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.





40 years on and the economics of solar power now make sense

Simon O'Leary

Simon O’Leary CEng FEI, Research Centre Director at Regent’s University London

EI Council Member Simon O’Leary CEng FEI looks back to his student days and reflects on the growing importance of renewable power for the EI and the global energy system.

Just over 40 years ago, the Institute of Fuel signalled the broadening landscape of the energy scene through its change of name to the Institute of Energy (and subsequently to the Energy Institute as we know it today). In 1980, its then student member Simon O’Leary presented his winning McAndrew Award essay on ‘The Sun and Solar Energy – Pie in the Sky?’ to a joint meeting of the Institute of Energy and the International Solar Energy Society (Energy World, 1980) as outlined in Figure 1.

SO image 1

Figure 1. McAndrew Award presentation in 1980

At that time, interest in solar energy was growing, but its use to produce electricity was expensive and limited to specialist applications, such as in remote locations or on spacecraft. Its use was so bespoke that it would not even appear on historical charts depicting the major global sources of electrical power. However, by the year 2000, it was beginning to register as illustrated in Figure 2.

SO image 2

Figure 2. Energy mix for global power supply to 2050 (McKinsey, 2019)

By 2020, the science, engineering, technology and infrastructure for producing solar power has developed to such an extent that the relative price of photovoltaics has fallen dramatically (Belton, 2020; Ozalp, Sattler, Klausner and Miller, 2015) while, at the same time, the demand for such renewable non-carbon sources has become ever more apparent because of climate change. The net result is that the economics of solar energy to produce electrical power globally is now making sense, just as it does for wind power. Solar and wind power are projected to become the major players in the takeover of global power production by renewables by 2035 as noted in Figure 2.

It’s no surprise then to see an increasing focus on renewables in today’s Energy Institute, now the home of health and safety in onshore and offshore wind as much as it has been for decades for conventional fuels, and with its two new conferences Renewables Health, Safety and Sustainability and Powering Net Zero set to shine a light on solar and other clean energy sources this autumn.

A further clear signal for this was given at the Energy Institute’s international conference, IP Week 2020, and its focus on a low carbon future (IP Week, 2020) with presentations by leaders and commentators from inside and outside energy sectors. Along with many other prominent contributors, this included keynote speeches by the Energy Institute President, Steve Holliday, and the Group Chief Executive of BP, Bernard Looney. Like the Institute itself expanding its energy base all those years ago, oil and gas majors may now be well positioned to extend their expertise across the energy field more broadly (Accenture, 2020).

Figure 3. IP Week 2020 review

Over the last 40 years, there has been a ‘C of change’ worldwide; consider the changes in Computing, China, Communications, Climate and now Covid-19 to name just cinque. So, in 2020, and while it has taken the author four decades to answer the question, it is clear that solar energy as a widespread source of electrical power is no longer something that could happen but is unlikely; it is no longer pie in the sky!


Accenture (2020). From Oil Producers to Power Players: A Smart Move?

Belton, P. (2020). A breakthrough approaches for solar power. BBC News: Business; May 1.

Energy Institute (2020). Energy insight: A very brief history of the Energy Institute.

Energy World (1980). Institute of Energy March meetings. February: Number 67; page 1.

IP Week (2020). A review of IP Week 2020. Energy Institute.

McKinsey (2019). Global Energy Perspective 2019: Reference Case; Summary.

Ozalp, N. Sattler, C., Klausner, J. and Miller, J. (2015). Fossil Fuels have a Number of Industrial Uses Beyond Energy Generation: Is it Possible for Solar Power to Replace them All? Mechanical Engineering, Vol.137, No.1, pp.46-51.

Profile: Professor Simon O’Leary is a Research Centre Director at Regent’s University London, following over two decades in industry, including international roles in the scientific and commercial arms of oil, gas and petrochemicals in the UK and Norway. He is a Fellow and Council Member of the Energy Institute. Email:

From siloes to collaboration for the benefit of humanity


Poppy Kalesi, Director of Global Energy at the Environmental Defense Fund

Poppy Kalesi, Director of Global Energy at the Environmental Defense Fund and IP Week 2020 speaker, delves into the cultural changes to the way we work that will be needed to successfully decarbonise the global economy.

As energy demand steadily rises, and with it greenhouse gas emissions, decarbonising the world’s energy system has become one of the most promising opportunities we have today to ensure humanity’s survival within the natural limits of the planet.

