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

Friday 8 January 2021

It is hard to believe that it is five years since we lost David Bowie. To mark the date I am re-publishing this blog written soon after his death in 2016. I have just started to read ‘Bowie’s Piano Man. The life of Mike Garson’ by Clifford Slapper which promises to give more insight into David Bowie, Mike Garson and their creative partnership. Creativity is endlessly fascinating, especially in an area (music) where I have absolutely no ability. I can relate to, and can produce, creative writing and even some art occasionally but for music I have no frame of reference. For David Bowie to be so creative across music and other fields for so long is amazing. I never tire of listening to his work.   


‘Never play to the gallery…. Never work for other people in what you do. Always remember that the reason that you initially started working was that there was something inside yourself that you felt that if you could manifest in some way, you would understand more about yourself and how you co-exist with the rest of society…. I think it’s terribly dangerous for an artist to fulfil other people’s expectations.’


David Bowie, advice to artists, 1997.


(12/01/16) It would be impossible for me not to comment on the terribly sad death of David Bowie. As for many of my generation he was, and remains, a big part of my life and is by a very long way my favourite musician of all time.  His influence on music, art and culture cannot be under-estimated.  Perhaps it can only really be appreciated by those of us who were there and watched the 1972 performance of “Starman” on Top of the Pops on black and white TV, under the dis-approving parental gaze. The world changed at that moment.


In 1976 I was lucky enough to win tickets to see the world premier of his first film, “The Man Who Fell to Earth”.  Apart from the excitement of attending a star studded (minus Bowie) world premier I will never forget the first shot of him on the big screen in Leicester Square or the impact of the movie.  I still have the ticket and the movie poster, bought for the then not inconsiderable sum of 50p.


I first saw him live on the “white light” Isolar II tour in June 1978.  A friend and I managed to get to the front row centre stage, no more than a couple of metres away from Bowie.  Subsequent concerts in stadia, The Glass Spiders tour in June 1987 at Wembley, and the Sound+Vision tour in August 1990, were great but could never beat being in the front row of the New Bingley Hall County Showground in Stafford.


So what was/is the appeal of Bowie?  For those who know of my interest in space it will not be a surprise that the space and science-fiction nature of “Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars” was the original draw for me.  It soon went far beyond that as his lyrics always seemed to have great meaning about life, love and the universe.  As the cliché goes he always innovated and it seems hard to believe that fans, me included, who loved the sci-fi rock of “Ziggy Stardust” could also like what Bowie called the plastic soul of “Young Americans”, the indefinable “Station to Station”, the techno “Low”, and the dance music of “Let’s Dance”.  There was always that period of adjustment to the new style when a new album came out but with the exception of a few albums they all came good in the end.  Even the low points had their moments of brilliance.


As well as the changes in style he was always at the cutting edge of musical experimentation and technology, and then later video and the internet.  In a 2000 interview with Jeremy Paxman he talked about the power of the internet to disintermediate and break down the barrier between the artist and the consumer.  It is hard to remember the primitive nature of the internet in 2000 but Paxman’s reaction and look of skepticism expresses it well.  Now of course, 16 years later, we take disintermediation and “prosuming” as the norm, and the kind of music and video technology that used to cost a fortune is now available in apps that cost pennies or are even free – meaning anyone can create professional quality music, video and art.


Without a doubt David Bowie was a creative genius, but perhaps more importantly one who was able to channel that creativity into action without worrying about the barriers or what people will think.  We are not all musical, (I know I am not) but we are all more creative than we think, but we allow lots of barriers to get in the way of creating so Bowie’s life should inspire us to always act on the creative drive.  His music, film, art and effect on culture will live on forever.  As he said in “Quicksand”:


“I’m not a prophet or a stone age man

Just a mortal with the potential of a superman.”


Tuesday 17 November 2020

Conventionally energy efficiency projects have been evaluated in terms of payback or IRR, using capex and projected savings – basically spend £x and save £y on energy.  Although strictly financial criteria are important, and should be a determinant of capital allocation for organisations and governments, the simplistic way of arriving at those financial assessments is no longer valid. The paradigm has to change from simply assessing energy saving to assessing value – and that means all value streams and all types of impact.  Doing so will unlock the massive potential for improving efficiency and the attendant multiple co-benefits.


As an example, an LED lighting project can bring significant energy savings. But it can also bring additional value streams in addition to energy savings such as reduced maintenance costs and demand response capabilities that can generate income, it can also bring non-energy benefits such as better flexibility of lighting that contributes to employee satisfaction and comfort, higher productivity, reduced absenteeism, better learning outcomes in schools and better health outcomes in hospitals.  All these value streams need to be identified and valued in project assessment.


Another example we are involved in is the use of distributed solar and efficiency combined in new ‘Convergence’ business models in India. These projects reduce energy costs, reduce emissions, increase health and safety, reduce the need for women to gather fuel, improve indoor air quality and can contribute to increased agricultural outputs.  Identifying, valuing and measuring all these impacts is important. In development terms energy access is critical, but energy is not the be all and end all – it is all about development, improving the life of people.


The way to do this is to consider them at the design and evaluation stage using an approach similar to the impact management project’s impact measurement system. Valuing some of the impacts may be difficult, but if they are identified and some methodology used to estimate them, then in project evaluation a debate can be had about the accuracy of the estimate. Importantly, as in the impact management project’s approach sets out, it is important at the design stage to consider and build in post-investment impact measurement.


Considering value and impact in energy efficiency investments has several effects:


  • It can help to improve financial returns and hence the probability of investment by identifying value streams that would have occurred anyway but traditionally would not have been counted in the evaluation.
  • It can make the proposed investment more strategic, again increasing the probability of investment.
  • It means investments can become impact investments, something that makes them interesting to impact investors.
  • As companies and others increasingly track their ‘green’ investment, as required by the EU Taxonomy and other planned regulations, it can put efficiency firmly in the green, impact category.


Let’s design, evaluate and measure energy efficiency projects from a total value and impact perspective rather than just an energy saving perspective.  Doing so will increase investment flows and hence the uptake of the economic potential, and help achieve our climate and other environmental goals.


EnergyPro can assist with the design, evaluation and measurement of all value streams and impacts when designing and assessing projects.



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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