Enter the Dragon

With the dust finally settling on the government’s vision for the Feed-in Tariff (FiT), Paul Stephen speaks to Dragons’ Den star Deborah Meaden about the continued attractiveness of investing in PV

There are few people more qualified to pass judgment on the financial credentials of renewable energy than business woman and BBC TV’s Dragons’ Den investor Deborah Meaden.

Reportedly worth £40M, she has made her fortune whilst perfecting an impressive business acumen through seeking out shrewd investment opportunities since setting up her first business venture aged just 19.

Meaden has also invested £120,000 in Ploughcroft last year alongside fellow dragon Theo Paphitis.

Fresh from getting her hands dirty in a live demonstration at the Yorkshire company’s stand during The Homebuilding and Renovating Show at Birmingham’s NEC, Meaden explains why Ploughcroft has been a good investment, looks ahead to what the future holds for renewables and outlines the continued business case for investing in PV.

First in her sights is how pleased she has been with the performance of Ploughcroft and the return she has had on her investment.

“I had already installed solar panels and made a small investment in a regional business but I was thinking about how to get involved in a bigger way,” says Meaden.

“When Chris Hopkins (managing director) came into The Den, it was clear that he was knowledgable and shared the same values as me. But sometimes, what you see isn’t what you get. When I went up there (to Ploughcroft’s Halifax headquarters), it was more than I was expecting and underwrote everything I heard in The Den.

“I am already happy with the return on my investment. Chris and his team have done everything that they said and more, so it’s definitely a good one.”

Ploughcroft is a family-run business which Meaden tips to continue growing and diversifying due to its commitment to honesty and trustworthiness.

“I think it is important in any business, whether family run or not, to take things personally. That is the mark of a successful business, when you treat customers as you would your family.

“Ploughcroft has been growing exponentially. Our plan, whether it be 12 months, 18 months or two years, is to be a name in people’s heads or the word that comes out of people’s mouths when they are recommending renewables.

She adds: “What I think will happen now in the industry is that the leaders will emerge – those who are committed to it long term. Then people will start learning who they can and can’t trust – and they can trust Ploughcroft.

“If we make wild overstatements and claims of potential returns, we will damage the industry. Words are cheap and the thing I value about Ploughcroft is that it presents the facts.”

Finally, Meaden offers words of reassurance to those disheartened by the government’s changes to the Feed-in Tariff by insisting that investment in PV is still a sound choice for both wallet and conscience.

“I want to live in a wonderful world and we have to do it for two reasons,” she says. “The first is emotional as we want to live in a nice environment and, secondly, financially, we are going to run out of fossil fuel. That’s why it’s important to me.

“The issues are really quite simple. It’s fundamentally still a good proposition to install solar PV on your roof even under the new FiT tariff and will be for the foreseeable future.

“What the government has done is confuse people so our job is to unscramble that and clearly state why it is still the right thing to do. Good if you want to do the right thing and good if you want a good return on your investment.”