Is coal the unlikely answer to the low carbon heat conundrum?

Charlotte for blog 2

Dr Charlotte Adams, Durham University

Geothermal energy could mean a new, low carbon role for the UK’s abandoned coal mines. The EI’s 2019 Energy Champion award winner Dr Charlotte Adams of Durham University explains…

I was delighted to receive the Energy Institute Energy Champion award this year. It is often difficult for more applied research to achieve recognition within academia therefore being recognised by a professional society is a real honour and I’m very grateful to those who nominated me.

My interest in mining goes back to my school days when we had a field trip to an abandoned lead-zinc mine in Cumbria. We had an opportunity to raid the spoil heaps for the jewel bright minerals discarded by the miners in favour of the more valuable metals they sought. My interest in mining remained with me throughout my degree and doctorate culminating in my research on the treatment and management of water flowing from abandoned mines. Whilst taking minewater samples I noticed that these waters were tepid and wondered if they could be a source of heat.

After undertaking postgraduate research and working in the renewable energy industry for a few years, I returned to academia when I joined Durham University in 2009. Since then I have been researching and promoting the UK’s geothermal resources with a particular focus upon flooded abandoned coal mines for decarbonising heat. The political decision to rapidly abandon coal mines during the 1980s led to high levels of unemployment and social deprivation in mining areas. These communities were further affected by rising water levels underground which threatened surface and groundwater. The UK now has around 23,000 abandoned deep mines and water is pumped at strategic locations to keep water levels in the mine safe and intercept and treat any potentially problematic minewater discharges.

Over the past century, 15 billion tonnes of coal were extracted from the subsurface. This would create a layer of coal 5cm deep if spread over the UK land surface. This is important because it gives us an idea of the amount of water contained within the mines that could be used for heat supply and storage. Allowing for post abandonment subsidence, we estimate that there is enough heat for 180 million homes. Many towns and cities developed as a direct result of their coal reserves creating a good overlap between former coalfields and areas of heat demand.

The water in the mines is accessed by drilling boreholes, the tepid waters occurring there are not hot enough to take a bath in or heat a room but by using a heat pump, temperatures can be increased to a more comfortable 40-50°C. Although the heat pump requires an electrical input, it is an energy efficient device because you can expect to get 3-4 kW of heat output from the heat pump for every 1 kW of electrical input. There are around 30 projects globally that use abandoned mines for heating and this research proves that we don’t need to be in a volcanic setting to develop geothermal energy. We now have the potential to develop our mining legacy to meet our future heat demands, reduce national carbon emissions and provide opportunities to regenerate former mining regions.

* Dr Charlotte Adams is a Fellow of Durham University’s Durham Energy Institute (DEI), Assistant Professor (Research) in  Durham’s Department of Earth Sciences, Research Associate in the Department of Engineering and Research Manager at BritGothermal.


Safety first for low carbon technology

Louise Kingham details how the EI is expanding its long-standing health and safety capabilities into new low carbon fields using the latest technology.

Louise Kingham OBE FEI, Chief Executive, Energy Institute

Louise Kingham OBE FEI, Chief Executive, Energy Institute

The flash flooding causing damage to a dam near Whaley Bridge in northern England, Greenland’s melting ice sheet and hurricane Dorian’s destructive force in the Bahamas have been the latest stark reminders of the sort of impacts wecan expect of our changing climate, and the need for radical change in how we power and fuel our way of life.

The rapid growth of low carbon technologies is vital to combatting climate change and transitioning to a low carbon future, and I’m inspired by the ingenuity of the engineers and other professionals bringing them forward. Whether it’s floating wind turbines to reduce the carbon footprint of offshore oil production, trials injecting hydrogen into gas networks or the deployment of super-fast electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure, innovation across the world of energy is coming thick and fast.

But it’s important we apply the same levels of discipline, rigour and good practice around health and safety (H&S) when working with these new, often unfamiliar, technologies, as we have for decades in conventional fuels.

So I’m glad to report the Energy Institute (EI) is doing precisely that as we extend our work into these new areas using the expertise in H&S that we’ve developed, applied and honed over the past century in oil and gas. We’re extending the benefits to more of the workforce, in more parts of the industry, in more dynamic ways. Let me give you three recent examples.

A new voice for safety in onshore wind

Onshore wind is one of the cheapest sources of low carbon electricity. With almost 8,000 turbines in the UK generating enough power for 8mn homes, it’s a dynamic industry employing thousands.

But it’s also one that’s experienced recent, tragic loss of life. So I’m very pleased about the establishment of SafetyOn, facilitated by the EI, to drive collaborative improvements in H&S performance.

With 19 leading companies from the sector and the close involvement of the regulator, the SafetyOn programme is modelled on the EI’s tried-and-tested G+ Offshore Wind Health and Safety Organisation, providing leadership in H&S, promoting transparency, and identifying and dealing with emerging risks through cooperation and shared learning.

