Time is running out – the energy sector’s Generation 2050 speak up

Sinead Obeng AMEI, Chair of the EI Young Professionals Council

With COP26 less than a year away, an intergenerational climate emergency requires intergenerational action. We have over 1,000 young energy experts that can help shape the climate debate, writes the Energy Institute’s Sinead Obeng AMEI

In the late 1990s, legendary General Electric CEO Jack Welch made 500 of his top executives pair up with junior, tech-savvy members of staff to learn how to use the internet. He secured his company a competitive edge and popularised what’s now known as reverse mentoring.

There are obviously great benefits that come with experience and longevity as shown by the incredible achievements of today’s leaders across industries, but the act of listening to diverse opinions can open eyes to fresh ways of thinking about strategic issues and leadership, and it can challenge our mindset in profoundly positive ways.

Reverse mentoring isn’t really about age, it’s about the vantage point from where we each see the world. And in the context of the intergenerational nature of the climate change, this is crucial.

As a “millennial” I have grown up witnessing the increased certainty in observations, theory and modelling on climate change. “Generation Z” (yes, there is actually generation below mine starting to emerge into the workplace) have not only spent formative years against a backdrop of even greater certainty around the scientific impacts, they have also witnessed real world discussions on the technological and policy changes required to reduce current emission trends.

Subsequently, younger generations are generally more concerned about climate change and are keen to contribute to genuine reform, which should be an intergenerational effort anyway.

Young people early in their careers in the energy sector today will be the industry’s leaders in 2050. We will inherit an exciting industry that has a rich history of achievement. We will also inherit an industry that will be judged on how it has responded to the climate emergency.

That’s why we’ve published the Generation 2050 Manifesto. It articulates the voices of more than 1,000 under 35-year olds working in and studying energy, from London to Lagos, Singapore to San Francisco, from oil and gas through to nuclear, renewables, energy efficiency and storage.

All of these sectors must work together to meet net zero. I myself work predominantly in the gas industry where a plethora of initiatives to decarbonise energy are under way from the electrification of upstream assets, hydrogen deployment in the gas transmission networks to investments in offset programmes.

Generation 2050 is an incredibly driven body of people – 60% of our contributors identify climate change as the main motivator for choosing their career in energy and 90% recognise it has given them greater agency in tackling this global challenge.

Consequently, the large majority worry for their inheritance – three quarters fear the world is currently unlikely to keep global average temperatures within 2C this century. They call for political leaders to introduce legislative and regulatory reforms to drive the transition further and faster, and industry leaders to align their business plans and commitments with the ambition demanded by global climate targets.

We are similarly disappointed at the pace of progress towards the UN goal of universal access to energy by 2030. Human ingenuity in our field has achieved so much, and yet around 800 million people still don’t enjoy access to electricity and 3 billion still cook with dangerously toxic cooking fuels. Finding affordable, reliable pathways to provide sustainable energy for all populations without compromising security of supply is crucial.

The next decade will be critical for getting on track, next year in particular, in how today’s political, industrial and societal leaders go about rebuilding after the pandemic and in the race to zero at COP26, we want our voices to be heard and our recommendations to be carefully considered.

Generation 2050 will be working over the coming year to get the Manifesto noticed where it counts, taking over some of the Energy Institute’s channels and activities and with the help of our supporting partners – high profile names from across industry, academia and government who share the view that tomorrow’s energy leaders should be heard today.

I have huge admiration for those sitting in boardrooms and around cabinet tables today – but I am also hugely optimistic about the ability of my generation to take up the reins in the future.

Meeting net zero requires creative solutions that involve all technologies and realms of the energy industry – all of which are represented within the Energy Institute’s broad membership.

Generation 2050 seeks to remove any room for villainisation, bridge the generation gap and provide a space for future energy leaders to put forward fresh ideas to today’s political leaders, industry leaders and the wider society.

Sinead Obeng AMEI is Chair of the Energy Institute Young Professionals Council

The Generation 2050 Manifesto is at www.energy-inst.org/generation2050

Big ideas from young minds

Having wowed our CEO Louise Kingham and President Steve Holliday earlier this year with their ‘Blu Pipe’ drainpipe generator, which scooped them the EI’s Big Bang Climate Change Award, the young team at Walton High School in Stafford are back with a guest blog post in which they share their big ideas for a clean energy future…

James:

With the growing issues of climate change and global warming, we need to begin to act now if we are to achieve the UK’s target of net zero greenhouse emissions by 2050. With the energy industry contributing significantly to these emissions, alternative methods of generating energy must be used One option in the long term may be nuclear fusion.

A newly emerging technology born from long recognised scientific principles, nuclear fusion may hold the answer to clean, reliable energy. As the driving force behind the sun’s energy, it is a reaction where two or more nuclei are combined to form a heavier nucleus under intense heat and pressure. The fusion of lighter nuclei up to iron will typically release energy, conserving the difference in mass between reactants and products. This energy could then be harnessed as a useful output of the reaction, transferred, and transported as electric energy.

Using nuclear fusion as an energy source would have many benefits, notably releasing no CO2 emissions or other greenhouse gases with its major product consisting of helium – an inert, non-toxic gas. Furthermore, the fuel used (deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen) is abundant in the Earth’s oceans and produces large volumes of energy for the amount of reactant used. When compared with nuclear fission, fusion is a much safer alternative, there is no risk of meltdown due to the intricate conditions required and low fuel amounts used. Additionally, the small amount of radioactive waste produced is only short-lived and could be recycled or reused within 100 years.

