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.

An exciting new door opens …

Dr Nick Wayth CEng MIMechE FEI, Chief Executive of the Energy Institute

Today is a very exciting day for me. It is my first day as Chief Executive of the Energy Institute. It is a huge privilege to take on this role, particularly at such a pivotal moment for the energy sector. I feel very fortunate to inherit the incredible legacy and fantastic team built by my predecessor, Louise Kingham. It would be premature to comment on how I see the future of the EI. I have a lot to learn, and I have yet to meet the full team and Council, let alone the many individual and corporate members. However, I will share a few perspectives now and look forward to sharing more in the coming weeks and months.

In some respects, my career journey has followed a similar path to the EI. The EI was formed in 2003, through the merger of the Institute of Petroleum and the Institute of Energy. At this time, most of its members and activities were focused on oil and gas. My career also started in oil and gas, joining BP in 1999 – just after the merger with Amoco. I initially worked offshore in the North Sea and then the Algerian Sahara Desert, working on a giant gas project. I was lucky enough to move through a succession of fantastic roles, which took me to many places around the world, exposing me to a diverse set of experiences and many amazing people. I saw the boom-and-bust cycles, new technologies such as deep water, shale production and the early investments made by oil and gas players into renewables in the early 2000s. For my final few years at BP I had the privilege of leading BP into areas, such as solar and offshore wind.

The EI has evolved its focus and priorities too. From a predominantly oil-and-gas-focused membership, today the EI works with a broad range of individual and corporate members from across the energy industry, including those focused on renewables, bioenergy and CCUS (carbon capture use and storage). The EI has also expanded its reach internationally, bringing together global professionals, focused on tackling climate change and bringing universal access to energy. I passionately believe this breadth of expertise, technology and perspective is going to be critical in delivering a net-zero future. The UK and US Governments’ recent announcements of further accelerations in carbon emission reductions truly underpins the need for the energy sector to work together, and with other sectors to deliver this.

The EI has a critical role in working with its members to develop the skills and standards that will help develop new technologies, such as carbon management and demand-side management, as well as reducing emissions in conventional areas, such as fugitive methane reduction. I also believe that the EI has an important role in providing an impartial and unbiased platform to facilitate debate, thought leadership and fact-based information on the optimum pathways to achieving net zero.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, to succeed in delivering the energy transition, the sector also needs to attract and retain the brightest and best talent. Talent which far better represents society across every dimension of diversity. The EI has been leading on this, through its support to POWERful Women, its Generation 2050 project and through the Young Professionals Network. There is still a long way for the industry to go and I am committed to doing as much as I can in progressing this critical area.

Our sector has always been dynamic, but the task ahead demands change at a pace we’ve never seen before. I look forward to meeting many of you over the coming weeks and months. I would love to hear different perspectives on how the EI best serves all of its members and helps the energy sector progress its next and most important chapter. Please let me know what you think!

First published on Nick’s personal blog here

The power of reverse mentoring

Emily Brown, Professional Development Manager, Energy Institute

Traditionally, we tend to think of mentoring as focusing on career development – a younger or newer professional teams up with someone with more experience to help them move forward. Mentoring is certainly a powerful tool in that kind of situation and can make a big difference.

But, actually, the potential of mentoring is much wider. We all have knowledge gaps in this increasingly complex world, and a mentoring relationship can help kick start creative thinking and help with things like learning about the latest technology trends and getting a new perspective.

Legendary General Electric CEO Jack Welch found this in the late 1990s when he 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.

Younger professionals often have skills that others might not – all of us are different and all of us have plenty to learn and plenty to offer.

One of the aims of the EI’s new mentoring platform EI Connect is to facilitate these rich relationships. Just a month after launch, the number of users is now into three figures and the platform is quickly gaining momentum.

New mentors are joining every day, it’s fantastic to see how enthusiastic our members are about shaping the younger generation of energy professionals. But we’re beginning to see a range of mentoring relationships taking shape, with members taking advantage of EI Connect’s versatility, using it for reverse mentoring too.

The pace of change in the energy sector is exciting but challenging. Mentoring can help to increase confidence and develop communication skills, encouraging an ongoing exchange of expertise and mutual growth.

It’s now an essential business tool, says Managing Director of OSL Consulting Engineers and EI trustee Alastair Robertson CEng FEI.

‘Mentoring is an essential part of my working life. Whatever our experience level, we are able to benefit from a different perspective and EI Connect provides a user-friendly platform to make great use of the collective experience across the EI’.

Interested in joining as a mentor or mentee? EI Connect is open to Associate and professional members at http://www.energy-inst.org/mentoring

A two-way street: why being a mentor will benefit you

Following the launch of the EI’s new mentoring programme, EI Connect, Emily Brown Professional Development Manager at the Energy Institute discusses the benefits of becoming a mentor and the transformative impact it can have on your career.