It is also proving one of the toughest nuts to crack. For decades, governments and industry have been trying to solve the issue as if it were a one-dimensional, linear challenge; a question of engineering, or of overcoming market or regulatory barriers.

While some of these efforts have borne fruit in both North America and Europe, they are far from delivering the potential emission reductions at the scale and speed required to respond to what is a dynamic and vitally urgent problem.

Why is this?

Understanding the insufficiency of industry’s climate response to this point is very much a question of mindset. The energy industry is one which operates in high-risk environments – physical, market and regulatory. Navigating this complex risk picture has promoted a low-risk culture; working with likeminded people, from the same sector, discipline, culture, and even gender has become the norm.

This mindset supported the industry well when socioeconomic and physical developments were linear and predictable. But this is no longer where we are.

The non-linearity of the climate emergency has demonstrated the shortcomings of linear, siloed approaches and is demanding that we do everything in parallel through global networks. This has transformed learning from being an incremental, solitary affair to participating in large, collaborative networks, sharing knowledge and learning together to navigate an uncertain and ambiguous future.

Collaborating from a place of humility

But let’s be honest. Collaboration remains hard. Collaborating across disciplines and sectors is not immediately obvious when our action is driven by different motives and contexts. It is even harder when we’re used to being the big fish in our own small pond.

As ponds connect to form lakes, we all find ourselves somewhere new, like a new country. As an immigrant myself – I have done this three times now – I want to share an attitude which has supported me well: learning from a place of humility.

After the frustrating first years of being somewhere new, where you neither speak the language nor fully understand the new culture or ways of doing things, it gets easier when you master it. But to do so one has to be open and accepting of learning a new way of doing things, with no judgement.

Despite our different contexts and backgrounds, we all agreed to “emigrate to Paris by 2030”, a land where global temperature rise will be contained to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. This first learning phase showed that we’re not all ready to integrate in our new land. We keep designing markets to deliver lots of cheap goods, make money out of producing things that are not good for the environment and we keep consuming things that are not good for our children or us.

 Benefiting humanity

Decarbonising the energy system will require a “both ..and” approach to diverse types of knowledge and perspectives, not an “either…or”. Civil society organisations and industry do not always share the same views of the world or global priorities for the energy transition. Since both are falling short of developing the solutions we need for the transition, maybe it is time to start having more of those hard discussions with each other in a spirit of appreciation for the added opportunities to find novel, promising solutions that will turbocharge the rate of decarbonisation.

Another area with a lot of untapped potential is womens’ participation in energy. Women still account for only 22% of the energy sector workforce. My bet is that 2030 will be the year when we will see how female participation in energy drove decarbonisation. For digitalisation and AI to deliver for humanity and energy systems to deliver for climate, the development process will need to benefit from diverse inputs, knowledge, and perspectives.


Why I am clapping for our wind workforce


Beate Hildenbrand, Manager of Offshore and Onshore Wind at the Energy Institute

Beate Hildenbrand, Manager of Offshore and Onshore Wind at the Energy Institute, applauds the crucial role the energy sector workforce is playing during the global pandemic.

Working from home has become the new normal for many of us, at least for the time being as we seek to limit the spread of COVID-19. At the same time, rightly, we all recognise the tremendous efforts of our health and social care professionals who continue to go to work and put themselves in harm’s way.

But there are others we should remember too. After all, how would I be able to type this on my laptop now or make the cup of coffee I’m drinking if it weren’t for the reliable supply of electricity we enjoy.

Amidst the all-consuming media attention on coronavirus so far this year, you can be forgiven for not noticing something quite remarkable achieved in the UK’s electricity mix: renewables overtook fossil fuels for the first time.

Wind, solar, biomass and hydropower sources provided almost 45% of power, overtaking gas as the UK’s primary fuel source for the first quarter of 2020. Strong winds, alongside demand reduction caused by coronavirus, contributed to this record share of electricity generation.

Mirroring the rise in renewables across Europe, where renewable power sources overtook the output from fossil fuels for the first-time last year, it’s the latest milestone for renewable energy which now provides more than a third of global power capacity.

These, however, are not the only remarkable achievements for the wind sector of late.