However, nuclear fusion like all forms of energy production is not without its drawbacks. For the reaction to occur, the fuel plasma must be heated to millions of degrees which requires a large amount of power input. Since nuclear fusion was first proposed in 1940, no design has successfully produced more fusion power output than electrical power input. This problem may be solved with new designs such as the tokamak and the inertial confinement laser being tested in France and the US. Secondly, neutrons released by the reaction must be managed as they can degrade many common materials used within reaction chambers over time.

In conclusion, nuclear fusion is a promising source of energy for the future which may be crucial in becoming completely reliant on renewable, clean energy. While it currently has two major problems, as technology continues to develop, these can be overcome to provide an essential supply of energy.

Harvey:

I believe that small changes in our lifestyle are vital in the fight against climate change. There are schemes in the UK and Denmark now that are encouraging people to ride a bicycle to work instead of driving a car. If one did this it would improve your lifestyle with more exercise, reduce emissions from cars and free up more space in urban areas. In the United States this would be very significant because over half of all the country’s downtown space is given to roads or parking. At the moment, there are only 6 major cities worldwide where more than 10 percent of journeys are made by bicycle: Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Shanghai, Tokyo, and Berlin but there are several cities where bike journeys are becoming increasingly prevalent. In conclusion, a semi-realistic option of reducing the rate of global warming is to change our lifestyle choices to more ecological options.

Eden:

Whilst we shift our focus onto renewable energy sources in order to alleviate the output of greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere, it is important to optimise the efficiency of these methods of producing energy. With many of these, such as wind and solar power, it can be difficult to control exactly how much energy is being produced, therefore at times, the amount of electricity could exceed demand. This electricity, if not needed at one point, could be in high demand at another time in the day, therefore it is useful to store electricity to improve the stability of the supply of renewable electricity.

Our current methods of storing electricity include hydroelectric, batteries, compressed air, flywheels, and thermal energy storage. However, there are some issues with these storage methods. Pumped hydroelectric storage can have a significant environmental impact considering that often the infrastructure causes the destruction of ecosystems in mountains and valleys, and moreover, it can require additional energy to pump water up to the highest dam. Reducing the environmental impacts of hydroelectric power storage and reducing the energy needed to allow for it would be extremely beneficial, as hydroelectric storage is an incredibly popular method of storing energy, is mainly efficient, and improves the reliability of other renewable energy sources with electricity outputs which are difficult to control.

Recently, in order to reduce the environmental impact on ecosystems affected by the reservoirs, some concepts have emerged which would create sub-surface reservoirs in caverns or abandoned mines. Additionally, creating reservoirs away from river systems minimises impact on existing rivers, and their position can be optimised such that it is in the most beneficial position to support the national grid. As our technology improves for drilling and construction methods, it should become easier to construct these systems in a wider variety of places. Newer technologies for pumped hydroelectric storage mean that its efficiency has improved greatly, with reversible pump turbines, insulation systems for generators, turbines for which their speed can be adjusted. As these continue to improve, the long term efficiency and cost of maintaining pumped hydroelectric storage systems should also improve.

Ultimately, in order to sustain a future where our energy supply includes a much higher percentage of renewable energy sources, it is necessary that we stabilise the supply with energy storage methods. Funding the optimisation of these methods, such as pumped hydroelectric storage, to minimise damage to our planet and improve efficiency should not be overlooked when trying to achieve carbon neutrality.

Harry:

Solar energy is becoming more and more prevalent in today’s society since it is a very flexible source of electricity due to the scalability of solar cells. For example, road signs often have small integrated solar panels to provide enough energy for them while large scale solar farms can produce enough for large businesses and homes. Solar panels can also be run independent of the mains grid which makes them ideal for use in isolated communities such as in deserts where sunlight is in abundance. I think that solar energy is great because it is a clean reliable source of electricity.

For info about the Climate Change Award and the winning project energy-inst.org/climate-change-award

Heat decarbonisation: can we ride the crest of the wave?

Dr Joanne Wade OBE FEI, Chief Strategic Advisor at the Association for Decentralised Energy

The need to decarbonise heating in our homes and workplaces becomes ever more urgent.  Technology alone will not solve this problem: we energy users need to change the way we do things.  Many of these changes may simply involve choosing less familiar technologies; some will be more radical, involving the way we live our lives.  But all the changes will need not only to be accepted, but actually to be welcomed by energy users if we are to deliver the transformation we need in the time we have available.

At the moment, it is not possible to write about transformations, in technologies, economies or lifestyles, without considering the impact of COVID-19. Is the combination of net zero and the pandemic a perfect storm? Will it crash over the low carbon heat sectors and drown us, or will it actually pick us up and carry us to as yet uncharted waters? 

The pandemic has shown that we can radically change the way we do things, if we have to.  But at what cost? For some of us, with desk jobs and with space, light, warmth and decent broadband at home, it has perhaps been a nice change to avoid the commute and spend more time in the garden.  For others, with less secure jobs that need us to be physically present, or with cramped or unhealthy homes, it is a different story.  Rapid change is possible, but it is only positive with the right infrastructure to support it.

The parlous state of many of our buildings is being highlighted as we move towards an uncertain winter.  Lockdowns and self-isolation are bad enough in warm, comfortable homes.  In the far too many homes in the UK that have inadequate insulation and heating, a resurgence of the virus may strand families in unhealthy environments for extended periods of time, exacerbating existing ill-health and putting more strain on the NHS. 

And will businesses with only half their staff in the office see the benefits in terms of reduced energy use?  Probably not, at least not in terms of the energy used to heat the space.  How many energy managers have access to the sorts of controls that will let them provide heat and light only to the areas of the office that are actually being used?  Very few, I suspect.

We must do all we can to address the urgent problem of cold homes right now, but we must also look to the future, and ensure that the steps we take now set us on the right track.  The heat-related elements of the economic stimulus package, announced by the Chancellor in July, are a good start but they are nowhere near enough.  They address the immediate crisis but do not yet set us on a path to full decarbonisation of heating.

