Working in the ‘Silicon Valley of energy’
We went behind the scenes of Britain’s fastest-growing clean energy company to meet the people powering the green revolution
Home » Working in the ‘Silicon Valley of energy’
Published: 9 April 2021
This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod
This article first appeared in our Love issue of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 09 April 2021. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox
Our world is on the cusp of a green energy revolution – the biggest societal shift since the internet – and Octopus Energy is among its pioneers.
The five-year-old energy tech company already has nearly 2 million customers in the UK, and its green technology is contracted to supply 17 million around the world.
To support this enormous growth, Octopus has pledged to hire 1,000 people in the next year in the UK alone. The clean energy company has a plan to make the UK the ‘Silicon Valley of energy’ – and its thousand jobs are just the tip of the iceberg.
The green economy is set to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the UK over the next few years – but what does a career in the energy of the future really look like?
Energy’s green future
Green energy has skyrocketed over the last 10 years. Renewables provided 47% of the UK’s power during the first quarter of 2020 – unimaginable even a decade ago, when coal produced 75% of our power and renewables only 6.5%. The government has pledged that wind energy alone will be able to power every UK home by 2030.
This investment in clean energy isn’t just necessary for the future of the planet – it’ll create hundreds of thousands of jobs and change the very trajectory of our economy.
A renewable revolution
Octopus Energy is a tech-led green energy company. It has revolutionised the industry with its innovative tech platform ‘Kraken’, which provides customers and employees with autonomy and control over their energy.
Octopus is also facilitating developments in emerging industries such as low-cost electric heating, electric vehicles and vertical farming. In just a few years, it has transformed the market with affordable renewable energy tariffs, helping the UK to lead the world in the race to net zero.
With energy, there’s a wide opportunity to work in an emerging industry centred around innovative technology and decarbonisation. But many people don’t know the breadth of roles available in the sector – and some may even have negative perceptions based on the associated creaky systems and fossil fuels. This needs to change, fast.
The people powering energy
The green sector needs hundreds of thousands more bright, passionate people to drive innovation, and a truly diverse workforce to ensure the voices of all people are represented.
Traditionally, the environmental sector has been one of the least diverse in the UK. According to a study conducted by The Equality Trust, National Union of Students and the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment in 2017, the sector only employs 0.6% non-white minorities.
Similarly, in tech only 17% of UK I.T. specialists are women, while Black Asian and Minority Ethnic I.T. specialists only account for 18%. A mere 2% are black and just 0.7% are black women, according to research from the British Computer Society.
It is crucial these industries act now to remove barriers to success for all under-represented groups. Octopus Energy wants to get rid of old perceptions of the sector, and show what it’s really like to work in the energy industry of the future.
When Octopus is in the news it’s often the founder Greg Jackson, but in truth Octopus Energy has been built by over 1,000 brilliantly talented people.
Meeting the Octopus team
Ruby was a recent Chemistry grad when she joined Octopus as one of its first customer specialists back in 2016. Since then, she’s gone from working with the tech team to establish crucial operational functions to building the credit department. Ruby now introduces new companies (currently energy giant E.ON) to Octopus Energy’s technology platform and unique way of working.
‘The trust we’re all given makes us really agile’, Ruby explains. ‘It’s empowering to be able to make decisions on the spot without having to jump through lots of hoops. Plus, if you have good ideas, knowledge is power. No matter where the idea comes from, you’re going to be listened to.’
Ruby is also an instrumental member of the internal Octopus Black Lives Matter Fund, which has dedicated £100,000 to combating systemic racism in the industry.
The traditional way of recruiting favoured by many businesses is often rife with bias and can create a homogeneous workspace. Octopus is trying something different to foster a diverse and inclusive work environment, with a view to finding people who truly embody what the company stands for.
After graduating from Leicester and joining Octopus Energy’s customer operations team, Sotiris is now spearheading big changes in the recruitment process. He’s helping to launch Discovery Days that take the focus away from CVs, personal details or background and instead focus on how people rise to a series of challenges.
Octopus Energy’s mission to create the Silicon Valley of energy has fostered interesting and unexpected career paths for those within the company.
Karim started off as a junior front-end developer and started managing a team of his own when the front-end team doubled in size over lockdown. He’s now preparing to relocate to Tokyo to lead a team for Octopus Energy Japan.
Senior engineer Gilly joined as one of Octopus Energy’s earliest front-end developers. She now leads her own team, responsible for crafting new tools and products to improve services, as well as helping Octopus expand into other countries.
Gilly left a career in consulting and app-making to join Octopus for the chance to make a positive impact. Her mission is to put the power of tech platform Kraken into the hands of users.