The initiative has moved fast since it was set up in April. We are already embarking on collecting H&S incident data for the second half of 2019, which will start to inform the group’s work programme and discussions at the first stakeholder forum in Edinburgh later in the year.

Storing up flexibility

But the wind is intermittent and, with renewable power now meeting a third of the UK’s electricity demand, the question of managing this variability has become pressing. It was one of the red flags raised by our UK members in this year’s Energy Barometer survey. More than four in every five respondents called for incentivisation of technologies to provide system flexibility.

Battery storage is one of these technologies, helping time-shift generation as well as balance grid load – and it’s another area where the EI is now active. We’ve just published guidance to help battery storage operators plan and assess risk, and for local authorities dealing with the huge surge in planning applications for storage facilities. Further work on dealing with battery fires and construction and maintenance are to follow.

The prescience of this work was brought home by the 9 August 2019 power failure which left almost a million homes and businesses in England and Wales without electricity. Not only were batteries instrumental in preventing more widespread problems, but concern to avoid a repeat of the incident has given the Energy Barometer’s call for flexibility incentives fresh currency.

Putting safety in your hands

It’s not just the sectors we work in that are evolving, it’s also how we get our H&S advice and guidance to those who need it. With the world, our workplaces and our expectations increasingly digital, the third innovation I’m pleased to mention is Toolbox, the EI’s new web-based app.

Free to use, online or offline, on smartphone, tablet or laptop, Toolbox holds bite-sized incident lessons and safety information shared by the EI’s global energy company partners. The ultimate goal is to ensure that those working in hazardous environments at the front line, in all parts of the world and all fields of energy, get home safely.

It’s a great example of the EI using technology to fulfil its social purpose, and we were proud to demonstrate it to delegates at Offshore Europe in Aberdeen, and the World Energy Congress in Abu Dhabi, last month, where it got a very positive reception.

Tomorrow’s energy professionals

As the world in which we operate evolves, so do we. In collaboration with our industry partners and other stakeholders, the EI is working to define new good practice needed in storage, carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS), hydrogen and integrated networks.

Diversifying and expanding our work in this way means we continue our vital role in supporting operational excellence across the energy system. We are striving to ensure today’s and tomorrow’s energy professionals remain safe as they develop and deploy the exciting low carbon energy technologies needed to avert the worst impacts of climate change.

Useful links:
EI battery storage guidance –
Energy Barometer 2019 –
Toolbox app –
SafetyOn initiative –

This blog first appeared Energy World Magazine, October 2019.

Putting the focus on flexibility

Steve Holliday

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

The Energy Institute’s incoming president Steve Holliday reflects on the Energy Barometer 2019 and calls for a renewed and visionary focus on flexibility.

The great success story of the UK’s transition to low carbon so far is indisputably in the power sector. So much so that it is tempting to think ‘job done’ and time to shift our focus towards decarbonising heat and transport.

It is certainly true that over the decade I spent heading up National Grid and since, the transformation of our power system has been astonishing.

The UK’s conventional, centralised power stations and the main transmission system are still incredibly important pieces of national critical infrastructure and, with reliability of supply last year at 99.999975%, they’re the envy of the world.

But three stunning facts illustrate the new landscape unfolding before our eyes:

First, growth in wind and solar has pushed renewable generation from single digits to a third of the UK’s electricity mix last year. (Add in the nuclear component and we’re beyond 50% low carbon.)

Second, we’ve seen an extraordinary proliferation of generation facilities – from some 80 or so power stations to more than 900,000 today, including many consumers acting as microgenerators, producing power on their own premises.

Third, this has pushed generation deep into the distribution networks, making more than 10% of the electricity we use invisible to the main transmission grid and putting the spotlight firmly on the DNOs.

Put these changes together and you have what I’ve termed a ‘chaotic revolution’ that is switching the balance of power from the centre to the edge of the grid – for the better. Excitingly, there’s much more to come, with cost reductions putting clean energy technologies within reach for more businesses and households.

While this all bodes well for the shift to low carbon, there’s still a lot of work to do to ensure we can simultaneously maintain supply reliably in the most cost-effective way. The variability of renewables embedded at the grid edge is likely to put increasing strain on the system, posing challenges for maintaining stable frequency and supply.

This is why, alongside overarching questions about energy policy, climate targets and investment, the Energy Institute’s new Energy Barometer 2019 report takes an in-depth look at progress on flexibility.

The Energy Barometer is a window on the views of the EI’s UK membership, professionals whose day-job is to provide and manage the energy on which we all depend. The 2019 edition raises and highlights some clear and important points.

Flexibility can of course mean many things. Conventionally it’s on the supply side with large dispatchable power plant or pumped storage capacity sitting dormant, ready to kick in to meet demand at peak times. However, EI members increasingly associate it with battery storage (on both grid-scale and small-scale) and technologies enabling consumers to vary their demand patterns, even behind the meter, when the wind and sun are not delivering.