Some may argue that we cannot do much more, as we don’t yet know the ‘best’ way to decarbonise our heat.  Is it with electrification, or by using hydrogen? Is it with individual heating systems or using district heating?  How much energy efficiency in buildings is enough?  These are to some extent valid questions, because we don’t yet know all the answers.  But we cannot let the quest for the perfect plan paralyse us.  If we do, then our perfect storm will drown us. 

We can act now in areas where the choices are clear. We know for example that investing in high fabric energy performance delivers more healthy buildings and keeps all our options open for zero carbon heat supply.  We know that heat pumps can be a good option in more rural areas and that heat networks make sense for new developments.

But how can we ensure that early action happens where it is most appropriate and that it engages energy users, so that they see a positive change that they are happy to participate in? 

Government must enable more local energy planning and programmes: getting people involved in deciding how to decarbonise their local area is a good way to build consent.  And companies in the low carbon heat supply chains need to sell something that is better than the current system, which we all know does not deliver the heat services we want.  There are promising signs: the Prospering from the Energy Revolution demonstrators; the Energy Systems Catapult work on Heat as a Service; our work at the ADE on zoning for heat and energy efficiency.  We need to learn from this work and build the policy framework to support more of it, and we need to do it now.

The UK Citizens Climate Assembly reported earlier this month, and called for the economic recovery from COVID-19 to help drive the move to net zero carbon emissions.  Four in five of the EI’s members surveyed for the recent Energy Barometer agree.  If we grasp this clear opportunity to respond when people want to be engaged, by asking them to help define what they want from their heat system and offering them new products and services to deliver this, we can ride the wave to calmer, healthier, net zero waters.

Dr Joanne Wade OBE is a Trustee and Fellow of the Energy Institute (EI) and Chief Strategic Advisor at the Association for Decentralised Energy (ADE).  She is speaking today at Heat & Decentralised Energy 2020: Levelling up with local energy.

Originally published by Future Net Zero on 23 September 2020.

Climate, capital and COVID: What’s an energy executive to do?

Ben Ratner, Senior Director and Mark Brownstein, Senior Vice President of Energy at Environmental Defense Fund, discuss the four key elements that every company must engage to showcase reinvention in the low carbon era.

We’re hearing more oil and gas companies pledging to reinvent themselves for a new, low carbon energy era. This conversation is unfolding as those same companies grapple with massive impacts of the global pandemic, as well as competitive challenges from cleaner, often cheaper alternatives that had been gaining steam well before the current crisis.

So how can investors and other stakeholders tell which companies are genuinely rising to the occasion? Each producer is going to have to find its own way to navigate the profound transformation of their industry and still make money doing it. But we think there are four key elements (below) that every company must engage to compete in this decade and beyond.

Existential challenge

A perfect storm of factors has exposed the extreme volatility and unsustainability inherent in the traditional oil and gas business model of producing as much oil and gas as possible, as quickly as possible, without regard to the climate and public health toll. Century-old businesses must be transformed from the inside out.

It’s not just environmentalists saying this anymore. One big reason so many CEOs are out stumping about the energy transition is that their investors are insisting on it. They’re frustrated with dwindling returns and alarmed by the material risks of climate change.

Companies are beginning to evaluate how to reinvent and risk-proof their businesses. Success will mean remaking themselves into more efficient enterprises. Access to talent and continued license to operate is on the line for many companies, and access to capital and end markets for many more.

Net-zero emissions by 2050 — which means cutting greenhouse pollution as deeply as possible, then capturing the rest — is the goal. Failure is not an option. Global oil and gas producers including BP and Shell have recognized this North Star, and BP has begun putting metrics and milestones to its plan. Others are contemplating a similar direction. Many have not yet awakened to the need for profound change. But whether they recognize it today or not, they’re all facing the same challenge.

Investor and social pressure will only continue to grow as the planet warms.

Four elements for success

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Each management team must develop its own strategy that fits its competitive advantages, its geographies, investor base and business partnerships. But there are four basic levers every company will have to pull in some combination to develop an energy transition strategy worthy of confidence and capital on the path to net-zero.

  1. Slash greenhouse emissions coming from oil and gas production, the value chain and end use. This includes carbon dioxide, methane and the local air pollutants impacting communities around the world (often the least advantaged ones). And not just from wholly-owned operations; today’s oil and gas industry comprises vast networks of joint ventures and shared assets. Companies can’t hold these partnerships to lower standards, or simply offload polluting assets and claim success.
  2. Slow, then stop, investment in new exploration and production, petrochemicals and refineries. Furthermore, any dollar a company spends toward exploration, production and refining activities must be justified within the context of achieving the net-zero goal. There’s no tolerance for saying one thing while doing another. While nobody expects wholesale change overnight, companies need to start hitting the brake pedal before the sharper turns ahead. BP’s commitment to cut oil and gas production 40% by 2030 garnered praise from Greenpeace UK and a 7% day one stock bounce from the market.
  3. Move serious capital from traditional oil and gas into the zero-carbon energy technologies of the future. This is where the real, fundamental change begins, and where business growth opportunities in the energy sector are multiplying. While diversification won’t come easily for everyone, many will seek competitive risk-adjusted returns, whether dialing up solar energy, becoming an offshore wind major, leaning in to the electrification mega-trend, or innovating elsewhere. Aggressively integrating renewables in upstream operations is a pragmatic place to start.
  4. Begin working with customers, suppliers and others to implement strategies and technologies to neutralize any emissions that remain. Options range from protecting tropical forests or collaborating with partners on sustainable farming practices to new direct air capture technologies that can suck carbon pollution out of the air and store it or recycle it.

