Why energy has never felt so important

Nick Wayth CEng FEI
Chief Executive, Energy Institute

I’m now five months into my journey at the EI and I thought it timely to share some perspectives. It’s been a whirlwind of meetings – with staff, volunteers, trustees, industry partners, other professional engineering institutions, Government, and many others.  It’s been wonderful to meet so many amazing, professional, and dedicated people.  I am also very lucky to be part of such a fantastic team at the EI.

The world of energy has never felt as important or as fast moving. And once again energy is grabbing the headlines, all for the wrong reasons:  fuel supplies drying up on UK forecourts and natural gas at record high prices, with knock-on effects from retail energy providers going out of business to issues in the food supply chain. How many of us understood the linkage between gas price and chicken supply? (Find out more on the links between food and energy on our podcast: Energy in Conversation S1 Ep1 – Food waste? Not cool).

We are living through a seemingly huge paradox of the need to urgently decarbonise society due to the climate crisis, whilst at the same time we see the panic, fear and real-life impacts on people when energy supplies fail. So, as we approach COP26, how do we reconcile this need to accelerate the pace of decarbonisation and keep the lights on and people moving?  

I fundamentally believe we can do both and ultimately transition to an energy system without carbon. And not only that but one that will be more affordable, more democratic and more equitable – if we do it right. The EI is committed to supporting society to deliver this. We have set our own target to reach net zero well before 2050 and plan to nearly halve our carbon impact by 2030. More importantly, we are helping the energy sector work towards net zero at pace, as we continue to ensure that energy is better managed and understood. Let me share some examples.

First, we have a critical role in developing the energy workforce of the future, ensuring energy professionals have the skills required to deliver the massive challenge in front of us. Qualifications, such as our Chartered Energy Manager are playing a critical role in equipping individuals with the knowledge to better manage energy. We also need to build a workforce that far better represents society – not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the only way we bring the breadth of perspectives, experience, and knowledge to tackle this crisis. Our Young Professionals Networks across the world are shining examples of developing the brightest new talent into the energy leaders of tomorrow.

Second, we are working with many of the largest companies across energy, from renewable players to integrated oil and gas companies, to develop the technical practices required to make energy cleaner, safer and more efficient. We are already active in everything from offshore wind to hydrogen to sustainable aviation fuels. And as always, there is much more to do as we think about integrated power systems and the role of digitalisation in the energy system. Our dedicated Technical Team will continue to collaborate with industry to develop good practice across these innovative new areas.

And third, we have an important role in using our trusted and unbiased role as a chartered membership body to convene our Fellows, members, and experts from across the energy sector to help debate and inform society on how we tackle the biggest energy challenges. The recent discourse around hydrogen colours or the role of heat pumps has become emotional and divisive. Whilst, people may not always agree, our role is to help convene that discussion in a constructive manner, relying on science to help inform better decisions.

I, for one, don’t have the answers but what I do know is that if we come together as an industry and as energy professionals, we are going to be much better placed to help solve the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced. Our role has never been more important as society looks at our sector to keep the lights on and to deliver the energy transition at pace.

As the Energy Institute prepares for several events before, during and after COP26 I’d love to hear your thoughts on what more we should do.

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