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ISSN 2753-7757 (Online)
Head and shoulders image of Juliet Davenport Photo: Juliet Davenport
Juliet Davenport OBE HonFEI, the Energy Institute’s new President

Photo: Juliet Davenport

Decarbonisation and energy security have always gone hand in hand. But the current energy crisis has thrown that into stark relief, while reinforcing the importance of the sector’s people and their pioneering spirit, says the Energy Institute’s new President, Juliet Davenport OBE HonFEI.

Early in my career I was often an isolated voice, both as a woman and in making the case for renewables, in an industry dominated by men and by fossil fuels.


Good Energy sought to break the mould. When I founded it over 20 years ago I became the UK’s first female CEO of an energy company. In selling 100% renewable electricity at a time when only 2% of the UK’s power was from such sources, it also challenged the orthodoxy, offering consumers a way to play their part in tackling climate change.


I’m still challenging the industry, choosing to join the boards of businesses and organisations that are driving innovative thinking.


Given this back story I’m honoured now to have been chosen as President of the Energy Institute (EI), one of our industry’s oldest and most respected professional bodies. It perhaps says something about how far we’ve come. Although overall global energy demand is today still dominated by fossil fuels, and men still dominate in board rooms, I’m encouraged by how many energy firms are chasing clean energy and also showing real interest in women’s experiences and skills.


But there’s still so much further to go.


New mindsets needed
For me, sustainable energy is a life’s passion. And while the scale of the transition can seem daunting, it’s also exciting. Right now, something profound is finally happening. For many years Good Energy advocated the energy security benefits of decarbonisation. Our energy miles research showed how dependent the UK was on the extended supply chains of fossil energy imports, contrasted with localised renewables. With the dramatic cost reductions in renewable technologies realised over the past decade, and the wake-up call provided by the spiralling price of gas, the overlap of our security and climate goals is clear to all.


Energy security is being pursued here in the UK, where I’ve spent most of my career, but elsewhere too, through a mix of low carbon, home grown energy sources. This means wind, solar, nuclear, electrification of heating and transport, and clean hydrogen.


But welcome as it is, this increasing convergence around what we need to achieve only reveals a new set of challenges around the how.


It’s not just about the technologies, the electrons and molecules, wires and pipes. The transition away from the old world of energy to a cleaner, greener system will not be possible with the same old-world thinking we are used to. Fresh viewpoints and diverse experience are required for the task.


Renewable electricity is a case in point, as we shift away from historically centralised, dispatchable sources of power supply. The deployment at scale of cost-effective renewables brings with it the proliferation of variable and decentralised power generation, requiring new approaches to system balancing, to market competition, to consumer engagement.


Revolutions require new mindsets and new voices. But it’s not the first time the energy industry and its people have changed the world. We’ve seen incredible pioneering spirit throughout our history, right back to the industrial revolution, in the early exploration for oil and gas, and we see it today in those working tirelessly to remove damaging greenhouse gas emissions from the energy on which we all rely.


Skills crisis
The real danger is that, just as our climate and security goals finally converge, and the case for the energy transition is won in more cabinet and board rooms around the world, the opportunity is scuppered by the shortage of skilled people.


There’s the potential for a major crisis, certainly in the UK and in many other economies facing parallel challenges. Just as we lose existing talent due to the baby boomer retirement crunch, so competition for skilled workers from other sectors, such as finance and technology has intensified.


Combine that with the limited pipeline of young people choosing science, technology, engineering and mathematics qualifications, and in particular the lack of diversity in that pipeline. It’s a continuing tragedy that only around 15% of the UK’s STEM graduates are women.


The Energy Institute
The EI and its Council under the stewardship of my predecessor Steve Holliday has moved in exactly the right direction, with a new strategic purpose focused on accelerating the global just transition to net zero. I’m excited about our technical work enabling the industry to make energy cleaner and safer, and our activities convening expertise to inform and improve policy making.


And perhaps more than anything, the EI’s goal of attracting, developing and equipping the diverse future energy workforce is critical.


This is as true for those already established in the industry as it is for others just embarking on their careers. The EI provides the mentoring, continuing professional development and training to support mobility into tomorrow’s energy specialisms, and it champions young and diverse voices through initiatives such as POWERful Women and Generation 2050.


I am used to challenging accepted thinking, and that is exactly what I plan to do in my new role so that the EI, with its tremendous member and volunteer base, not only stays relevant but becomes a leader in combatting the climate crisis.


Wherever you are in the energy industry, on the supply or demand side, in oil and gas, nuclear or renewable energy, an engineer or another discipline, we must all keep hold to that pioneering spirit – for the good of our society and our planet.