‘A lot of what we get out of Kraken comes from that trust that we put in people’, Gilly explains. ‘The company culture has always been incredibly supportive of learning by failing. They put a lot of confidence and trust in us to run with our ideas.’
Gilly’s experience has allowed her to spearhead a tech internship for young women to help make the industry more diverse and accessible for all.
The aptly named Ada Lovelace Internship was launched in 2020, and was such a huge success that it will continue annually.
‘Tech is such a male-dominated field and as a woman I’ve seen and experienced a lot of prejudice and stereotypes’, said Ada Lovelace intern and computer science student Noshin. ‘This chance to work in tech with other women confirmed I do definitely want to work in this industry.’
Out of office
Not all energy jobs are office-based, either. Octopus installs smart hardware – from electric vehicle chargers to smart meters – through Octopus Energy Services.
Zoe was hired as a smart meter engineer and brought exceptional people skills through her background as a social worker. She now trains Octopus engineers with the energy company’s specific brand of customer-centric service – spreading the word about innovative green smart tariffs, sharing energy-saving advice and even supporting the local community during lockdown by delivering food and medication to sheltering people.
Octopus Energy does things differently, so when Zoisa got in touch with Greg to discuss his rapidly growing business, he offered her a position to set up Octopus Energy for Business on the spot.
Before joining Octopus, Zoisa had worked to create meaningful connections between massive wind and solar farms and the businesses they powered. Under Zoisa’s leadership, Octopus Energy for Business provides tariffs that offer SMEs 100% locally generated power, and tariffs specifically for vertical farms and powering public electric vehicle chargers. ‘If we want to truly globalise green energy, it can’t just involve the Top 250 companies’, Zoisa said.
The Manchester tech hub
Octopus has launched a smart tech hub in Manchester, creating countless new opportunities for innovation. It has acquired a super-smart local startup called Upside Energy to help the hub grow, and will also integrate Upside’s tech into Kraken.
Upside Energy’s intelligent software helps make energy devices like batteries, electric vehicles and heat pumps smarter, matching their consumption with greener and cheaper electricity.
Upside’s senior market analyst Charlotte has always been passionate about fighting the climate crisis and wanted to work for a company that truly made a difference. Charlotte models the revenue and carbon-saving potential of products like smart home batteries across different markets, which is just one of many fascinating jobs available to help the UK move towards a smarter, greener grid.
Switching to electric vehicles
The global electric vehicle (EV) boom is happening, and Octopus Electric Vehicles (OEV) makes it easier for people and businesses to switch to electric transport. You get a holistic experience; everything from a car lease to a great tariff is covered.
Director of operations Gurjeet left a career in principal investing to join Octopus’ crucial work accelerating the UK’s transition to net zero through EVs.
He acknowledges the OEV team’s remarkable success, growing from a tiny team setting up test-driving stands to a fully fledged, stand-alone operation.
‘More than anything’, Gurjeet says, ‘I’m so proud of the group of people we have assembled, who do phenomenal work and are all so passionate about our mission’.
The ‘new normal’ for work
Last year brought an unprecedented set of challenges, but when the world went into lockdown in March, Octopus Energy was uniquely placed to adjust to society’s new remote work lives.
For a long time Octopus has had a remote team suitable for flexible careers and a variety of lifestyles, access needs and locations. This digital operations team is flexible and customer-facing, working out-of-hours across digital platforms.
It employs a fast-growing group of skilled individuals working all around the UK and even a few internationally, from Canada to South Africa.
The team includes team leader Kerry, a mother of four boys who used to be a teacher and was looking for a flexible, fulfilling career to balance with family life.
In 2018, Kerry joined Octopus outside ‘normal’ working hours and progressed to creating and leading a 20-strong team that looks after customers on social media and fosters Octopus’ hyper-engaged digital community.
Samsam joined Octopus’ customer operations team in Leicester, but switched to working remotely as part of the DigiOps team so she could accommodate her Masters studies. She now works on Octopus’ Black Lives Matter Fund and writes for the Octopus blog; she also collaborated with My Green Pod to create this article!
Join the mission
What unites this big team of brilliant people, working across a wide variety of locations and departments, is a shared sense of purpose and responsibility. Thanks to their collective work, Octopus Energy is growing fast and working relentlessly to drive the global transition to a system powered by 100% green energy.
Just as the internet transformed our lives, so will the people-led, tech-powered green energy revolution – and history will mark this moment in time.
To make the vision a reality, Octopus Energy needs even more people who share the mission for a sustainable planet – this could be your chance to join the fight!