Emily Brown, Professional Development Manager, Energy Institute

The right mentor can change your life.

Having an experienced, trusted supporter to give you advice and help you realise your biggest career, business or life goals is invaluable.

Mentors have guided some of the world’s most influential people – Bill Gates had Warren Buffet, Tina Turner mentored Mick Jagger, and Sir Richard Branson had Sir Freddie Laker. Not everyone gets to see their name in lights of course, but as a mentor you can play a pivotal role in helping others unlock their true potential.

It’s easy to see the benefits that a mentee gets out of this relationship – after all the traditional dynamic sees you providing support and guidance to help a mentee grow and develop. There has never been a more exciting time to be connecting and sharing your experience in energy – and it might surprise you just how much a mentor stands to gain from this experience too.  

How will becoming a mentor benefit your career?

Knowing that your skills and experience has helped someone else to succeed is a great feeling, but the feel-good factor of helping others progress is just the start. Here are 5 reasons why becoming a mentor will benefit you.

1. You’ll widen your perspective

It might sound obvious, but working with a mentee gives you fresh insight into how others, different to yourself, see the world and approach challenges. Don’t underestimate the power of reverse mentoring – your mentee will inevitably possess knowledge and skills that you don’t. Talent has no age!

2. You’ll hone your management skills

Through the mentoring relationship you’ll experience your mentees ups and downs, enabling you to refine, adapt and improve your own management style. Remember that not everyone is the same, and your mentee may learn and respond to things in ways that are unfamiliar to you. The ability to adapt your management style, based on others working preferences, is an invaluable skill.

3. You’ll enhance your career prospects

As a sounding board for your mentee, you’ll naturally learn how to improve your active listening and questioning skills, allowing you to develop your ability to empathise, motivate and build rapport. Be receptive to feedback from your mentee on how you can better help them – this learning will inevitably blend into your own role and aid your own development. A Sun Microsystems’ case study comparing its employees career progression revealed mentors were 6 times more likely to be promoted.

4. You’ll sharpen your problem solving skills

Working with a mentee will expose you to problems and challenges you may not otherwise have experienced before. When guiding your mentee towards a solution, you develop your own problem-solving skills in the process, not to mention gaining knowledge in new areas.

5. You’ll better understand your own experience

Your experiences may seem quite ordinary to you, but when you participate in a mentoring program you will see how beneficial and helpful those experiences can be to those upcoming in your profession. The value of knowledge sharing is immense to those that follow you – don’t be scared to share some used wisdom!

Want to become a mentor?

EI Connect is all about sharing your skills and experience in the energy sector and growing as a professional. To join EI Connect, you need to be an Associate or professional member of the EI.

Once you’ve joined as a mentor, our digital platform will help to pair you with potential mentees and guide you through each stage of your mentoring relationship with prompts, guidance and advice.

For more information and to sign up please visit: https://energyinst.org/membership-and-careers/ei-connect

If you are not currently an EI member, you can register on our website here: https://energyinst.org/membership-and-careers/membership#associate


Now is the moment to make energy matter. There are opportunities for everyone.

The energy sector is revolutionising to facilitate Net Zero emissions by 2050. With unprecedented changes come unprecedented opportunities. UK Power Networks Innovation Analyst, and Young Energy Professional of the Year winner, Carol Choi explains why there’s never been a more exciting time to be in the industry.

First of all, working in energy is fun

Six months after graduating, I was in the same room as the likes of Uber, Royal Mail, Centrica and Hitachi driving the discussion to build a compelling business case for the world’s largest commercial trial of electric vehicles. A year into the job, I was invited to give an hour long presentation on electric vehicles to over 100 IET members. Later that year, I delivered the UK’s first crowdsourced DNO Open Data page and set up our ‘Charge Challenge’ open innovation competition, challenging likeminded people to use other open data sources to predict the future of electric vehicle charge points. In doing so, we’re aiming to create an open culture of sharing with the end result of delivering new benefits for customers. By the end of 2020, I was bowled over to win both EI’s ‘Young Energy Professional of the Year’ award and ‘EV under 30 star’ at the inaugural EVIES awards.

As an Innovation Analyst, I spend most of my time at a computer crunching numbers, but what I enjoy most is presenting insight. At UK Power Networks I’m most well-known for my illuminating data visualisation maps. If a picture paints a thousand words, then so too can a map of electrified bus routes in London that demonstrates real benefits in air quality, or a heat map that shows where thousands more electric vehicle chargers can connect.

I also manage a varied portfolio of innovation projects that are delivering real world benefits for customers. I looked after a very technical project that tested the deterioration of overhead conductors and I also led a collaborative study with the gas network to understand the interplay between electricity and hydrogen. I’m also leading Skyline, a collaborative project to incentivise data sharing and improve the customer journey for electric vehicle owners.

Recently, I’ve also become a key member of an internal taskforce to drive forward the company’s business plan to facilitate Net Zero in the next regulatory price control period for the electricity networks, between 2023-2028.