As governments and citizens grapple with the devasting impact of COVID-19, workers in this sector – identified as critical workers – have quietly continued their essential work to wind turbine generators and associated infrastructure.

In my role supporting the work of G+ and SafetyOn, the health and safety organisations for the offshore and onshore wind sectors based here at the Energy Institute, I’m familiar with this resilience – it’s a workforce that routinely deals with some of the most hazardous weather conditions, working at height and with heavy loads.

The pandemic adds a further layer of concern, which is why we’ve worked fast to convene the sector, regulators and trade organisations to put in place new guidance.

SafetyOn has produced guidance regarding site operations and construction, helping the workforce to carry out operations activities and construction in a safe manner during the pandemic.

Produced in conjunction with RenewableUK and with the alignment of the Health and Safety Executive, it covers hygiene, social distancing and travel, as well as more operational considerations including turbine and substation maintenance, training, medicals and specific guidance for construction.

For the offshore wind sector, G+ continues to play an important role in sharing health and safety good practice guidance. We have just made a coronavirus safety lesson available on the EI’s Toolbox app.

The case study involves an incident in which workers on a small vessel were in close proximity to a crewmember displaying COVID-19 symptoms, and highlights the lessons learned by the vessel operator and crew.

These collaborations show this sector at its best – putting aside competitive rivalries to advance their shared interest in raising the bar to better protect the workforce, assets and the environment.

So while our health workers are – rightly – being applauded as the heroes they are, I urge you to also spare a thought for our industry’s critical workers – men and women across the energy sector who are working day after day to keep the electrons flowing and our lights on.


How a bow tie can help fight COVID-19


Mark Scanlon, Head of Health and Safety at the Energy Institute

Mark Scanlon, Head of Health and Safety at the Energy Institute, explains why a risk management methodology more commonly applied on oil and gas platforms can help make sense of the global pandemic and the efforts to stop it.

As I write, more than 30,000 people have now died from the new coronavirus disease. Well over 600,000 are believed to have been infected. The speed of its spread, to more than 170 countries in less than three months, has been astonishing.

Each individual death is a tragedy, but the pandemic is still unfolding and it seems likely to get worse before it gets better, at least in certain parts of the world.

Fortunately, the disease has its weaknesses, and governments around the world are taking unprecedented steps to exploit those to try to protect citizens from further harm.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of us all following the advice to the letter and observing the restrictions that have been put in place.

Rarely has personal responsibility been so important to collective wellbeing. As we hear repeatedly from ministers and senior health officials, we need to beat this together. Only by heeding the advice to stay at home, to wash our hands and to self-isolate, can we help to save our own lives and the lives of those around us.

But what exactly does each of these measures aim to achieve, and how do they work in concert?

Many people respond even better to advice when they understand precisely why it’s being given. That’s something we know from our work in process safety and human factors in the energy sector, whether it’s in hazardous environments offshore, handling chemicals or working at height or with heavy loads.

And a highly effective methodology used to manage risks in those environments is ‘bow tie’, so-called because it uses a diagram that resembles, well, a bow tie!

Knowledge and experience of its application have been consolidated by experts at the Energy Institute and our partner organisation the Center for Chemical Process Safety and published in September 2018 as a technical resource for the industry.

Bow tie is a visual aid that identifies threats (represented as the left-hand bow of the tie) that could potentially cause a hazard (the knot) and, further, the consequences (the right-hand bow) that could result. In between are barriers aimed at avoiding the hazard becoming a reality, or mitigating its consequences. However, the strength of these barriers can be reinforced or undermined by degradation factors.

This might all strike you as rather obvious, but I like the bow tie methodology for its simplicity, and we know it helps save lives on oil platforms, at petroleum refineries and on offshore wind farms.

COVID-19 differs from conventional workplace hazards that are represented in bow ties, like the processing of hydrocarbons containing hydrogen sulfide or working at height, but applying the same approach is incredibly powerful.

Take a look at the EI/CCPS Bow Tie for COVID-19 (9 April revision), which unpacks precisely how we are all working together to break the chain of causality between exposure, infection and death. What becomes clear is that there are only a few real barriers on the left- and right-hand sides of the bow tie. We must each play our part in applying them as stringently as possible.

