Friday 26 February 2021

After the hugely exciting landing of Perseverance on Mars I had some Twitter exchanges which questioned why we would spend ‘huge resources’ landing a rover on Mars. My response to this is that humans are explorers, exploration is baked into our DNA. If it wasn’t we would still be living in the trees. When standing on the moon in 1971, Dave Scott, the Commander of Apollo 15, the first of the science focused Apollo missions, said “man must explore and this is exploration at its greatest” and Perseverance is the latest in the journey.  As to the huge resources spent, the cost to develop the rover and get to Mars was about $2.4 billion over nine years, about $300 million a year and it will cost the same to keep it operational on Mars. Compared to many other things that is tiny and well worth it.  In 2019 Americans spent $96 billion on their pets. The entire 2021 NASA budget is $23.2 billion, and that covers everything, robotic exploration and human spaceflight. The entire world’s governmental space budget is c.$75 billion. For comparison, the Tokyo Olympics are set to cost $15 billion, Hinkley Point C is expected to cost more than £20 billion, and the UK’s ‘test and trace’ system appears to have cost a staggering, and really hard to justify, £22 billion in a year.


I know some people say we should not be spending money on space while we are combatting climate change and other environmental problems but I don’t see it that way. Exploring is a basic human need, it is in our spirit as well as our DNA. Space gives us new perspectives, the Apollo 8 photo of earth rising over the moon, and the Apollo 17 ‘blue marble’ photo have been highly influential in raising environmental consciousness. Although not as important as the positive effect it can have on our spirits, space also brings new science and technology – although ‘spin off’ alone is not a necessary reason to justify the expense. We just can’t stop exploring while we solve the big problems, just like we can’t stop making music or art, or having competitive sports – it is part of what makes us human.  Of course we need to spend more on solving the problems and moving towards net zero and a regenerative economy. We can and must do that, but we also need to keep doing the other things that make us human.


Perseverance was named in a school student competition that attracted more than 28,000 proposals. A seventh-grade student, Alexander Mather, from Virginia submitted the winning entry. In his winning essay he wrote:


Curiosity. InSight. Spirit. Opportunity. If you think about it, all of these names of past Mars rovers are qualities we possess as humans. We are always curious, and seek opportunity. We have the spirit and insight to explore the Moon, Mars, and beyond. But, if rovers are to be the qualities of us as a race, we missed the most important thing. Perseverance. We as humans evolved as creatures who could learn to adapt to any situation, no matter how harsh. We are a species of explorers, and we will meet many setbacks on the way to Mars. However, we can persevere. We, not as a nation but as humans, will not give up. The human race will always persevere into the future.


Wise words indeed.


Perseverance’s first full-colour view of Mars

Monday 22 February 2021

Over the last few years, the idea of energy efficiency as infrastructure has gained traction, and it is good to see the continued emphasis on improving the efficiency of the building stock in the work of the National Infrastructure Commission. Its recent Annual Monitoring Report 2021 noted:


‘Across all its policies and programmes, government must now ensure action is being delivered on the ground and the energy efficiency of the building stock is increasing at the necessary rate.’  We seem a long way from reaching that necessary rate.


The government is establishing a National Infrastructure Bank ‘to catalyse private sector investment’ into infrastructure with three priorities: net zero; levelling up; and covid recovery. It seems to be on-track for having it launched by the summer. This is a positive development as long as it focuses on the real problem around energy efficiency – the development gap between what we know is huge potential and bankable projects. We know that institutional investors would like to invest in more energy efficiency and net zero projects, the problem is finding bankable projects at scale and that comes down to a lack of capacity to develop projects, a lack of capacity in the demand side, the supply side and in the financial industry.


In energy efficiency at least the National Infrastructure Bank need to focus attention on bridging that development gap, and that means taking equity type risk and/or using some kind of guaranteed debt to fund development work. It also means actively building development capacity and not just being passive and awaiting projects to appear.  In related work we are doing around the world we talk about ‘transaction enablers’ – ways of increasing the flow of project development – and ‘risk mitigators’, ways of reducing the risks at least in the early stages. Both are needed. When the Green Investment Bank was established it promised a lot on energy efficiency but a failure to address the development gap meant much of the effort labelled as energy efficiency ended up not really being efficiency. It took a passive approach to the development gap, hoping that demand would appear.


The National Infrastructure Bank needs to be much more active, and focused on bridging the development gap with specially designed financial instruments and capacity building programmes. If it can do that it will catalyse private sector investment from the institutional funds looking to invest in energy efficiency at scale.


Friday 29 January 2021

2020 was of course dominated by Covid but looking beyond that what else can we learn from the events of the year?


One lesson from 2020 is that taking personal responsibility is critical and that in many areas, particularly in large parts of the corporate world, the ‘stock’ of personal responsibility seems to be declining. This decline is the root cause of many of our problems around technology, the economy and sustainable development.


There were two high profile examples, among many, that were highlighted during 2020. The actions of Boeing that led to the 737 Max crashes and the actions of the companies behind the cladding on the Grenfell tower once again showed how pursuit of profit above integrity, quality and even life itself, driven by a culture set at the top, can over-ride individuals’ personal responsibility and integrity.