I can’t talk about my work without mentioning the fantastic, diverse team I work with. In Innovation there’s almost a 50% split between men and women and our team originate from more than a dozen countries across the world. This means we have the best office snacks after a colleague returns from a home visit. I certainly didn’t expect my colleagues’ grandmothers’ homemade Greek dessert to be one of the things I’d miss most about the pre-pandemic world.

Reaching Net Zero will take an extraordinary technological, economic and societal revolution. Uncertainty comes with the territory. It’s my job to crunch the numbers, calculate the benefits and convince people they can be delivered. That makes my role incredibly rewarding and impactful.

You don’t need a background in energy to get involved.

As I mentioned above, the innovation team at UK Power Networks is extremely diverse as is the company as a whole. Every day I have the pleasure of working with people from all backgrounds, who each have different personal, technical and career experiences. This is particularly useful as you almost always have someone to answer a question on even the most random of topics. That kind of cultural and neuro-diversity is key to nourishing a truly collaborative and innovative environment that can tackle the unprecedented targets ahead. Not only is diversity required to develop internal capabilities, it can also help facilitate external partnerships with non-traditional players in the sector. Three years ago, I experienced this first hand as we reached out to the transport sector in new ways as the electric vehicle uptake really began to accelerate.

Less than four years into my career, I’ve seen dozens of people join with fresh new skills and viewpoints on our biggest issues. It’s been happening both within our company and at partners and collaborators. We need communication experts who help us share learnings; customer service specialists who deliver for our customers and make sure the energy transition works for those in vulnerable circumstances; economists who understand how to address market failures to facilitate faster uptake of low carbon technologies; enhanced data and digital capabilities to open up the network data; and many other new skills. Training is ongoing and never ending, so if you have passion, we can work with you to make real benefits come to fruition.

We can shape the world to make it work for all.

In 2050, I will be in my late 50s. By then, I’m aiming to look back proudly on the impact I’ve had and forward to a Net Zero world that truly works for all. That’s why I’m a wholehearted supporter of the Generation 2050 Manifesto – “We are Generation 2050. Today we are studying or in the early stages of our careers in energy around the world. Tomorrow we will be the sector’s leaders. The actions taken in 2021 will determine the state of the industry and the planet we inherit.”

Today’s leaders should already be paying more attention to what young professionals have to say. Our generation exists in a truly unique window of opportunity – with just enough time, drive, determination and skill to make Net Zero a reality. It’s a challenge that inspires me and many others and it’s what makes this such a fun time to be in energy.

I encourage you all to seize the moment and make every step along the road to Net Zero count.

Click here to enter EI Awards 2021

Click here to find out more about Generation 2050

What do painters and energy professionals have in common?

Sue Beard FSAMP, Head of Professional Affairs, Energy Institute

Are you signed up to one of those neighbourhood websites? You know, the ones where people moan about their bins and tout their services?

Following the first UK lockdown earlier this year, a painter and decorator called John posted on ours about the responsibility of tradespeople like himself to keep others safe in lockdown.  As lockdown restrictions had been clarified he could begin to think about taking on some types of work, so he posted about what that meant.

John’s professional body has drawn up guidelines for those in the trade to minimise risk factors and keep clients safe during COVID-19. But, for him, it isn’t just about current circumstances. As a professionally qualified tradesperson he is constantly aware that all activity involves risk if safe practices aren’t adhered to. He has critically reviewed his practices from top to bottom to keep clients safe without compromising the quality of service or workmanship, so that they can have complete confidence in his business if they  call on him.

It’s exactly what he should be doing of course, but why am I bothering to mention it? Energy professionals and painters are a bit different, aren’t they?

Well, it struck me how unusual it still is for individuals to talk so clearly about their professional practice, how they are striving to meet high standards, and what they think the responsibility of being a professional involves.

Not talking about it is a bit of an own goal though. Knowledge, skills and competence – being dedicated, trustworthy and safe – these are the foundations of professionalism and exactly where the value of being a professional lays.

Energy professionals have so much to be proud of in the standards they must meet, the deep knowledge and skill they must hold and constantly keep up to date, and the level of responsibility they have in keeping society going.  In these times – indeed, during any time – we should be shouting about it from the rafters, because your professionalism is a selling point for you and the sector in every person you meet.

It has been striking how the pandemic has laid so many things about our lives bare, thrown things up in the air and shown us what really matters – such as health, kindness, and our responsibilities to others.

By talking about professionalism and what it means to him, John has shown me that he’s a real professional – he’s keeping his practice up to date, following codes and caring about his clients and others he works with.

Having spent rather a lot of time at home in 2020, I can’t help but notice that the bathroom is looking a bit shabby. I know who I’m calling.

Find out more about how the Energy Institute can support your career development at: http://www.energyinst.org/membership-and-careers/membership

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.