The party is far from over for investment by the oil and gas sector in the energy transition


Joan MacNaughton CB HonFEI, Climate Group Chair and former Energy Institute President

Anyone in oil and gas who still thinks they can ride out the energy transition should look to the decline of coal for a salutary lesson, says Climate Group Chair and former Energy Institute President Joan MacNaughton CB HonFEI

It seems almost incredible that the energy transition was the predominant theme at IP Week only last month, with an oil price consistently above $60. In his opening keynote, IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol had remarked that, in 14 years of attending the WEF at Davos, he had never observed such a strong consensus on the need for vigorous and accelerated action on climate change.

Now COVID-19 has upended a lot of assumptions about our priorities. Is the urgency of low carbon investment one of them – especially for a sector reeling from a price plunge caused by ramping up of supply at a time of surplus stocks?

The sector might do well to heed the fate of the coal industry. As long ago as the early 2000s, some policymakers and businesses recognized the need for carbon capture and storage to control emissions from fossil fuels, and from industrial processes, as the world replaced its legacy capital stock (a process that is bound to take decades). I have been active in the debate of how to progress this, first in government, then in business, and now in the NGO world. Efforts to support those willing to invest included the use of Carbon Emission Reduction allowances from the European Emissions Trading Scheme, as well as government support from the US, Canada and the UK.  There were large-ish scale field trials such as the AEP-Alstom 50 MW Mountaineer project at the end of that decade. But they faltered for lack of financial support. Although the coal industry was approached to put their shoulder to the wheel they were decidedly uninterested.

Roll forward a decade.  We see, from analysis (Carbon Brief, February 2020) of scenarios gathered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and other data, that the ambition gap between the track we’re on and the emissions implied by the Paris Agreement is particularly large for coal. Emissions from coal have to fall by around four-fifths this decade on a 1.5C pathway, twice as fast as for oil or gas. And even to keep warming ‘well below’ 2C, CO2 from burning coal must still be roughly halved over the next 10 years.

That’s not a great place to be. Perhaps they thought they were ‘too big to fail’? Maybe. But notwithstanding  a strong commitment from President Trump to save our beautiful (ok, I may have made that up) coal industry, more than half of all coal companies in the United States have gone into administration since 2016 – the year he was elected. And there is no evidence of any investor wishing to ride to the rescue with a proposal to build a new coal-fired power station. Admittedly there is still some coal generation being built in Asia, but the pipeline of projects just keeps shrinking.

With oil dominant as a transport fuel, that fate surely cannot befall the oil industry. Hmm, think again. According to the BNP Paribas report ‘Wells to wheels’, the cost of mobility per distance travelled will on a lifecycle basis be nearly seven times greater for petrol (and over 3 times as much for diesel) than for electric mobility sourced from a renewables powered grid – in the 2020s. That’s this decade, of course. Solar and wind are now the cheapest power source in more than two thirds of the world and by 2030 they will undercut commissioned coal and gas almost everywhere.

Given that the cost of running EVs on solar or wind power is dropping so rapidly, the only way petrol powered cars can compete with renewable energy-powered EVs will be if the price of oil were to drop to $11 to $12 per barrel. Be careful what you wish for – that now seems all too possible. But it scarcely looks like a sustainable business model. And offsetting gains from the fastest growing part of the sector – petrochemicals – may not buy much time, given bans on single use plastic in so many countries and on so many continents.

So the party is far from over for making the clean energy transition in the oil and gas sector. We all of course face the most difficult immediate challenge any of us can remember in terms of the dreadful impact of COVID-19. That has to be governments’ top priority for the foreseeable future.

The downturn it has engendered in emissions has come at a frightful cost, not one any campaigner could have wished for. Nor is it any kind of solution to the threat of climate change. Albeit that that will crescendo over a longer time frame, it too will be frightful in its impact. The businesses which in future will thrive will be those who use their resources – financial, entrepreneurial, and scientific – to tackle it. Otherwise the party – for all of us – will be well and truly over.

Lifting the veil on hydrogen

Dan for blog (2)

Daniel de Wijze, Energy Analyst at the Energy Institute

Last year, climate change captured the public’s imagination like never before. In September, over 6 million people took part in a global climate strike, likely the largest such event in world history. Meanwhile, businesses, governments, and the media all expressed growing concern about the impacts of greenhouse gases on the environment and the economy. In the UK, the Government passed legislation for an emissions target of net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. Achieving the net zero target is a huge challenge, and will likely transform the way we live, work and get from A to B.

