Renewable energy: an uncomfortable position

Ian Marchant

Ian Marchant FEI, Immediate Past President

I have been looking at how the UK is doing against its EU renewable energy targets. These set us a target of having 15% of all energy from renewable sources by 2020. The government would have us believe that all is well. It’s most recent report (published in January) took great delight in saying that we comfortably met the interim target up to 2013/14. But is that really the right measure? Interim targets are just that: interim, and it’s always tempting for them to be made easy to push trouble down the road to someone else’s term of office. So let’s look at where we actually are in terms of our final target, against the rest of Europe and against long-term requirements. As you might expect, this gives a far from rosy picture.

Firstly, let’s look at how we have done. The baseline for the new targets was 2004 and in that year we achieved a pathetic 1.2% of energy from renewables. After ten years and by 2014 it was 7%. Some simple maths puts this into context. We needed an increase of 13.8% in 16 years and we have managed 5.8% in ten years. In over 60% of the time, we have managed 42% of the target. If we carry on at the same rate, we will only hit 10.5% from renewables. In fact, according to leaked internal government correspondence, they privately think we may only get to 11.5%. I have seen some analysis looking sector by sector and technology by technology which gives a range of 10% to 11.5%. That doesn’t look at all comfortable.

Secondly, let’s see if the international picture gives any comfort. The EU actually has an overall renewable energy target of 20% and has agreed country by country targets within this, with the UK having a lower than average figure of 15%. The EU have recently published a progress report and nine countries have already achieved their final target (no interim target nonsense for them) and we are third furthest away from the end goal (only France and the Netherlands are further away). Despite the government’s trumpeting, our 7% only ranks us 24th out of 27. Outside of Europe we are behind most other countries including Canada, Mexico, Switzerland and even the US. We are level with Australia and ahead of Japan and Russia. Being near the bottom of international league tables doesn’t feel comfortable.

Thirdly, let’s think about where we are against the long term. I hear DECC ministers talking gleefully about the deal they secured in Paris. Leaving aside the UK’s role in securing anything, by 2020 we will be one third of the way from 2004 to the 2050 deadline by which time the global leaders expect the energy industry to be largely carbon free. I can’t see how that can be achieved without renewables contributing over 50% to the energy mix and, at the current rate of progress, even if it is maintained for another 34 years, that suggests we will only get to around a quarter. So the long term doesn’t provide much comfort either.

All three perspectives feel uncomfortable and whilst progress in 2015 may be quite good, this was before the current government’s attacks on onshore wind and solar. One final bit of analysis – it is possible to turn the UK’s likely shortfall into the electricity output measures of TWhours. On this basis, the shortfall will be between 50 and 70TWh (to provide context, the UK annual electricity demand is usually just over 300TWh ). There are obviously choices as to how the gap could be filled but the UK government has ruled out using more onshore wind and solar and expects to boost heat and offshore wind. Given the UK’s track record on heat (in 2014 we were bottom of the heat pile in Europe), I’m not optimistic and offshore wind, although it’s getting cheaper, will always be more expensive than onshore. I’ve calculated that for every 1GW of onshore wind that isn’t built but is replaced by offshore wind, it will cost the UK £100m every year (that’s 2.5TWh of output at a £40 per MWh cost differential). There’s probably another 6 to 10GW that could be built so the total cost could get to as high as a billion a year.

So we aren’t in a comfortable position at all, however you look at it, and we seem to be making things more expensive and difficult than they need to be. A classic case of not accepting the short term headlines.

Past, present and future

Ian Marchant

Ian Marchant FEI, President

All good things must come to an end and I am now handing over the Presidency of the Energy Institute (EI) having served two years. It has been a joy and a privilege to have the role and I hope I have been a good steward of our organisation. In reflecting on the two years, my thoughts are about the past, present and future.

We have just finished celebrating our one hundredth anniversary and that included a cake in the Palace of Westminster, a video from the Prince of Wales and numerous dinners and events up and down the country. It is good occasionally to look back and celebrate the achievements of the past, however that phase of EI’s life is over, probably for another 25 years. We have also launched the Energy Matrix, which makes available the accumulated knowledge of over 90,000 records and wisdom of our industry, in a modern digital form.

But enough of the past. We are all members of today’s energy industry and the EI continues to address today’s issues. During the last twelve months or so we have hosted the inaugural Energy Systems conference and our annual IP Week conference, which this year generated a lot of media interest, as well as another 90 events. A new addition to the EI calendar has been the autumn President’s event. In 2013, I hosted a debate and then in 2014 I gave a lecture which, as it was held in a function room at the Hard Rock Cafe, was full of song title puns. We have got involved in new initiatives such as POWERful Women and ESOS, and the first publication under the Energy Essentials banner has been issued. Our technical programme continues to go from strength to strength with the issue of 41 technical guidance documents, the publication of the first G9 offshore wind annual incident data report and further growth in the content of and access to The Journal of the Energy Institute. We have continued to drive up standards and build competencies for the future with the accreditation of 68 energy-related courses in 21 institutions throughout the world.