Whatever the technology, I find common ground with more than four in every five EI members who told our survey there needs to be incentivisation of system flexibility. This is vital for accommodating the rise of renewables and other causes of variability on our power networks in a cost-effective way.

I also share their frustration that a lack of political will has been holding back progress and is the main barrier to scaling up these technologies. Despite commitments made by the Government and regulator Ofgem in 2017, 40% of EI members think the UK’s progress on flexibility in the past two years has been minimal.

So, what should be done? More than three fifths of EI members favour the Government creating a market or other incentives for the development of flexibility by large non-domestic consumers. Two fifths believe the Government should create a level playing field for demand and supply side flexibility. This echoes the ruling last year by the European Court of Justice that the Capacity Market unfairly favoured traditional supply-side technologies at the expense of clean energy and flexibility-related companies.

The need for greater effort applies in relation to household consumers too. Half of EI members believe the benefits of smart homes need to be promoted. Although more than 60% of EI members believe tariffs rewarding flexible demand will be attractive to householders, a similar proportion nevertheless believes that very few consumers are currently likely to allow suppliers to control their appliances, even if financial benefits are passed on. That, surely, is a concern for our chances of maximising the lower bills and system wide benefits promised by the smart, digitalised homes of the future.

There may even be an industrial windfall for the UK in flexibility and the closely related field of digitalisation. More than 60% of EI members believe supportive policy and regulation could open the door to the UK becoming a global leader in these areas.

Ministers have set out bold ambitions – in their recent sector deal to ramp up offshore wind capacity to 30GW by 2030 and now to increase the Climate Change Act’s 2050 target to net-zero emissions. Both have implications and, for consumers to get the fairest deal, the transition must be pursued cost-effectively and in a way that maintains reliable supplies. That calls for a renewed and visionary focus on flexibility.

The Energy Barometer 2019 is published at and discussion of its findings are tagged #EnergyBarometer on Twitter.

This blog first appeared in Network Magazine, 12 July 2019.

Net-zero means getting consumer engagement right

Steve Holliday

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

The Energy Institute’s incoming President Steve Holliday FREng FEI discusses the Energy Barometer 2019 and why consumer engagement has to be the next front in the war on climate change.

I had the good fortune during my decade running National Grid to observe close up the decarbonisation of vast swathes of the UK’s power system. Astonishing things have been achieved, not least that coal has been supplanted in the mix by renewables, which now make up a third of the electricity we use. Add in the component from nuclear and our grid is now half low carbon, helping to cut emissions by more than 43% on 1990 levels.

So how did this change actually ‘feel’ for you? Well, unless you work in or live near a power facility, and bar sporadic media headlines about the cost of subsidies, the majority of people could be forgiven for not even noticing! Because this phenomenal shift has been largely invisible to the public. After all, it’s made no difference to how you boil your kettle or charge your mobile phone. Electrons are electrons.

For the next phase of decarbonising our economy, however, things are set to be very different, and the Government’s announcement of a net-zero target for 2050 puts this into even sharper relief.

Going forward, it’s hard to foresee meaningful progress without the active participation of consumers in many, many ways. The Committee on Climate Change estimates that more than 60% of the emissions reductions needed for net-zero will involve some element of human behaviour change, mostly in combination with the deployment of unfamiliar technologies.

This will put a premium on real and meaningful engagement with householders, drivers, employees, customers and the public at large. Indeed, alongside new clean energy infrastructure, we’re going to need to build a sophisticated new relationship between people and the energy on which we all depend.

I’m not talking here about hair-shirt change, but we do need to rethink everything from how we heat our homes to how we fuel the vehicles that get us from A to B. If we’re serious about ending Britain’s contribution to climate change, there’ll be no avoiding it.

So it’s encouraging to see climate change surge up the public agenda. The proportion who say they are concerned about it has now reached its highest point since 2008, when the issue was last the zeitgeist.

On the other hand, I was concerned by a number of findings of the Energy Institute’s new Energy Barometer 2019 published this week.

This year’s survey raises some real home energy alarm bells. There is real concern among the UK’s energy professionals about how consumers – and the poorest in particular – will fare as the energy transition and data revolution progress.

Half of EI members believe promotion of the opportunities opened up by smart technologies for household consumers is needed to help capitalise on the lower bills and system benefits promised by these technologies.

More concerning still, twice as many EI members believe energy companies, as opposed to their customers, will benefit financially the most from the data revolution in energy..

The survey also reveals some apparent contradictions that point to areas of focus for those seeking to bring about the necessary changes in behaviour.

Although more than 60% of EI members believe tariffs that reward flexible demand will be attractive to householders, a similar proportion nevertheless believes that very few consumers will allow suppliers to control their appliances, even if financial benefits are passed on.

More than half of EI members believe public pressure is a now a leading driver of decarbonisation, but two thirds nevertheless think domestic customers still prioritise low bills over low carbon.

And looking to the poorest in our society, the Barometer contains little positive news. Tackling fuel poverty is rated year-after-year one of the least effective areas of government policy. A fifth of respondents fear the low carbon transition will inevitably push up fuel poverty, regardless of government interventions to help the most vulnerable.