With this in mind, the energy industry is searching for sustainable alternatives to coal, oil and natural gas – one intriguing option is hydrogen. A simple, colourless gas, hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and fuels the fusion reactions that power young stars, including our Sun. Although it is an unknown entity for many, it has been used for many decades in industry, and also as a fuel for the Space Shuttle and other rockets. Hydrogen can be produced by using an electric current to split apart water (electrolysis) – as long as the electricity used is green, the production process is green too. Another low-carbon option is to use natural gas coupled with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

Until now, the low cost and convenience of producing, storing and transporting fossil fuels means that hydrogen has never been used widely outside of industry, and it is not yet cost-competitive in many areas. However, as the price of renewable energy, electrolysis equipment and carbon capture and storage technology is set to fall, hydrogen could become a much more attractive option.

What would using hydrogen mean for you or me? More people may soon be wondering, because it is flexible, potentially low-carbon, and could be used in many aspects of our lives – to cook meals, heat homes and even fuel cars. Work is ongoing to make sure that using hydrogen would be as safe and reliable as fuels like natural gas are today. There is particular interest in using hydrogen for domestic heating – decarbonising heat is a tricky task that will likely require changes to peoples’ homes, such as improving insulation or changing the boiler. Converting the natural gas distribution system to carry a hydrogen/natural gas blend – or even 100% – hydrogen has been suggested as a low-carbon heating method that would minimise disruption for the consumer. However, the cost-effectiveness is disputed, and it would require adapting or replacing millions of appliances, including cookers and ovens.

The Energy Institute (EI) aims to lift the veil on hydrogen and its potential applications with its brand-new, online user guide to hydrogen. It will be released at the Heat & Decentralised Energy Conference 2020, and explain how and why hydrogen could be used, what the user experience would be like, and what the associated costs and safety risks would be. The guide is accessible and engaging for household energy consumers, students and policy makers, as well as those with a more extensive background in the industry. Developed by the EI Knowledge Service, in collaboration with a cross-industry panel of experts, the breadth of contributors reflects a growing interest in hydrogen across the energy industry, from gas distributors and engineering firms to academics and automotive companies.

As the scale of the climate change challenge ahead looms large, we need to explore every option – hydrogen holds great promise, but there are also serious concerns to address. Look out for the EI’s guide to find out more.

Energy Essentials: a user guide to hydrogen will be available from 25th March on the EI Knowledge Service website

In the meantime, take a listen to episode 3 of the EI’s new podcast, Energy in Conversation, which dives in to the discussion around routes to decarbonising domestic heat.

The road to Glasgow

Steve at EI Awards 2019

Steve Holliday FREng FEI is the President of the Energy Institute

Madrid was not a success. I mean no criticism of the Spanish capital’s elegant step into the breach after Chile’s domestic troubles pulled the plug on Santiago hosting last year’s global climate talks. But the desired outcome was stymied, as it has been in the past, by the big emitters.

What it means is that all eyes are on the crucial COP26 summit to be hosted by the UK government in Glasgow in November. The talks will see the Paris agreement come into effect, alongside immense pressure for greater emission-cutting ambition from all countries.

For the UK this will be a defining moment, as we wrestle with Brexit, to prove we still have what it takes on the international stage. It will require unparalleled diplomatic effort to take what was achieved in Paris five years ago and turn it into something with a chance of preventing the worst impact of climate change. Fortunately, the UK has an unrivalled diplomatic machine, and I know the FCO’s network of energy and climate attachés is already kicking into action, so I have some confidence.

It also means leading domestically in the UK with what’s required of economies around the world – to have the vision and political bravery to reinvent our economy around net zero.  This poses gargantuan challenges for the UK – in transport, heat and (still) for our power system. But, based on the 40% cut in emissions since 1990 against a backdrop of more than 60% growth in GDP, I am again confident.

To be clear, there is a climate emergency and we must remove greenhouse gas emissions from the global energy system as quickly as possible. And by we I mean governments, businesses and individuals, not just in the technologies we deploy but in the way we use them and how we behave.

But it’s not only the amount of energy we use today that needs to be cleaned up. Global demand continues to grow and this must be met in a sustainable way, in particular for the three billion people still cooking on some form of solid biomass, with serious impacts on health causing around four million premature deaths every year, mostly women and children. And for the near billion people who still have no access to electricity and the quality of life that accompanies that.

