to my brilliant team as they were putting their faith in me.
Samsam: What are some things that you do to disconnect and focus on outside work?
Zoisa: I am a great animal lover, and I have a little pack of 3 dogs and 3 horses. I disconnect through walks and being with my horses who I consider to be great teachers for how to deal with people. I actually think I get a lot of my leadership style from my great love of animals, as there are valuable lessons to be learnt. You can’t come on too strong or overbearing, it can’t be hierarchical and you have to earn respect. You also learn you have to be open and honest to connect. Everybody wants to feel empowered and trusted and there are times when you have to step back and times when you have to put your arm around someone in support.
Samsam: Where do you envision Octopus Generation in 5/10 years?
We’re constantly looking to expand, searching for cutting edge, innovative renewable generation to create a green future.
In 5 to 10 years we see ourselves as hopefully more than quadrupling the size of our business. That is roughly 20 billion in renewable energy assets and supplying 8 million homes around the world.
Zoisa: With Octopus Energy for Business it took us half the time we expected to reach our estimated targets so I hope any estimates we make now will look conservative in a few years. However, these sorts of targets aren’t what's most important to us. Ultimately, it’s about providing a great service to our customers, and creating a clean, green world for future generations.
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