Technologies that promise a smarter, greener relationship with the energy we all use are advancing at breakneck speed. But human factors resulting from poor communication mean households could be left in the slow lane.

Ministers and industry leaders need to navigate these uncertainties with great care, to ensure these amazing new technologies deliver on their potential in our homes and, if we’re to reach net-zero, for our wider energy system.

The Energy Barometer 2019 is published at and discussion of its findings are tagged #EnergyBarometer on Twitter.

This blog first appeared on Energy Live News, 20 June 2019.

Why you should work in oil and gas

Nick Butler FT

Nick Butler, Financial Time Energy Commentator

The industry may be vilified but there are creative groups with long perspectives.

Forty-odd years ago, about to graduate from university, I received my first job offer, from BP. I accepted instantly. Oil was the industry of the moment. North Sea oil and gas was being developed, offering the UK a degree of freedom from the power of Opec and the risk of embargoes. The combination of economics and politics and the idea of working for a great company operating on a world stage was irresistible.

Now I’m often asked by students or their parents if they should consider a job in the sector. Would I make the same decision now?

Things have certainly changed. The oil and gas industry is under attack on many sides. Vilified by environmentalists for its contribution to the continuing growth in emissions and global warming, it faces an increasing number of court challenges from those seeking to prove the liability of individual companies for the damage done by climate change.

At a different level of the debate the industry is seen by some investors as vulnerable to the loss of market share and profitability as renewables, helped on by falling costs and public policy support, take up an ever larger volume of demand.

So given this perception of the industry as one whose best days are past, what would advise someone starting out? I would say yes, work in the sector — but choose your employer with care.

Many large companies in many sectors are unpopular and face fundamental competitive challenges. Think of Amazon or Volkswagen. But few — the tobacco industry is an obvious exception — attract the visceral hostility that confronts the oil and gas sector or the epithet of “dinosaurs”, relics of the past destined to extinction. Who would want to work for a dirty dinosaur?

That is the fashionable view but it is too superficial. If you are offered a job in the industry, you should be asking what future the company envisages for itself. One of the greatest pleasures of working in the energy business is the length of the horizon. The companies — especially the oil majors — think and plan on the basis of a 30- to 40-year strategy. That, after all, has been the lifespan of all major provinces from the North Sea to Alaska.

Given this refreshingly long perspective, all the companies should now have strategies that take them to the middle of the century. Of course the details will evolve continuously, but it is the underlying strategic approach that matters. Such thinking is what distinguishes creative companies from dinosaurs trapped in their past successes. It has allowed the majors to adapt and remain relevant and successful through more than a century of war, political upheaval and dramatic economic change.

The problem is that the companies are finding it hard to articulate any such long-term strategy. Very few deny that change and a shift to a lower carbon economy is coming, even if there are legitimate differences about the timing and pace of the shift. But there is little clarity on how they see themselves operating in the coming new world.

There is, of course, no single strategic answer to the challenge of the energy transition. It would be perfectly legitimate for company A to decide that it will stick to what it does well for as long as that is possible and profitable; having harvested its resources it will then return residual value to the shareholder. Company B might take a different approach, waiting to shift the balance of their activity until the timing is clearer and the choices more obvious. The first of these alternatives will be more attractive to investors than the second. Neither are likely to be terribly enticing to an aspiring new graduate.

The third approach is more complex but much more interesting. That is to ride both horses — creating an organisational structure which creates two entities with very different characteristics. The strategic objective should be to hold a leadership position in both elements while over time the balance will naturally shift from hydrocarbons to low carbon.

Riding two horses at once is a great intellectual and organisational challenge. The two entities will require different skills and market knowledge. For investors they will be different animals — requiring a very careful alignment of expectations, perhaps through a twin stock market listing, and distinct processes of capital allocation. But the quality of any serious job depends on there being tough challenges. There are no great careers to be made in doing work that is mechanical and filled with drudgery.

Navigating the energy transition matters not just for individual and companies but for society as a whole. It demands the entrepreneurial drive and global reach that is part of the DNA of the oil and gas majors. So to any youngster offered a job in a company prepared to think in this way I would say: you should be as thrilled as I was over 40 years ago. Personally, I would not hesitate to make the same choice again. Oh, to be 21.

This article was first published on on 1 April.


What Millennials want

my photo cropped

Irina Bonavino              Vice Chair – Aberdeen, Highlands & Islands YPN

Managers and senior leaders in companies across the world – Generation Xers and Baby Boomers – scratch their heads over what Millennials want.

The difficulty of engaging with this group was raised at a dinner held recently for EI Fellows and Young Professionals from the Aberdeen, Highlands & Islands branch.

Here are my five pointers for any leaders asking that question.

I promise it isn’t another repetition about how tech-savvy, arrogant 20-somethings just want sleeping pods, gender-balanced coding classes and free caramel macchiatos at work.

