How one Gloucestershire energy firm went from an idea over a pint to a multi-million pound company

In just five years, Stonehouse-based renewable energy company, Cotswold Energy Group, went from an idea over a pint, to a county-leading green energy business with a turnover of £9 million and staff of 80 and counting. SoGlos spoke to managing director Jon Bonnar to discover its magic formula.

By Sarah Kent  |  Published
Cotswold Energy Group is based in Stonehouse near Stroud and is one of the county's leading suppliers of renewable energy.

After being started by three friends in 2018, Cotswold Energy Group now employs more than 80 staff in roles spanning engineering, management and support. 

One of the leading installers of renewable heating and alternative energies in England and Wales, the company grew its turnover to £9 million in just five years, with a recruitment drive just launched, extensive investment in heat pump training for staff, as well as developing its own bespoke software platform. 

SoGlos spoke to founding member and managing director Jon Bonnar to find out the secret of the company's success and what's next for one of Gloucestershire's leading renewable energy specialists.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you were doing before you started Cotswold Energy Group?

I’ve always been fascinated with how business works. After graduating with a business studies degree, I started out as a technology consultant and followed this path for around seven years, before getting a taste for running my own business. I’ve since been involved in growing several startups and entry-level SMEs before finally settling with Cotswold Energy Group.

What was the idea behind forming Cotswold Energy Group (CEG)? And how did it happen?

My good friend Robin Hodge (we’ve known each other since we were three years old!) has a fantastic heritage in the renewables industry, having studied environmental sciences and worked firstly in Solar PV and latterly, heat pumps.

Hodge came to me after I’d just finished another project in late 2018 and we started talking over a pint about the importance of the future of decarbonisation and climate change. It didn’t take long to realise that with Hodge’s technical skill and my commercial background, we should start a business together. So, together with our friend Aaron Stuart-Kelso (who was with the business until earlier this year), we put in £2,000 each and the journey began.

Can you tell us a bit about CEG? What are its values and ethos?

CEG is, and has always been, built on family values. It’s focused on a common understanding and a mutual goal — to do a job properly and to give everything to achieving that. We put our staff and our customers at the heart of everything we do, because from experience, when we follow that recipe, the success follows naturally.

We believe we’re solving a very important problem for homeowners and business owners by providing simple, effective solutions to reduce their carbon footprint, whether that’s solar PV and heat pumps at home, or a full decarbonisation plan and funding mechanism for small or large businesses.

What did you hope to achieve by starting CEG?

The goal with any startup is to make a business that works — something that can pay the bills and put food on the table for the family. The aim has always been to help people reduce their carbon footprint, whether in their home or a business. It’s funny how the goalposts start to move as a business starts to scale, and something that started with a very basic idea becomes more complex very quickly as the monthly overheads increase dramatically to support the business growth.

Are there any achievements and highlights you'd like to shout out?

We’ve completed some fantastic projects over the years including solar PV at Cheltenham Town football club, a water source heat pump at Ebley Mill for Stroud District Council and air source heat pumps for Gloucestershire Constabulary, as well as hundreds of domestic systems in people’s homes. Equally, we’ve had some fantastic company parties and celebrations on the way.

What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of creating jobs in the local area and enjoying success whilst working with friends. Also, taking the idea from a spare bedroom to a business of around 80 people in under five years, starting with £4,000.

Has there been any challenges?

I’m not sure the internet is big enough to list them all! Starting a business in a developing market is always difficult because the external factors are constantly evolving, like government policy, regulation and improvements in technology, to name a few. Also, we were only in our second year when Covid hit, which was obviously a massive challenge for everyone, whether at work or at home.

What are your thoughts on climate change and sustainability?

To put it simply, the UK isn’t doing enough. Carbon levies (taxes) are currently added to our electricity bills, whereas they should be added to gas, because we can create electricity from low carbon sources like wind and solar PV. This means that low carbon heating, (like air source heat pumps, which run on electricity) are being unfairly penalised with higher running costs because the carbon levy is unfairly added to our electricity bills.

We can’t underestimate how the power of knowledge sharing and collaboration between government, industry and consumer advocates is essential to ensure net zero goals and deadlines for minimum energy efficiency standards are met.

What is your own home like? Is it eco-friendly?

Absolutely — heat pumps, solar panels and an EV charger all the way! I’m currently analysing my solar generation over the summer to establish which size of battery is most appropriate for my home. We pulled out a gas boiler in favour of a heat pump and it’s worked beautifully. Stacks of hot water at high pressure and nearly free electricity throughout the summer thanks to the solar. The EV charger can sense when I’m sending excess solar back to the electricity grid and diverts it to the car battery instead.

What advice would you give to businesses?

Get a decarbonisation plan in place as soon as you can. It’s already mandatory for large businesses — and SMEs will be next. It’s important to understand where you can adjust your processes to make carbon savings and that all starts with a plan. It shouldn’t cost the earth and companies like ours can help signpost you in the right direction.

And what would you suggest to homeowners?

Decarbonise now whilst there are still financial incentives, like the Boiler Upgrade Scheme, available. There is a common misconception that making energy efficient upgrades to your home has to come directly from your hip pocket, but there are avenues available right now that will help make your home warmer and more cost- and energy-efficient.

The scheme gives you £5,000 towards the cost of a heat pump and it’s redeemed by your installer so they will do the admin for you. These projects often pay back over time thanks to the savings on your energy bills they create, so the sooner they are installed, the sooner they will pay back.

To help paint a picture, one domestic project where the CEG team installed energy-efficient upgrades, Cherry Tree Cottage, helped the homeowners to reduce their carbon footprint by 118.80 tonnes and save £8,670.

What are CEG's plans for the future?

CEG has recently become part of SCIS Group, a national Trustmark-accredited energy efficiency provider. We have a shared goal of helping customers reduce their carbon emissions — and in the current climate, there is certainly a lot of work to be done!

We’re excited about the projects CEG has underway in Gloucestershire and beyond, and the expanded capabilities and services we can provide, and will continue to stay focused on our goal of helping more homeowners and businesses reduce their carbon footprint.

In partnership with Cotswold Energy Group  |

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