That’s a big ‘to-do’ list. But for a capital intensive industry with long-lived assets, 2050 will come sooner than it seems. Interim milestones to measure and evaluate progress will be key.

Finally, big changes in the energy sector require government and business leaders working together to create and implement policies and regulations that make it easier for companies to pull the levers cost effectively. That’s why it’s also in companies’ self-interest to lean into progressive policy advocacy, from methane regulation to a price on carbon, from rules that assure carbon sequestration with environmental integrity to electrification incentives.

Urgency & momentum

The moment is now. Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, is among many who recognize that global efforts to cope with the economic fallout from the COVID-19 crisis offer a historic opportunity to scale up the technologies needed for the clean energy transition. Forward-looking executives know not to let a crisis go to waste, and are setting the foundation to emerge leaner and cleaner when the dust settles.

The defining decade for oil and gas in the energy transition has begun. The decisions executives make now will shape the fate of their companies and that of the planet. Our money is on those who rise to the challenge and make it their business to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems.

Originally published by the Environmental Defense Fund on 17 August 2020.

Hydrogen – the next great enabler?

Steve at EI Awards 2019

Steve Holliday, President of Energy Institute and former CEO of National Grid

Energy Institute President Steve Holliday FREng FEI sees hydrogen as an essential net zero solution, but it faces two big hurdles…

Upgrading the Climate Change Act last year from an 80% cut in emissions to a net zero target fundamentally changed the debate about our future energy system. It said loud and clear that every single part of our economy has to maximise its decarbonisation potential. There’s very little hiding place – no longer the opt-out of thinking ‘I’ll be in the 20%’.

I was pleased because I’ve long been frustrated at the tribalism often found in our industry and felt the climate challenge is so great that we need to have all the low carbon options on the table.

During my decade as head of National Grid, we saw the first chapter of the UK’s net zero journey – the early decarbonisation of electricity, in particular the incredible gains achieved in renewables. This is of course not yet finished, but electricity is already becoming a central enabler of our low carbon economy – for digitalisation in manufacturing, EVs, electrified rail infrastructure and electric heat in our homes.

But it would be wrong to think we can electrify our way entirely out of the climate emergency, and I’m excited at the level of discussion now under way about the next great enabler of decarbonisation – hydrogen.

Hydrogen is abundant, it’s one of the building blocks of all matter in the universe and it has great potential across heat, industry, and transport. And it finally seems to be pushing at an open door in government and our industry.

There’s hydrogen and there’s hydrogen

Just as with electricity, hydrogen is only as environmentally friendly as the way it is produced. Though near invisible, it comes in a number of ‘colours’, but only two are compatible with our net zero future – blue hydrogen using natural gas with carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS), and green hydrogen using renewables with electrolysis.

Apart from the prospect of reaching previously hard-to-decarbonise parts of our economy, low carbon hydrogen could open up industrial opportunity for the UK, with significant export potential. Blue hydrogen plays to our strengths, in particular the engineering skills and expertise currently employed in the oil and gas industry. Similarly, green hydrogen would further capitalise on the massive renewable resource on and around our energy island.

Either way there’s a big challenge in bringing down costs. What’s required is serious government intervention aimed at ensuring the sector has the best possible chance of delivering on its promise. Like the world we were in a decade ago with solar and wind – we needed to kickstart those industries in the UK with incentives. And those incentives worked.

Blue hydrogen will require progress in the demonstration and deployment of CCUS, something that has wider applications too. And we’re going to need to incentivise the scaling up of green hydrogen to make it economic and logical to tie it in with wind and solar.

hyrdogen graphicTaking the public with us

But getting safe, low carbon hydrogen down the cost curve is only halfway there. Where I fear the technology could founder is on the rocks of public opinion.

The Committee on Climate Change estimates that more than half of the emission reductions needed to reach net zero in the UK will come from behavioural or societal change in combination with low carbon technologies.

As with anything unfamiliar, we will all need to feel confident with hydrogen in our day-to-day lives. It will mean change and require a greater level of support to improve the hydrogen literacy of energy users.

Studies have raised concerns that the public’s level of awareness about hydrogen is lagging behind other low carbon technologies and could pose a barrier to its deployment. Research by Madano for the CCC found just over half of survey respondents have never heard of hydrogen fuel boilers, the lowest awareness of all alternative low carbon heat technologies. Research for the H21 project by Leeds Beckett University found more than two thirds of customers are indifferent or undecided about conversion to hydrogen, largely because they don’t know enough about it, are unconvinced that it’s the right solution, or are simply not engaged with the topic.

The Energy Institute’s recent contribution to this endeavour – the new Energy Essentials: Guide to Hydrogen – is therefore important. Aimed at those who are not expert in the field, it supports everyday understanding about hydrogen – the potential benefits, challenges and user experience in the home, for transport and in industry.

It’s hard to imagine a net zero future without hydrogen in some form or other. The technology and ingenuity are certainly there. But I believe the extent and pace of deployment will depend on efforts to make it affordable and to develop the public acceptability. Both have been done with other novel technologies in the past, and I hope we can do so with hydrogen so it can reach its full potential as an enabler of our future net zero way of life.

The Energy Institute’s new Essentials Guide to Hydrogen is at www.energy-inst.org/Hydrogen

This blog post was originally published on Future Net Zero on 4 August 2020.

To deliver Net Zero by 2050, the 2020s really have to be the decade of delivery

Steve Holliday

Steve Holliday, President of Energy Institute and former CEO of National Grid

This year’s Energy Barometer report adds energy professionals to the list of those calling for a green recovery, says Energy Institute President and former National Grid CEO Steve Holliday FREng FEI.