This is my own take, based on being a Millennial who knows some very smart and career-focused Millennials (looking at you, Aberdeen YPN committee!).

1.What do your Millennial employees want? Ask them.

Set up spaces, physical or digital, collective or individual, for your Millennials to give views about how the workplace could be improved.

It could be a monthly meeting for graduates, an online survey, an ideas competition, or simply a question from the manager at our next one-to-one. Keep your ears and mind open to the ideas that have bigger potential.

Is Anna passionate about the environment, and disappointed that not enough is recycled in the office? Encourage her to do a report on how to implement the system she suggested to improve waste management, and to explain what the costs/benefits would be. Promise that she will have a chance to pitch it to more senior people and potentially to implement it.

2. Trust and enable

Personally, I think at least one of the stereotypes may be true – Millennials are a little needy.

We crave validation. It’s not entirely our fault – getting likes is addictive!

The internet isn’t just a repository of all human knowledge, it’s also full of reminders that everyone is apparently more beautiful, popular and successful than us. We live in a globally competitive and judgmental world and we’re very aware of it.

If there have been engagement issues in the past, let us know now that you see the value in our skillsets and viewpoints and that you care about creating a fulfilling work environment for us (within the company’s ethos of course).

But don’t just say “Right, crack on”. Show your support by providing some basic resources: give us access to the nice boardroom for meetings, set aside an hour a week when we can work on our project, or prompt another team/expert in the company to talk us through the data we need.

If you invest a little, we’ll invest too.

3. Set a high bar

The flip side of trust is expectation. Your message should be: I know you have the smarts and I believe you can deliver – therefore I expect you to do a good job.

Chances are, the young people in your company are bright, educated and keen to improve. They’ve done the unpaid internships and spent time learning new skills outside school and university. Some may have had the extra struggle (or advantage!) of coming from a different culture.

We don’t want everything handed to us. I would argue that, even if some young people have experienced low-effort-high-reward patterns in their early life, the workplace doesn’t have to be a continuation of that.

Make it clear at the start of the project which company standards should be met, and what success will look like for you in terms of outcomes or the bottom line. Put the onus on your Millennials to make a clear business case for their proposal.

4. We are social animals

Not social as in media, it’s more basic than that. If you as a senior professional have ever felt irritated by a Millennial flicking through their phone looking completely disinterested in the people around them, consider this: we just want to make friends (aww…).

Yes, just like every generation of humans that came before us, Millennials keenly want to have happy, fulfilling social lives. “Social” apps don’t make it any easier, they have only given us convenient ways to detach from the arduous, awkward process of developing relationships in real life.

So, if possible, make it a group project. Give us an excuse to meet with our peers and approach our more senior colleagues. We’re really just hoping that those chats over coffee will turn into chats over a pint.

5. Deliver on the promise

Millennials like a challenge if it means we get to stand out from the crowd a little. I should know – our YPN committee is made up of young professionals who volunteer between 8 and 16 hours a month of our free time to deliver valuable events for other young professionals to learn, network and grow.

We are willing to give added energy to projects we are passionate about, but it’s only in your power as a leader to promise that pot of gold at the end of all the extra hours. When the work is done, acknowledge it and provide timely feedback. Make it a learning opportunity.

But most importantly, if you were persuaded, please deliver on your promise and implement the idea. Let’s face it, most of us aren’t curing cancer every day, but Millennials want to feel a little less like a cog in the corporate machine.

We want our work to matter somehow and to make a tangible, positive impact. Seeing those new recycling bins and being able to say: “That was important to me. I was given agency and I achieved that” – that’s something Millennials want.

A light bulb moment for the planet?

Nick Howard

Nick Howard IEng MEI MSLL Chartered Energy Manager

We must – and can – take matters into our own hands on climate change rather than wait for governments to deliver, says Nick Howard IEng MEI MSLL Chartered Energy Manager and member of the Energy Institute’s Energy Management Panel.

If it were possible to draw only one conclusion from the climate change debates of the past few years, it could be that politicians and national governments won’t solve the planetary crisis alone.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process is case in point. The 2015 COP21 in Paris was remembered for its outstanding political goodwill, optimism about reducing emissions and limiting global warming and close cooperation between the USA and China, the biggest emitters among developed and developing countries. By contrast, three years on, December’s COP24 in Katowice, Poland displayed dampened enthusiasm. Although the delegates successfully managed to deliver the “rulebook” to implement the emission reduction promises agreed in Paris, the summit demonstrated that it’s much easier for politicians to set targets than to agree on how to reach them, implement actions and measure progress.

It’s all the more surprising given that the scientific understanding around the scale of the risk of climate change to assets, investments and the public is more acute than ever. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was downplayed by some politicians gathered in Poland, despite it suggesting the world is on a devastating track to overshoot the targets of the Paris climate agreement and warm by 3°C by the end of the century.