More generally, economic development and the growing middle classes in low and middle income countries, in Asia in particular, are rapidly pushing up demand. It’s expected to grow globally by another 25% by 2040.

We cannot view these issues independently. Protecting our planet and reducing the imbalances across societies is the single greatest challenge of our age.

Simply, we need more, cleaner, better-managed energy – urgently. And this year at the Energy Institute we will significantly ramp up our contribution to this with:

  • new technical programmes in hydrogen, carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS), integrated networks and fugitive methane reduction;
  • a guide for future consumers of hydrogen;
  • a new health and safety conference bringing together our growing body of partner companies working in onshore and offshore wind power and other renewables;
  • a special EI climate change award for young people at the Big Bang science and engineering fair; and
  • setting science-based targets for our own operations to reach net zero well before 2050.

But before all of that, this month there will be a very different feel to IP Week, our annual gathering of global oil and gas industry leaders and influencers.

The 2020 programme will focus decisively on the low carbon future and the role of oil and gas industry in it. Alongside leaders from across the industry – including BP’s incoming chief executive Bernard Looney FEI – we’ll be bringing in external speakers from environmental NGOs, the investment community, government and elsewhere to provide vital context to the urgent global challenge we face.

Urgency will, I am sure, mean discontinuity in our energy system. But it must not give rise to panic. Such a fundamental change to our global economy calls for an approach that is honest, based on evidence and as low on regrets as possible.

Because the inescapable reality is, even as we pursue all and every low carbon alternative, oil and gas still account for 54% of the world’s energy needs. Indeed we should never forget that our ability to harness these resources has delivered incredible human progress and improvements in our quality of life.

The question for those companies working in oil and gas is whether everything possible is being done to tackle fugitive emissions of methane – a potent greenhouse gas – and bring on vital CCUS to move us more quickly towards net zero? The engineering capabilities are certainly there, as are the financial weight and the proven ability to deliver globally and at scale.

As an engineer who spent half his career in oil and gas and the other in the power sector, I’m a big believer in human ingenuity and our ability to solve big challenges through technology.  I’ve seen it first-hand time and again. Professionals in energy have changed the world before and I am confident 2020 will be a year in which we show we will do it again.

IP Week 2020 programme and registration details are at

This article was first published in Energy World and Petroleum Review, February 2020

Keeping the lights on and emissions down: Comms and the energy sector


Nick Turton MCIPR, External Affairs Director at the Energy Institute 

From behaviour change to crisis management to global advocacy, Nick Turton MCIPR delves into recent polling among senior communication professionals in energy and climate change.

Energy is all about molecules and electrons, right? It’s the stuff of engineers and scientists, of big power stations and oil platforms? Well, that’s certainty partly true. But look a little closer. Consider these three moments from the past year:

  • On 27 June, legislation completed its passage through Parliament requiring the UK to end its contribution to climate change entirely by reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050.
  • On 9 August, a freak set of events on the UK electricity grid led to the loss of power to more than a million customers, with knock on consequences for trains across the South East, Ipswich hospital and Newcastle airport.
  • On 13 December, the UK was formally confirmed as chair of the most significant global climate negotiations since the Paris Agreement, to culminate in hosting the COP26 conference in Glasgow in November this year.

In different ways, they serve to illustrate how central professional communication and communicators have become to the field of energy and climate change, and in diverse ways.

The net-zero target will call for sophisticated skills in consumer engagement to bring about far-reaching changes in how we live our lives.  According to the Government’s expert advisers at the Committee on Climate Change, behaviour change will be needed to achieve up to two thirds of the cuts in emissions required over the next three decades.

As for the blackout, well, as crises go, it’s up there. Customer relations, PR, corporate affairs, internal and other communication teams within affected organisations will have been working frantically to manage the operational, reputational and financial fallout.

Lastly, COP26 will demand unparalleled diplomatic efforts, with professionals skilled in coalition building and global advocacy needed to pull off a global emission-cutting deal capable of averting the worst of the climate emergency.

These are just three instances, but recent polling by the CIPR’s Energy Leadership Platform of senior professional communicators working in energy and climate change suggests the ask is huge, the skills diverse and, perhaps more than anything, they’ve got their work cut out.