And talking of the future, as I hand over the reins to the very capable hands of Professor Jim Skea CBE FRSA FEI, I would highlight three foundation stones that have been laid recently. Firstly, we have started the refurbishment of our building to make it fit for the 21st century and to provide better member services. Secondly we have undertaken and launched our first Energy Barometer, which uses the knowledge and experience of our membership to gauge the state of the energy world and to inform policymakers and commentators. Thirdly, we introduced a new EI award category, the Young Energy Professional of the Year, to complement the work of our growing Young Professional Networks.

I believe that the group who met under the leadership of Sir Boverton Redwood a hundred years ago would be proud of what their creation continues to do and in its plans for the future.

The next best thing to knowing something is knowing where to find it ― Samuel Johnson

Louise Kingham OBE FEI EI Chief Executive

Louise Kingham OBE FEI
EI Chief Executive

Why is it that, in this information age we live in, the truth seems ever harder to get to? The facts often seem to either not exist or be buried ever deeper under layers of rhetoric and commentary . My views are probably a little tested after weeks of election campaigning in the UK, but nevertheless I think the point still stands.

So if we still think an evidence base is important – as I and other EI members do –  it’s essential that we step up and provide good quality, clear information that can be trusted. We also need to explain what the information was produced for and how we expect it might be used. This in turn reminds the recipients of the EI’s role as an independent professional society and source of trusted expertise – which is probably not called upon enough.

Two recent contributions from the EI have only just been published – the 2015  Retail Marketing Survey and the second G9 Incident Data Report for safety performance in the offshore wind industry.  Both reports contain a wealth of factual data as well as statistics;  both are designed to offer an evidence base for the state of play in two very different parts of the energy industry – one focusing on the health of a sector, the other on the health of the people within it.

So let me make a suggestion. If you are in need of trusted and useful information think about whether the EI could provide it for you.

The EI Knowledge Service provides a central resource for energy knowledge and information – find out more by visiting knowledge.energyinst.org

A nice problem to have with awards

Ian Marchant

Ian Marchant FEI, President

I have never been a big fan of awards, probably because I never win any! However, last year I was one of the judges for the Energy Institute’s annual awards and this sort of changed my view. I had two, apparently conflicting, emotions. Firstly, I was really impressed with the calibre of many of the nominees and was struck by the obvious evidence of professionalism and achievement. However, the second emotion was that in a few of the categories I was disappointed with the depth of the field as I know from the various roles I have around the energy industry that there is a lot of really great stuff happening and lots of really talented and committed people.

I would single out two particular awards where I would have liked to see a lot more nominees. Firstly there is what is now called the ‘Energy Champion‘ award which is for an individual who has made a significant contribution to our industry. I suspect that one reason for a small field is that people don’t feel they should nominate themselves. I totally agree with this so why not nominate a colleague or contact who has gone above and beyond the call of duty. They could be your energy hero or they could be a rising star, it doesn’t matter; what matters is the impact they have had.

The second award where I would like to see a deluge of nominees is for safety. This is a topic close to my heart and I know that, for most companies in our sector, it is the number one priority or core value. Lots of good stuff is happening, every day, to improve processes, change behaviour and reduce risks. Let’s celebrate this and use the awards to showcase what can be done to inspire others to raise their game too.

So my plea is that we make the job of this year’s judging panel much more difficult by swamping them with loads of examples of the good things that are happening in our industry. This would be a nice problem to have.

The EI Awards are free to enter and the deadline for submissions is 29 June 2015.
For more information, please visit www.energyinst.org/ei-awards

 

Safety transparency in offshore wind – who’s next?

Over the hunIan Marchantdred years of the Energy Institute (EI), the nature of energy technology has constantly changed and thrown up new challenges. The EI has always tried to keep at the forefront of these changes and that continues to this day.

One of the most recent developments has been offshore wind where the UK leads the way. We now have over one thousand turbines offshore with a capacity of 3.7GW. A few years ago, wearing an industry hat, I became aware of the need to develop common safety and technical standards and was supportive of the formation of the G9 group of offshore wind developers. At the same time, I was a Vice President of the EI and when the G9 needed a permanent home, serendipity allowed me to suggest a solution that is now a key part of our technical programme.

One key part of any industry’s development is transparency about its safety performance.  This wasn’t the case in the early days of offshore wind, but now the G9 and the EI are collecting and publishing annual data which will allow areas of risk and poor performance to be tackled. The first such annual report covering 2013 has just been published and it sets a benchmark for progress to be monitored.

I wonder what other area of the energy industry could do with some help from the EI to pull together some independent and objective safety performance data.