The salutary lesson from these developments is that companies, businesses and local authorities all need to ride in behind the ambition set out in Paris rather than wait for the politics to deliver. Together, by taking the initiative and leading by example, we can make those intentions real, making real inroads into emissions and building resilience against climate change impacts. Most specifically, we must focus on translating rapidly evolving and far-reaching technological innovations into day-to-day life.

Too often ignored amid the noisy, polarised debate about nuclear, renewables and shale gas is the Cinderella of decarbonisation – the ‘first fuel’ – energy efficiency. It is a source of energy in its own right, in which energy users can make no-regrets investments ahead of other more complex or costly energy sources. Indeed, there’s been something of a quiet revolution under way in the UK – highlighted by Carbon Brief’s recent number crunching that found electricity generation last year was down to the same level as the mid-1990s, despite a growing economy, due largely to improvements in energy efficiency.

At an organisational level, energy efficiency efforts are understood as improving the ability to reduce energy consumption, based on the results of energy audits and surveys, for example a mandatory Energy Savings Opportunity Scheme (ESOS) assessment, the forthcoming Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) or, globally, certifying an ISO 50001 Energy Management System.

Unfortunately, the take-up of energy efficiency projects by some industries in the UK has been slow, in many cases glacial or non-existent. This may be due to political uncertainties, or difficulties justifying funding or capital expenditure where margins are low and international competition high.

Additionally, present legal energy reduction schemes such as ESOS and Display Energy Certificates (DECs) don’t have teeth. There is no compulsion to implement measures identified through the schemes’ mandatory surveys. The new reporting scheme, SECR, which from April 2019 will replace the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) Energy Efficiency Scheme, is yet another missed opportunity for the mandatory installation of energy efficiency measures by businesses and organisations.

Serious actions are required to better encourage organisations to install efficiency projects and fulfil energy saving opportunities. After all, the ‘O’ in ESOS stands for Opportunity! Phase 2 of ESOS, which is in its compliance period between now and 5 December, shouldn’t just be a tick box exercise. Instead, energy managers should use it as an opportunity to review decarbonisation strategies and explore long-term energy saving possibilities, such as demand-side response or smart appliances.

Additionally, there is a need to revise the ESOS regulations for future phases 3 and 4. Ideally, the scheme will be complemented by a legal requirement for energy saving measures identified in the ESOS assessment to be put into practice, not on the shelf to gather dust. Capital funding support is actually already available – Salix Funding is an independent, publicly funded company, providing the public sector with interest-free loans for energy efficiency projects; the Carbon Trust provides loans for private organisations. Tax incentives could also be used to help fund these measures. Similarly, implementation of SECR should be encouraged as a way for business and industry to gain economic benefits, improve productivity and cut energy costs at the same time as reducing carbon emissions.

One of the best places to start is lighting – responsible for 20% of all the electricity used in UK commercial and industrial buildings. Almost three in four buildings have outdated lighting installations, so it’s no surprise that installation of more efficient lighting was the most common recommendation from the first phase of ESOS assessments. A lighting upgrade or replacement can be simple and inexpensive but may lead to large energy and cost saving impacts.

Lighting technology has been developing rapidly over recent years, driving remarkable cost reductions. Traditional incandescent bulbs are fast being replaced by a new generation of lighting such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) or compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). The Energy Institute’s new Lighting Guide* is a great place to get the full picture.

It’s clear that LEDs are now the standout technology for saving costs and energy in many circumstances. Research by IHS Markit showed the use of LEDs to illuminate buildings and outdoor spaces reduced the total global CO2 emissions of lighting by an estimated 570 million tons in 2017. This is equivalent to shutting down 162 coal-fired power plants! Overall, LED component and lighting companies can claim credit for reducing the global carbon footprint by an estimated 1.5% in 2017. The share is much higher if we consider energy saved by LEDs in sectors other than the building lighting market, such as automotive and consumer technology.

Using efficient lighting products could save up to 75% of the electricity consumed for lighting in the UK each year and correspondingly reduce energy costs. A focus on practical energy saving – efficient lighting, heating and insulation – will not just help mitigate the disappointment felt by many at the failure of governments to deliver, but also I hope mobilise more people on the ground to take steps that really can making a difference to energy use, carbon emissions and the bottom line.

The Energy Institute’s new Lighting Good Practice Guide can be found at

This blog first appeared as an article for The Energyst.

Methane leakage is putting long term role for natural gas at risk

Louise Kingham OBE FEI, Chief Executive, Energy Institute

Louise Kingham OBE FEI, Chief Executive, Energy Institute

As the Energy Institute (EI) becomes a supporting organisation to the Methane Guiding Principles, Chief Executive Louise Kingham OBE FEI explains why she wants to see CH4 discussed alongside CO2 at next week’s IP Week conference.

Two trends are rushing headlong in opposite directions.

Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. Despite the promise of Paris, global emissions are believed to have reached a new high last year and the IPCC’s conclusion is that we’re hurtling toward a devastating 3C temperature rise by the end of the century – double the 1.5C aspiration needed to protect low-lying Pacific islands, avoid the worst human health impacts and retain our planet’s fragile coral reefs.