These cases, as with many others, were examples where people knew the truth and did not take action to prevent the organisation doing something very wrong. In the case of Boeing there was a clear cultural shift that started following the merger with McDonnel Douglas in 1997. The collective sense of what the company was meant to do shifted to increasing shareholder value and away from engineering great aeroplanes. When this kind of shift happens it creates a dissonance in the company and within individuals who either know about specific compromises, errors or lies, or at the very least sense the tension. It is of course hard for individuals to take effective action when their livelihood depends on keeping their job. Senior management have no excuse. They often take the rewards without taking the responsibility. Failures to act in the cases like the Boeing 737 Max and Grenfell show that the people in charge of the organisations concerned were leaders in name only, and certainly not real leaders.


There is a lot of talk about Corporate Social Responsibility, but talk is cheap. The examples of Boeing and the Grenfell disaster illustrate the fact that there can be no CSR without personal responsibility.


During a visit to the Holocaust Museum in Dallas in November 2019 I was struck by the categorisation of people during the holocaust as; perpetrators; bystanders; upstanders and of course victims. Although it may seem an extreme comparison there is a real parallel here. We need more upstanders and fewer bystanders.


The challenge for all of us as individuals is to have the courage to take responsibility and stand up when they see bad stuff happening, whether it be at individual, corporate, social or political levels, and that isn’t easy when your job is likely to be at risk. The challenge for organisational leaders is to create an environment where the purpose of the organisation is above profit, where personal responsibility is aligned with corporate and social responsibility, where people can genuinely achieve good work, and where upstanding is the norm as opposed to bystanding.


Be an upstander and not a bystander.


Wednesday 20 January 2021

In November 2016 like many other people I lamented the election of Donald Trump, an event which represented the worst tendencies in America coming into clear view and a dangerous development for the USA and the world.  In that post I highlighted the scariest aspects of the Trumpian world which I summarised as follows:

  • The rise of fact free debate and belief in crazy conspiracy theories.
  • The rise of being able to repeat a lie multiple times and have it become a “truth” – despite evidence to the contrary.
  • The rise of not trusting experts – “I know more about ISIS than the generals”.  Really – how can that be?
  • The links to Russia and comments about NATO are really worrying.  I hope we never see it happen but the Baltics are really at risk.
  • The rise of a bullying and misogynistic culture – remember that culture in any organization comes from the top.
  • The rise of the idea that business is an “I win – you lose” game.
  • The idea that Mike Pence may become President.

Fortunately in reality the US did not withdraw from NATO, even if it did in spirit, and Russia didn’t invade the Baltics.  We also avoided a Mike Pence presidency although one starting immediately after the Capitol insurrection would have been welcome at that point.


In the blog I also talked about ‘MAGA’ being code for an imagined past that never happened, it is now clearer than ever that it is also code for white supremacy.


After four years of following the situation closely, almost obsessively, I feel like I can step back just a little from worrying about the US.  The good news is that we can be more confident and optimistic about America again but of course the underlying problems have not gone away, belief in crazy conspiracy theories has got worse and Trump demonstrated the power of the ‘big lie’, a lie that almost succeeded in over-throwing the legitimate government and preventing the legal transfer of power.  The decline in trust of science and expertise continues to be very worrying.  You also cannot under-estimate the difficulties the new administration will have just in repairing the damage done to departments and agencies.  Irrespective of the huge policy differences and politics, the incoming Biden top team are facing a set of massive leadership challenges just rebuilding traditionally capable organisations.


Globally we face three existential challenges; the urgent need to transition to a net zero and regenerative economy; nuclear weapons; and the rise of authoritarianism.  The inauguration of President Biden represents the USA taking positive steps in all three areas, stepping back from authoritarianism, taking a positive step towards a net zero economy, and reducing the threat of nuclear war.  However, we cannot be complacent about any of them and in particular we need to combat the rise of authoritarianism at every turn, in every country.


Thursday 14 January 2021

I started an unfinished piece in January 2020 with the following.


At the risk of starting with a cliché the 2020s really do promise to be a momentous decade for the energy transition and the environment as two trends intersect; pressure to address environmental and sustainability problems, primarily climate change; and the falling costs of renewable energy and storage technologies as well as e-mobility.


Of course last January we were unaware of the massive health, economic and social disruption that would be caused by Covid-19, a disruption that realistically looks to continue at least through the first half of 2021.  The effects of the health crisis on energy and emissions has been well documented. The question now is what happens as the economy recovers?


The economics of renewables, storage and e-mobility are all at the point where they are, or are close to being, cheaper than the incumbent solutions. Furthermore the pressure from asset owners and institutional capital for more sustainable solutions in buildings, industry and infrastructure continues to grow. These two trends are going to drive massive upscaling in investment in more sustainable energy, transport and infrastructure solutions. Of course we will continue to see objections and barriers being put in place by incumbent industries, and governments backing dead horses, but the tide has turned and incumbents who can’t or won’t adapt fast enough will be washed away, just as surely as buggy manufacturers were wiped out by the rise of automobiles.


The incredible efforts to develop Covid vaccines in record time should give us further reason to be optimistic about building a more sustainable future. They show once again that given enough intention and resources, and by using the best of science and technology, we can achieve amazing things very quickly. Nothing is inevitable, however, and it all requires continued effort from millions of people around the world, but the 2020s still promise to be a momentous decade for the energy transition and the environment.



At EnergyPro we continue to develop new tools and business models; undertake research; design, plan and deliver sustainable infrastructure; and enable and make investments.  We look forward to working with like-minded people in 2021 and beyond.  If you want to find out more about how we can help you achieve your goals in these areas in 2021 please contact us

Dr Steven Fawkes

Welcome to my blog on energy efficiency and energy efficiency financing. The first question people ask is why my blog is called 'only eleven percent' - the answer is here. I look forward to engaging with you!

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