Energy professionals in my experience are a pretty hard-headed bunch. They’re engineers, technicians, scientists and economists, driven by the practicalities of what it takes to keep the electrons and molecules flowing to our homes, businesses and vehicles. I value their methodical, fact-based view of the world because it delivers for us all day-in-day-out, even in these exceptional times.

So when we survey the Energy Institute’s members in the UK every year in our Energy Barometer, about their sector and the world around them, I listen. And this year’s survey, focused on net zero and the impact of COVID-19 could not be better timed.

There’s no doubt the UK has a strong track record as a climate leader. The Climate Change Act was in its day the first of its kind, and upgrading the target to net zero last year in line with the science put us back in the vanguard.

I was privileged to have been at the helm of National Grid during what I now see as the first decade of that net zero journey. And progress getting renewables onto, and coal off, Britain’s electricity grid has been astonishing.

But our survey published this month shows energy professionals are worried. Nine in ten of them believe the UK is currently off track for net zero by 2050; more than half of them say we’re even off track for the target for 2030 without urgent policy action.

More ambitious policies are needed and fast

In this endeavour, numbers matter. Zero is the goal, but emissions are still only down around 40% and the hardest work is yet to be done. Dates matter too. 2050 might sound like a long time away, but the lead times for technology development and deployment are lengthy. If we’re to have a chance of net zero by the middle of the century, the 2020s really have to be the decade of delivery.

Fortunately, the Energy Barometer contains help for ministers looking for solutions. Before anything else, our members prescribe the unfinished business of bringing our nation’s buildings up to scratch. Energy efficiency is singled out as both the biggest missed opportunity of the past decade and the foremost option for plugging the emissions reduction gap for the 2030 target at least cost. Furthermore, in the context of COVID-19, more members urge retrofitting existing housing stock than any other action for a resilient recovery, probably for the same reasons it’s finding favour with ministers. It has nation-wide, job-creating potential, with long term environmental and social benefits.

In fact our members overwhelmingly support calls for ministers to turn the discontinuity caused by the pandemic into the moment we get real about the climate threat and the shape of our future economy. Four in five agree with the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) that stimulus should be channelled into green industries and jobs, and support for emissions-intensive sectors should be contingent on action on climate change.

Bold decisions urgently need taking in heat and transport, to set us on that path to net zero by 2050. Top of the list are funding and incentives to bring on low-carbon aviation fuels, hydrogen HGVs, heat pumps, hydrogen-ready boilers, and demonstration of CCUS in power generation and industrial clusters.

Moral authority

All of this matters for our economic recovery and for delivering on the UK’s legally binding targets, but it also matters for Glasgow and COP26. Without immediate domestic policy steps from ministers, to quote the CCC’s Lord Deben, “the UK’s international credibility is on the line”.

Orchestrating the international ‘Race to Zero’ and the diplomacy required by it over the next year will call for every bit of credibility we can muster. Hence why leading by example at home is singled out by our members more than any other measure as the number one priority for maintaining the UK’s status as a climate leader.

The delay to COP26 bought breathing space but the test is fast approaching when the UK will need to prove its moral authority. The world has entrusted the UK with COP26. Only with ambitious clean energy action at home can we inspire reciprocal action from countries around the world.

The Energy Institute’s Energy Barometer 2020 can be found at www.energyinst.org/barometer/2020

This blog post was originally published on PoliticsHome The House Live on 21 July 2020.

Future fit: how today’s graduates can equip themselves to stay ahead

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Sue-Zhen Yong, Membership Engagement Officer at the Energy Institute

As students around the world graduate, Sue-Zhen Yong reflects on the benefits that membership of the Energy Institute can provide in a period of uncertainty.

With millions of students all over the world donning their virtual graduation caps, there still remains an elephant in the room as we head into what the Bank of England has predicted as the “worst recession in centuries”.

Uncertainty has been percolating around the job market for some time. According to a recent survey conducted by the Institute of Student Employers, a third of the UK’s biggest student employers remain “undecided about their hiring plans”.

The same survey reported 27% are cutting down their graduate hires, and nearly a third will also be reducing internships and placements. Perhaps most tellingly, over two thirds have called off work experience and insight.

Whilst it’s undeniable that students and recent graduates will face a challenging job market, it’s also important to remember that student and graduate recruitment is still happening.

We’ve seen companies finding new, innovative ways to secure the best talent they can in these unprecedented times with the emergence of virtual work insight schemes and internships, a direct response to the pandemic.

Equipping our younger generation with the necessary skills could not be more pertinent in the energy industry, as future industry leaders tackle the world’s most pressing challenges.  Achieving net-zero will require the brightest and best minds – and there is real opportunity for today’s young professionals to be leading this change.

For students and graduates, what is vital in the current job market is to stand out from the crowd. An excellent starting point is being adaptable, open-minded and proactive with your professional development.

If you’re considering a career in the energy sector, joining the Energy Institute as a Student or Associate member can be a straightforward first step into the industry.

So how can EI membership improve your job prospects?

EI membership is a route to provide you with knowledge, resources and insights into everything energy-related, filled with a whole host of benefits and services equipped to support you at every step of your career.

Here are 4 ways you can make the most of your EI membership and get a step up on the competition:

Boost your hiring prospects

The proof is in the pudding – employers are looking for go-getters who are proactive and possess a clear interest in working in the sector.

EI membership is a valuable addition to your CV and can even provide a constructive talking point in interviews.

Many competent, experienced experts in their field hold professional membership with a body such as the EI. Highly regarded across the sector, our Student and Associate membership grades are the early stages of this achievement.

Connect with like-minded energy enthusiasts and grow your network

Every day, our energy community continues to grow, bringing together people across the energy system from all walks of life.

Through EI LIVE, our programme of virtual events, you can interact with energy experts and start to build your own network of industry contacts.