At the same time growth in demand for fossil fuels remains strong. The IEA reports that the proportion of the world’s energy sourced from fossil fuels is still around 80% – the same as it was more than three decades ago – and that’s 80% of 2.5 times the amount of energy! Even with impressive progress on energy efficiency and renewables, and signs of a slowing in demand growth for coal and oil over the coming years, demand for natural gas from developing economies in Asia and elsewhere is expected to maintain an upward trajectory.

Squaring this circle will be one of the central themes at IP Week 2019, hosted by the EI next week and attended by some of the energy industry’s most senior figures including Bob Dudley of BP plc, Chad Holliday of Royal Dutch Shell plc and Amin Nasser of Saudi Aramco.

Alongside geopolitics and technology, sustainability is one of our themes and we’re sure to hear plenty of insight into the oil majors’ low carbon pathways and enthusiasm for reducing carbon emissions during combustion, in particular through carbon capture, usage and storage. All of this is crucial.

But the release of so-called fugitive methane during oil and gas production tends to get too little airtime, despite it being 28–36 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2 over 100 years. The problem is occurring in the middle of producers’ own operations and is particularly acute during shale gas extraction, which in the US alone has grown by a factor of 14 since 2007.

So what are the prospects of action on CH4?

Research by the International Energy Agency suggests it’s technically possible to avoid 75% of current methane emissions in the natural gas supply chain, of which as much as half could be avoided at net negative cost because of the value of the methane saved.

Despite this, awareness within the industry is woefully low. More than 80% of international oil and gas professionals surveyed by the EI last year were unaware of the extent of the possibilities to tackle the problem.

As in so many aspects of tackling climate change, there’s perhaps a prisoners’ dilemma to overcome. In the absence of international regulation with teeth, companies need to have confidence that they won’t be disadvantaged by bearing perceived additional cost if their competitors are able to ignore it.

So we need to ramp up collective action.

The Methane Guiding Principles are the bedrock of that. The commitment from 18 global operators to reduce methane emissions and improve accuracy and transparency around methane emission data is crucial. The EI is today becoming a supporting organisation, with a commitment to raising awareness among our members, partners and customers, for the public good.

More tangibly, we saw a pledge from the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative during September’s Climate Week in New York, that its 13 members will reduce the collective average methane intensity of their aggregated upstream operations by a fifth by 2025, with a further ambition to achieve a one third reduction.

We’ll hear from head of OGCI Climate Investments Pratima Rangarajan at IP Week and I hope to see methane leakage taken seriously right across the conference – at the lectern, on the panels and from the floor.

As an industry, we have to meet this challenge head-on, not head-in-sand. Methane must not continue to play second fiddle to carbon. If we don’t up the ante on CH4, there’s a risk efforts to reduce CO2 emissions elsewhere in the lifecycle could be undermined, and with them natural gas’s licence to operate as a cleaner fossil fuel and bridge to a sustainable energy future.

International Petroleum (IP) Week runs from 26-28 February in London. More information can be found at

This blog first appeared on Energy Voice on 19 February 2019.

Is Brexit the birthday present the Climate Change Act could do without?


Nick Turton, External Affairs Director, Energy Institute

The UK’s Climate Change Act is ten years old, but what does Brexit augur for it and its targets? The Energy Institute’s CCA at 10 ‘class of 2008’ – a virtual panel of energy influencers who held key positions around the time of the Act’s introduction – have been reflecting on this thorny topic.

The legal answer has the glass half full – “in a strict sense Brexit makes no difference because the CCA and its targets are entirely national” [former BBC Environment Correspondent, Richard Black]. Or, to put it another way, “the CCA has “made in Britain” stamped all over it” [CCC and IPCC member Prof Jim Skea].

In practice, although it’s possible “the transition is sufficiently locked in, that Brexit will not impact it” [former MP and Energy Minister Charles Hendry], there are red flags on the horizon for investment in low carbon tech. “Will manufacturers of low emission vehicles or wind turbine blades want to invest in the UK? Will consumers be willing to pay to import energy efficient technologies as sterling dips in value?” [Skea]. It certainly could have “a negative impact on the deployment of renewables” [Good Energy CEO Juliet Davenport].

Perhaps more worryingly, what will the divorce mean for climate change policy, once the UK is outside the EU tent? “The balance of views within the remaining EU27 might be different” [former National Grid CEO Steve Holliday], given the UK was always one of the strongest advocates of ambition within the bloc. Conversely, “if Brexit leads the UK to distance itself from the European consensus, then [UK] climate policy could come into question” [former Consumer Focus CEO Ed Mayo]. Freedom from the common EU regulatory frameworks, specifically designed to avoid a “race to the bottom”, could lead to the UK doing just that – a “bonfire of environmental regulations” [Friends of the Earth CEO Craig Bennett].