Despite the apparent growth in concern about the climate emergency, some 95% of those surveyed believe the general public has a weak understanding of the energy system and the challenges it faces. The mainstream media also fares badly on 67%. This contrasts, not surprisingly, with the scientific and engineering community which is seen as having by far the strongest understanding of the issues.

Not only that, but financial matters appear to trump bigger planetary concerns. The cost to the consumer is seen as the number one barrier to public acceptance of the changes needed to bring about the energy transition. And executive pay is singled out by 70% of respondents as having the most detrimental impact on the sector’s overall social licence to operate, followed by prices.

This same polling also sheds light on how senior professionals feel about the status and state of their profession within the energy world. Most positively, three quarters of those surveyed believe communication is valued at the top of their organisations as a function akin to legal, accountancy and engineering. The picture is also positive in terms of how much the wider workforce values the function, though less so, on 58%.

In two thirds of organisations, the most senior communications professional is at Director or CEO level and, in most of those cases, the profession is also represented at board level.

This is perhaps no surprise given reputational risk and crisis management is rated the number one reason communication professionals are valued in the sector. Clearly, we are still the people to have around in a crisis!

But the mix of skills required has changed markedly, as in most other sectors, with integrated PR and social and digital media skills now ranking the most important, followed by behavioural science and data analytics. Traditional media relations is outflanked by them all.

Navigating and influencing this crowded field of large corporates, start-ups, direct action NGOs, think tanks, consumer groups and governments clearly isn’t for the uninitiated. That probably explains why, for new entrants, it’s experience at the coal face that gets you in the door, not academic qualifications. Previous experience in energy or in another sector are by far the preferred background when recruiting, rated by a combined total of 76%. An academic PR qualification on its own is rated by only 9% of respondents.

But it’s a profession that appears to be inclusive. Twice as many respondents see their communications team as representative of society, as see it as unrepresentative. This bucks the trend in energy, a sector known for its lack of diversity, particularly at the top. In fact only 29% feel their board is representative of society. Given the need for the sector to reflect, understand and change society, this is surely a red flag.

But despite the gargantuan challenges and very real concerns, senior communication professionals responding to the survey are not short of passion and enthusiasm for their work and encouragement for others to enter the field.

“You are communicating through a period of highly dynamic change in an industry that is transforming the way we live our lives and the manner in which we manage our resources and the planet”, writes one. Others describe it as “a career in a sector at the top of the agenda for politicians, the media and the public” providing an “opportunity to mould messaging that changes people’s minds and hearts”.

One concluded it offers “the opportunity to shape the biggest challenge humanity has faced. This is it, there is nothing more important you could be working on”.

Nick Turton MCIPR is External Affairs Director at the Energy Institute and a board member of the CIPR Energy Leadership Platform

First published on Influence online on 28 January 2020.

Disability and energy – leaving no one behind

Ashira Perera (2)

Ashira Perera,  Consultant at EEG

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 7 promises a global commitment to access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all. However, people with disabilities face multiple energy-related challenges – particularly in low-income countries, where the likelihood of having a disability is higher compared to high-income countries – and are often left out of discussions about energy poverty. Ashira Perera, a consultant on the Energy and Economic Growth (EEG) research programme, explains more, and suggests some practical solutions.

It is estimated that 15 per cent of the global population (one billion people) live with some form of disability – but due to the likelihood of underreporting, this figure could be considerably higher. People with disabilities are known to face discrimination, social ostracism, lack of access to healthcare, rehabilitation, social protection, and safety nets, and barriers to obtaining education and formal employment opportunities.

People with disabilities also face energy-related challenges, and the situation can be particularly acute in low-income countries; UN estimates suggest that 80 per cent of the world’s disabled populations are located in developing countries.

Despite this, people with disabilities have often been left out of discussions about energy poverty. The universal energy access agenda has focused on the inclusion of vulnerable individuals – typically women, children, and the elderly – but relatively little focus has been placed on those with disabilities.

The focus on people with disabilities has been increasing within the sustainable development agenda, and addressing the needs of the disabled community is an integral part of the UN’s SDGs. While SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy) does not explicitly mention people with disabilities, it does refer to ‘affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all’, and the UN Flagship Report on Disability and Development (2018) highlights four key priority areas regarding energy that affect people with disabilities:

  1. Access to energy (predominantly electricity but also other forms)

Access to electricity is low across Sub-Saharan Africa and disproportionately affects people with disabilities. Access is estimated at 43 per cent of the population, on average. In almost 50 per cent of developing countries covered in the UN Flagship Report, less than half of households with people with disabilities have access to electricity. In 37 out of 44 countries in the sample, households with people with disabilities have a lower electricity access rate than households without.