Or tap into the EI‘s global network of branches and Young Professionals Networks (YPNs), all led by passionate volunteer members, helping to connect you to other energy professionals through local events. Never underestimate the power of networking!

Stay up to date with industry developments

What makes energy an exciting sector to work in is its continuously evolving and dynamic landscape, which prospective employers expect you to be clued up on.

Keep up to date by engaging with our Knowledge Service, the EI’s vast hub of energy information encompassing the entire energy spectrum. This includes our e-Library, packed with over 200 eBooks and 2 million articles to help you learn and develop.

As an EI member you can also catch up with the latest headline news through online access to our magazines, Energy World and Petroleum Review.

Future-proof your career

Further down the line in your career, securing a professional qualification is a fantastic way of showcasing your competence and commitment to the sector, whilst elevating your profile amongst your peers in the industry.

Our range of professional membership and registration grades reflect the depth and breadth of the energy sector, whether it’s Chartered Energy Manager, Chartered or Incorporated Engineer, Chartered Environmentalist or Professional membership.

If you’re not quite ready to apply but are keen to work towards professional recognition, you can use mycareerpath, our online professional development tool for members. mycareerpath helps you to plan, record and review your progress towards our professional titles.

So what are you waiting for?

If you’re currently studying at an EI Learning Affiliate institution, Student membership is free. If not, it’s a one-off fee of £27 that will cover you for the duration of your studies.

Recently graduated? Our Associate membership is for you – as we’re half-way through the year, you’ll only be charged half rate for 2020.

Find out more information on our membership grades and sign up here.

References

Institute of Student Employers (2020). Firms cut opportunities for school leavers and graduates press release.

Guardian (2020). Bank of England warns UK faces historic recession; US jobless claims hit 3.1m

The co-benefits of energy efficiency stack up; and they do for other low carbon options too

 

Rob Gross

Dr Rob Gross FEI, Energy Institute Council Member and Director of UKERC

As UK energy professionals today add their voices to those calling for a green recovery, Dr Rob Gross FEI, Energy Institute Council Member and Director of UKERC, attempts to decipher the white smoke emerging from the Treasury.

 

Fears by some that we might have reached ‘peak net zero’, and that we were in for a rerun of post-2008 when climate mitigation fell off the radar in tough times, appear to have been dispelled. At least for now.

That the Treasury has been convinced to invest £3 billion on a key element of what’s needed to set the UK down the track towards its emission reduction goals is welcome, and reflects a concerted case that’s been made by industry and NGOs alike.

It’s one that the Energy Institute’s members right across the UK energy sector – including oil and gas, renewables and the demand side – make again today in the annual Energy Barometer survey report. Energy efficiency is singled out as both the biggest missed opportunity of the past decade and the foremost option for plugging the emissions reduction gap in the next.

Furthermore, in the context of COVID-19, more members urge retrofitting existing housing stock than any other action for a resilient recovery, probably for the same reasons it’s finding favour with ministers.

The economic, environmental and social co-benefits of this have never been clearer. Improved insulation reduces bills and makes buildings more comfortable. It helps meet climate change goals, given today’s homes represent a fifth of emissions, and the vast majority of them will still be around in 2050. It’s a win-win for the resilience and affordability of our wider energy system – reducing the need for relatively costly power and gas supply infrastructure.

And it just happens to be pretty labour intensive and geographically widespread, creating lots of opportunities for skilled manual labour. Industry estimates put it at 40,000 jobs over the next two years, and 150,000 by 2030.

It’s reassuring to hear the Treasury describe the Chancellor’s announcement as a “down payment”. Substantial intervention in decarbonising buildings is long overdue. What’s required is a sustained multi-year programme to establish the market, give supply chains the confidence to invest and consumers the chance to consider what retrofit measures would work best for them and plan them in at a time which suits them. The Better Buildings Neighbourhood Program introduced by President Obama in 2010 had a four year timeframe and did just that. Support also needs to be available for properties of all kinds, whether owner-occupied, social housing or private rented sector.

Wider green stimulus

The pandemic has turned energy on its head. The Energy Barometer reports very few of the EI’s members expect energy demand, passenger journeys, industrial activity and emissions to rebound to beyond pre-pandemic levels; in fact most foresee them remaining subdued for an extended period.

They overwhelmingly support calls for ministers to use the discontinuity as an opportunity to build back better. Four in five agree with the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) that stimulus should be channelled into green industries and jobs, and support for emissions-intensive sectors should be contingent on climate change action.

And for good reason. Nine in ten EI members believe the UK is currently off track for net zero by 2050; more than half of them say we’re even off track for the target for 2030 without urgent policy action.

They prescribe decisions now, not just in energy efficiency, but across heat and transport – to bring on low carbon aviation fuels, hydrogen HGVs, heat pumps, hydrogen ready boilers and carbon capture demonstration to get us on track to deliver. They also note the progress made with renewable electricity generation, thanks to sustained policy, but this needs to keep going too if the UK is to get anywhere near its ambitious climate goals.

Not all of these low carbon endeavours offer the same immediate, shovel-ready co-benefits as household insulation. Some will offer a relatively small number of mainly specialist employment roles in specific regions; others will take years to mature into fully-fledged industries. And there will always be concerns about displacing jobs in incumbent fossil fuel-based parts of the economy.

But the fact is we know we want to transition to a lower-carbon energy system. Net zero is already hard wired into our legislation and there is near consensus across our politics on this.

Ministers need to look at the evidence and pursue most urgently those options that appear promising on multiple fronts; more efficient, lower emission, less expensive, and offering opportunities for economic benefits and well-paid jobs. But they will also be wise to recognise the need for convincing action for one other stand out reason – the UK’s responsibility as host of COP26 in Glasgow next November.