However these unknowns pan out in the long term, there are still big immediate questions standing in the way of a ‘frictionless’ energy Brexit. Minimising the impact requires us to “stay very close to Europe” [former Shell UK Chair James Smith] including “participation in common arrangements for trading in electricity, gas and emission permits” [Holliday] and to “maintain our co-operation and dialogue with our European partners on climate change, despite Brexit” [former DECC Director General Simon Virley].

And, with the UK due to leave the EU on 29 March next year, it’s urgent – “business really needed answers a year ago, because uncertainty delays investment and makes it more expensive” [Black].

No pressure then.

Full contributions from the panel can be found on the CCA at 10 web page.

Heat and transport need to get in on the Act

Louise Kingham OBE FEI, Chief Executive, Energy Institute

Louise Kingham OBE FEI, Chief Executive, Energy Institute

When we embarked on our CCA at 10 project to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the UK’s Climate Change Act, we did so as much to assert the value of this ground-breaking legislation as to assess the challenges that lie ahead.

In relation to the Act and its architecture, our ‘class of 2008’ – a carefully selected virtual panel of EI Fellows and other influencers who held key positions around the time of the Act’s introduction – are as one.

A “leap of faith” [Good Energy CEO Juliet Davenport] that “went into the DNA of policy makers” [former OFGEM CEO Alistair Buchanan] and put the UK in the climate “vanguard” [former BBC Environment Correspondent Richard Black].

It benefited from the mobilisation of “a very broad coalition” of civil society [Friends of the Earth CEO Craig Bennett] and from Parliament being “overwhelmingly united” [former MP and Energy Minister Charles Hendry]. Put simply, “the timing worked in political terms” [former DECC Director General Simon Virley].

The success story of the Climate Change Act so far is undoubtedly electricity. Half of Britain’s power last year was low carbon, thanks to the dramatic rise of solar and offshore wind, compared to around 20% at the time of the Act’s introduction. The dirtiest fossil fuel, coal, has plummeted from a third of the mix back then to less than 7% last year.

Prioritising the grid as the “enabler of decarbonisation elsewhere in the economy” [former National Grid CEO Steve Holliday] certainly made sense. And overall emissions are down – by some 43% on 1990 and in line with the early carbon budgets.

But the “sequencing” rationale [Steve Holliday] is now running on borrowed time and closer examination of our panellists’ views reveals serious underlying concerns about heat and transport.

Progress is now seen as “unbalanced even backwards” in some areas [CCC and IPCC member Prof Jim Skea]. The policies designed to achieve the fifth carbon budget in particular are “well and truly off track” [Craig Bennett].

Despite exciting headlines about phasing out new petrol and diesel cars by 2040, the fact is 98% of road fuel remains petroleum-based; indeed transport now trumps electricity as the biggest emitter.

Likewise in heat. The Committee on Climate Change believes the UK’s heating needs to be virtually zero-carbon by 2050 and yet the vast majority – more than four-fifths – is still provided by gas, coal and oil burnt at the point of use in our homes and industries. Energy efficiency in the UK “is already way behind some other European countries and falling further behind” [Richard Black] and “an end to fuel poverty remains a distant dream” [former Consumer Focus CEO Ed Mayo].

Tackling climate change simply cannot be done without an integrated transition in all three spheres of the energy system. Electricity is well on the way but decarbonising heat and transport will yet have “major infrastructure implications” [former oil and gas chief James Smith] that can no longer be put in the ‘too difficult’ box.

Climate change targets – indeed climate change itself – are starting to bite. And, in light of the IPCC’s 1.5C report, we may even see the Climate Change Act’s 80% target upgraded to a stringent new net-zero goal – seen by some as “the only game in town” [Richard Black].

The destiny of the Climate Change Act lies in the shared hands of government, consumers and industry. Above all, Ministers needs to develop stable, long term measures and present “clear and consistent messages…rather than chopping and changing” [Craig Bennett].

Our panellists are also clear that “the next steps could affect people’s lives more directly” [Jim Skea]. “We need to have the conversation with the wider public” as consumers are “the big untapped potential” [Juliet Davenport] who need to be “engaged and informed” [Ed Mayo]. We will simply not succeed without “affordable and effective consumer products for transport and heat” [James Smith].

And our industry has a decisive role to play. The Energy Institute is helping to push forward the necessary debate in transport and heat. Our Energy Barometer 2018 this summer investigated the views of our professional members on the challenges in transport. Later this month our Heat and Decentralised Energy 2018 conference – hosted jointly with the Association for Decentralised Energy – will explore how the energy system is reacting to a growing pressure to make deep emissions cuts in heat.

At the Climate Change Act’s (fantasy!) tenth anniversary party, when the three essential components of the low carbon energy system are invited to line up for their group photo, electricity will be there, beaming, centre stage. Heat and transport on the other hand may be conspicuous by their absence.

Working together we can put that right, but we need to do it fast.

The blog first appeared as a blog on Energy Live News on 12 November 2018