  1. Greater demand for electricity to operate assistive technologies

The Global Partnership for Assistive Technology asserts that over one billion people are in need of at least one form of assistive technology – this figure is set to double to two billion people by 2030. Assistive technologies comprise systems and services needed for assistive products that help people become more self-sufficient, including wheelchairs, eyeglasses, hearing aids, communication aids, memory aids, prosthetics, and personal assistance devices. Currently, over 90 per cent of people in need of assistive technologies do not have access to them. Assistive technologies are in greater demand among people with disabilities, which in turn leads to greater demand for access to electricity.

  1. Affordable energy

Affordability of energy among people with disabilities is a further challenge. Energy bills tend to be higher among households with people with disabilities, and this burden is increased by the fact that they often have fewer financial resources available to pay their energy bills. The additional cost will vary with type and severity of the disability, but the crucial point is that there needs to be greater affordability of energy services for people with disabilities.

  1. Access to modern forms of energy for people with disabilities who live in low-income households

The UN Flagship Report notes that more households with people with disabilities still used wood or coal for cooking than those households without. People with disabilities in developing countries are more exposed to pollution in the household, negatively impacting their health and safety. Indoor pollution kills more than four million people annually, of which 500,000 deaths originate in Sub-Saharan Africa. The increased exposure is due to the burning of traditional energy forms for cooking because of a lack of modern, cleaner energy services (2.9 billion people worldwide, including people with disabilities, still use traditional cooking fuels).

Addressing the challenges

The key to overcoming the energy challenges faced by people with disabilities lies chiefly in increasing access to electricity. Future energy access and development programmes may consider increasing provision to certain key areas of social infrastructure, especially educational services and healthcare.

Improving and sustaining electricity provision within educational infrastructures may incentivise greater participation of disabled individuals in the educational system. For example, electricity access would help visually impaired students through providing better lighting, as well as providing the power required for a range of assistive devices, including e-readers, audio books, and optical character recognition devices. Students with learning difficulties, or who have difficulties typing, may benefit from using programmable computer keyboards that use graphics to aid comprehension.

People with disabilities are more likely to need access to healthcare services, so undisrupted energy access in remote healthcare facilities is also likely to have a disproportionately positive effect on their lives. The use of telemedicine technology (which requires reliable electricity access) would enable healthcare professionals to connect with people with disabilities in rural areas using information and communication technology, meaning people with disabilities wouldn’t need to spend several hours travelling to distant healthcare facilities. Telemedicine facilities would also enable patients to gain access to the limited number of healthcare professionals. Doctors would be able to communicate with patients via mobile devices and would be able to issue electronic prescriptions.

In terms of energy affordability, disability benefits could potentially be linked to energy access, for example, by voucher schemes being tied to the purchase of energy products and services. The 2018 UN Flagship Report notes that at least 168 countries have schemes which support disabled communities with periodic cash benefits, and these existing mechanisms could be leveraged to address energy affordability among people with disabilities. Furthermore, social safety net mechanisms focused on energy have been created in developed countries (for example, the UK’s cold weather payments, warm home discount schemes, and winter fuel payments are provided to low-income, vulnerable populations, including people with disabilities) – such schemes could be designed and tailored to the needs of people with disabilities in low-income countries.

Investments in clean cooking are necessary to reduce indoor pollution. Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) stoves offer a viable alternative to traditional fuels, though questions around how people with disabilities would afford the LPG cylinders required to operate stoves would need to be addressed – voucher schemes and other cash transfer options could help uptake and affordability. Microcredit schemes may also be an alternative financial mechanism for people with disabilities living below the poverty line.

On a broader scale, engaging people with disabilities in the energy planning process would help policy makers distinguish between the different forms of disability (both physical and psychological), and how these affect energy needs. Increasing inclusion of people with disabilities across ministries, departments, and agencies would benefit the future design and effectiveness of energy access interventions.

Placing people with disabilities at the heart of programme and policy formation would ultimately help to ensure the energy access agenda truly leaves no one behind.

An EEG Energy Insight on energy and disability can be found here.