Orchestrating the international ‘Race to Zero’ and the diplomacy required by it over the next year will call for every bit of credibility we can muster. Hence why leading by example at home is singled out by EI members more than any other measure as the priority for maintaining the UK’s status as a climate leader.

The delay to COP26 bought breathing space but the moment is fast approaching when the UK will need to prove its moral authority. As CCC Chair Lord Deben said, “the UK’s international credibility is on the line”.

The Energy Institute’s Energy Barometer 2020 can be found at www.energyinst.org/barometer/2020

This blog post was originally published by BusinessGreen on 9 July 2020

Energy professionals call for green resilient recovery

Louise Kingham OBE FEI, Chief Executive, Energy Institute

Louise Kingham OBE FEI, Chief Executive, Energy Institute

This year’s Energy Barometer survey prescribes rapid change to avert future shocks to the UK economy and build moral authority for COP26, says Energy Institute Chief Executive Louise Kingham OBE FEI

The COVID-19 crisis has wreaked personal tragedy the world over. Many have suffered the loss of loved ones; few have been spared its impacts entirely.

I’m proud to work in a sector that’s playing an indispensable role keeping energy supplies flowing. But it’s also one that’s been turned upside down by the global lockdown, with unprecedented curtailment of economic activity, of all forms of transport, reductions in energy demand, prices and investment. Many of course losing their jobs as a result, in particular in oil and gas.

As we start tentatively to emerge, however, some fundamental questions are being posed about how we should rebuild our economy. Although it’s true greenhouse gas emissions will probably be down this year to the levels of a decade ago, the even bigger risk to our way of life – climate change – is still on the horizon.

So it is timely for the Energy Institute’s annual Energy Barometer to report on what our UK members, in all walks of energy from oil and gas through to renewables and energy efficiency, think about the prospects for getting to net zero emissions by 2050.

There’s no doubt the UK has a strong track record as a climate leader. The Climate Change Act was in its day the first of its kind, and upgrading the target to net zero last year in line with the science put us back in the vanguard. And astonishing progress has been made getting renewables onto, and coal off, Britain’s electricity grid.

But in our survey published this week, energy professionals have raised some serious red flags. Nine in ten believe that the UK is currently off track for net zero by 2050; more than half of them say we’re even off track for the target for 2030 without urgent policy action.

More ambitious policies are needed and fast

In this endeavour, numbers matter. Zero is the goal, but emissions are still only down around 40% and the hardest work is yet to be done. Dates matter too. 2050 might sound like a long time away, but the lead times for technology development and deployment are lengthy.

Fortunately, the Energy Barometer contains help for ministers looking for solutions. Before anything else, our members prescribe bringing our nation’s buildings up to scratch. Energy efficiency is singled out as both the biggest missed opportunity of the past decade and the foremost option for plugging the emissions reduction gap for the 2030 target at least cost. Furthermore, in the context of COVID-19, more of our members urge retrofitting existing housing stock than any other action for a resilient recovery. It has nation-wide, job-creating potential, with long term environmental and social benefits.

In fact EI members overwhelmingly support calls for ministers to use the discontinuity of the pandemic as an opportunity to build back better. Four in five agree with the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) that stimulus should be channelled into green industries and jobs, and support for emissions-intensive sectors should be contingent on action on climate change.

Urgent decisions are prescribed now to bring on low carbon aviation fuels, hydrogen HGVs, heat pumps, hydrogen ready boilers and carbon capture demonstration – to get us on track to deliver on net zero by 2050.

A warning shot for industry

Two thirds of our members do not think the energy industry is doing enough either, and there’s a hint of trouble ahead for those who still have their head in the sand.

Boardrooms and management teams will all have to manage change over the coming decades – in terms of profitability, the supply of skilled workers and the supply chain. But it’s in the cast list of industry players where our members see things changing most dramatically. Almost half of our members expect gradual change, but a further third expect that change to be disruptive.

Incumbents are already facing challenge from dynamic new entrants, from innovative start-ups to big name brands from the ICT and automotive sector, and we can only expect that to intensify.

The oil and gas sector will have to undergo a significant transformation under a net zero scenario. By 2050, our survey expects oil and gas companies to have significantly pivoted from conventional fuels to low-carbon liquids and gases, as well as other low-carbon energy technologies and services.

There is a bold ambition to make the UKCS the world’s first net zero basin, and some individual companies are grasping the nettle so the UK can lead the way here too. But, the global oil and gas sector is currently spending less than 1% of its capital expenditure on low-carbon technologies so will need to accelerate its investment and quickly.

Leading by example

All of this matters for the UK’s economic recovering and delivering on our legally binding targets, but it also matters for Glasgow and COP26. Without immediate domestic policy steps from ministers, to quote the CCC’s Lord Deben, “the UK’s international credibility is on the line”.

Orchestrating the international ‘Race to Zero’ and the diplomacy required by it over the next year will call for every bit of credibility we can muster. Hence why leading by example is singled out by our members more than any other measure as the number one priority for maintaining the UK’s status as a climate leader.

The delay to COP26 bought breathing space but the moment is fast approaching when the UK will need to prove its moral authority.

The world has entrusted the UK with COP26. Only with ambitious clean energy action at home can we hope to inspire reciprocal action from countries around the world and avert the worst impacts of climate change.

The Energy Institute’s Energy Barometer 2020 can be found at www.energyinst.org/barometer/2020

This blog post was originally published by Energy Voice on 9 July 2020

COVID-19 highlights the relationship between reliable power systems and resilience

Trace, Simon_square

Simon Trace, Programme Director of the EEG Research Programme

Countries’ resilience to the COVID-19 pandemic may, in part, be dependent on whether their power supplies are adequate and reliable enough to provide critical services and support economies. It’s likely that important lessons can be learnt about the relationship between the pandemic and reliable power systems, which will be applicable to future energy planning in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Simon Trace, programme director of the Energy and Economic Growth (EEG) research programme, funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), explains more.

In Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, a lack of access to reliable electricity affects health and wellbeing, livelihoods and economic growth on a daily basis – but it may also severely compromise developing countries’ response and resilience to the COVID-19 pandemic, both in terms of survival rates and the economic impact.

Around 840 million people across the world live without any access to electricity, and hundreds of millions more have access but often suffer frequent – and sometimes lengthy – disruptions, whether from unplanned power outages, scheduled shutdowns or voltage fluctuations. Close to 600 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to electricity, and fewer than half (43%) of Africans have a reliable supply. More than a quarter of the world’s off-grid population live in South Asia, and millions of connected families and businesses across the region experience frequent blackouts.

Healthcare facilities in these regions also lack reliable power. Past studies suggested that on average, one in four Sub-Saharan African health facilities had no access to electricity, and just 28% of health facilities and 34% of hospitals had ‘reliable’ access. Similarly, clinics and hospitals in Asia often lack access to reliable power. Around one billion people in the region can only access health facilities with unreliable electricity, or none at all. As an example, in India, 46% of health facilities serving an estimated 580 million people lack electricity, and many more have only an unreliable supply. A survey of rural public health centres in the eastern state of Chhattisgarh suggests that 90% of health clinics experience power cuts during operational hours.

Reliability and resilience

Populations’ dependence on reliable energy is likely to be thrown into sharp relief by COVID-19, with the pandemic further highlighting the relationship between adequately functioning power systems and resilience. It may offer further evidence that access to reliable electricity is fundamental to protecting health and wellbeing, and for supporting public services, key supply chains, people’s livelihoods and countries’ economies.

Hospitals and clinics need a constant supply of reliable electricity, especially now they are facing unprecedented stress. Without reliable electricity, the healthcare equipment that’s critical for protecting life, such as ventilators and vital function monitoring apparatus, cannot operate properly (and may be damaged). Laboratory tests, x-rays and scans cannot be carried out and healthcare staff must treat patients without basic requirements such as lighting and refrigeration. And, when a vaccine for COVID-19 is eventually developed, a lack of power for cold chain and refrigeration equipment could put it out of reach for many.

Reliable power is also required to support countries’ governance and security capabilities. It’s needed to maintain key supply chains and communication and IT services, so that parts of the economy that can remain active can continue to function while social distancing and stay-at-home measures are in place. It can enable people to work at home – where that is feasible – protecting businesses, jobs and economies to some degree.

Electricity also helps people to keep up to date with the latest COVID-19 information, advice and guidelines, stay connected with friends and family and educate their children while schools are closed (African countries have started to devote dedicated radio channels to remote learning).

With access to reliable electricity, people can power household refrigerators to store food supplies and adhere to lockdown measures more strictly, potentially reducing their exposure to the virus. As an example, it’s been suggested that in Nigeria, there are about 100 million people who would struggle to comply with restrictions on movement because a lack of electricity means they’re unable to store food in fridges and need to shop frequently.

The resilience of energy systems

COVID-19 is also likely to test the resilience of Sub-Saharan Africa’s and South Asia’s already disproportionally fragile and unstable energy systems, with a wide range of factors putting them under increased pressure.

For example, contractors working on the construction or extension of power lines may face depleted workforces due to quarantines, lockdowns, social distancing measures and travel restrictions. In facilities that are already operational, generators may be forced to shut down or reduce capacity for similar reasons.

Alongside this, power generators will be facing significant reductions in demand in affected areas, with the energy requirements of major users – such as manufacturing plants, factories and mines – reducing. In India, the lockdown has reduced power demand by 20-30%, particularly from high-paying industrial and commercial consumers. A report from the International Energy Agency projects that global energy demand is set to fall 6% in 2020 – seven times the decline after the 2008 global financial crisis. Systems need to be flexible enough to cope with rapid and significant changes in demand patterns, such as reductions in commercial demands and increases in domestic ones. In addition, the collapse in oil prices is taking a toll on the African energy industry.

Meanwhile, with lockdown restrictions affecting people’s ability to work and earn a living, it’s likely that customers will be struggling to pay for electricity – impacting on utilities’ cash flows and their ability to provide a reliable service and maintain and upgrade infrastructure. And the short-term relief measures put in place by some governments, such as subsidising electricity or extending bill payment deadlines, can threaten power suppliers’ financial viability, and their operations.

For example, in India state-owned electricity distribution companies have extended the due dates for payment of electricity bills and most have waived or deferred payment of fixed charges by industrial and residential consumers. Collections of electricity distribution companies across the country have reduced by an unprecedented 80%. This is barely enough to sustain staff salaries, while leaving no scope for payments to power plants – and it’s been suggested there is a serious risk of blackouts.

It is also thought that nascent companies providing off-grid solar services could face financial hardship or even insolvency. According to a survey by SEforALL, 80 businesses running mini-grids and selling solar home systems in Africa and Asia said they expected to lose on average 27%-40% of their revenues in the coming months due to COVID-19.

A call for research on COVID-19 and power systems

It is therefore likely that COVID-19 will reveal new issues to consider in future approaches to energy system planning, operation and maintenance – whether they relate to better understanding of the role reliable power plays in underpinning societies’ resilience to pandemics or the impact global health crises has on the resilience of power systems themselves.

EEG is currently commissioning applied research projects that aim to shed light on the relationship between COVID-19 and power systems in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. We are inviting research proposals that explore the interdependencies between the resilience of populations and the resilience of power systems to large-scale health crises such as COVID-19, and that propose policy lessons for future energy system planning.