Most people post bios that they pretend others have written by drafting in third-person prose. Let me have a go in first person, so that I can add a little colour and context to the conventional boastfest.
I describe myself as a social entrepreneur and writer. I founded and was a board director of Solarcentury, an international solar energy company (1998 – 2020), and I founded and was chair of SolarAid, a charity funded with 5% of Solarcentury’s annual profits that helps solar-lighting entrepreneurs get started in Africa (2006 – 2020). I chaired Carbon Tracker, a climate-and-finance think tank analysing climate risk in the capital markets, from its start in 2010 until 2017. These days I am founder and exec director of Bunloit Rewilding Ltd, a start-up enhancing carbon, growing biodiversity and accelerating the rural green new deal on Scottish estates (two at present).
I have written five solo books, the most recent of which is The Winning of The Carbon War, an account of what I see as the “turnaround years” in the dawn of the global energy transition, 2013 -2015, with an update edition spanning 2016 and 2017. I continue to chronicle that transition, and its intersection with tech, on this website. My other books are The Carbon War (2000), an eye-witness account of the climate negotiations in the 1990s; Half Gone (2005), a holistic critique of the oil industry; The Solar Century (2009), a vision of the solar revolution; and The Energy of Nations (2013).
I love to teach, but don’t have time for much of it. I have lectured on short courses in business and society at the Universities of Cambridge (UK) and St Gallen (Switzerland). I was an Associate Fellow at the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University (1997 – 2015).
I have won a few awards along the way. I was the first winner of the first Hillary Laureate for International Leadership in Climate Change (2009) for general work on climate change, won a Gothenburg Prize (2015) for my solar work, and was the first non-Dutch winner of a Royal Dutch Honorary Sustainability Award (2016), a particular thrill as you can imagine, given how many Dutch friends and colleagues I have.
In the first of my three careers, I went straight from a D.Phil in earth science at Oxford to the faculty at the Royal School of Mines, Imperial College (1978 – 1989), teaching youthful cannon fodder for the extractive industries and researching earth history as preserved in strata including shale deposits, funded among others by BP and Shell. In this phase, I won the President’s Prize of the Geological Society and was appointed a Reader at the age of 33, an achievement somewhat marred by contracting cancer that same year, a setback I have been overjoyed to survive thus far.
In this phase I became extremely worried by the course of the nuclear arms race, and set up the Verification Technology Information Centre (VERTIC), a technical think tank of people drawn from the fields of science, the military and diplomacy, aiming to show how arms control treaties could be verified (1985 – present day). I served part-time as its first executive director for four years (1985-1989) during the tail end of the Cold War, in which time I also served on the board of Pugwash UK and was a frequent visitor on delegations to the Soviet Union. I had a number of experiences in those years that seem almost unbelievable, looking back. At some stage I might find time to try and chronicle them.
Becoming concerned about global warming, I resigned from Imperial College to become a climate campaigner with Greenpeace International (1989 – 1996). In this second career phase, I won the US Climate Institute’s Award for Advancing Understanding.
In my third phase, I led Solarcentury as CEO from 1997 until 2007, was Chairman from 1997 to 2015, and a board director from 2015 to December 2020, when the company was acquired by the Norwegian state renewables company Statkraft. The company has won multiple awards for innovation and sustainability, including the Sunday Times / Microsoft TechTrack 100 R&D Award (2006), the FT / Treasury Inner City 100 Greenest Company Award (2007), and a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Innovation (2011).
My awards along the solar road sound impressive, but could not possibly have been achieved without the hard work and brilliance of confederates in Solarcentury and SolarAid. Only those people know how limited I am in some of the areas they excel at, so I feel a bit of a fraud in reciting the list. But here goes. The awards include Entrepreneur of the Year at the New Energy Awards, UK Climate Week’s Most Inspirational Person Award, Outstanding Individual Award at the international Solar Industry Awards (2013), Champion of the Year in promoting the green economy at the Business Green Leaders Awards (2014), and Outstanding Individual Award at the Solar Power Portal Awards (2015). SolarAid’s non-profit retail brand SunnyMoney has won a BITC / Unilever Global Development Award (2017).
I was a CNN Principal Voice (2007) and served on UK government advisory bodies including the Renewables Advisory Board (2002 – 2006) [What a waste of time that was]. I convened the UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security, a pan-industry group warning of a systemic oil-depletion risk to economies (2007-2013), which evolved into the Transatlantic Energy Security Dialogue (2013-2014), co-convened with Lt Col. Daniel Davis (US Army). Like so many who hazard predicting the future, we failed to foresee how indebted the oil industry was prepared to become in order to stay alive (temporarily), and so we missed the “shale boom” (like almost everyone else).
I have served on the Advisory Boards of Xynteo’s Europe Delivers Advisory Board ( 2017 – 2020) and Next Energy Capital (2017 – present), a FTSE-quoted solar investment fund. I was a non–executive director of New Energies Invest AG, a private equity fund investing in renewable energy (2000-14) and served on the New Energy Architecture Global Agenda Council of the World Economic Forum (2012 – 2014), a group which among other things worked on “black swans” in energy markets. I reckon on seeing a few more those if I get to live another decade.
One such is surely the covid crisis, and in exact parallel with the unfolding of that I embarked on another, probably final, environmental / social purpose project: to create holistic and biodiverse carbon-sink nature reserves in Scotland.