Sara Budinis was not the only person we sent along to the Westminster Energy Forum. Parth Shah, a PhD student in the Department of Chemical Engineering also attended and has written up his experiences from the day.
I was delighted to be attending the Westminster Energy Forum. It seemed like a unique platform that brings together industry stakeholders, policymakers, students and researchers. I think it is important that everyone is involved in the dialogue to help determine the best way forward towards achieving the UK’s energy and sustainability targets.
Each year the Forum holds nine events based on various themes, usually those having far-reaching consequences on the world stage. The most recent meeting was the UK-Europe Energy summit on June 30, 2016, exactly one week after the Brexit vote. I had the privilege of being able to attend this conference with support from Energy Futures Lab at Imperial College London.
The first session focussed on reiterating the UK government’s commitment to reaching the goal of energy security, while keeping in mind the promises made during the COP21 summit in Paris. Ian Liddell-Grainger MP briefed the delegates on the government’s commitment to increasing the investment in renewables, while reducing the reliance on coal. As the MP for the constituency where Hinckley Point C is being built, he reiterated his commitment to nuclear energy as a big step towards achieving energy security for the UK. As the chair for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Energy Studies, with both formal and informal channels of communication with his counterparts across the EU, he reassured the attendees that regardless of the deal the UK renegotiates with the EU, there will remain significant amounts of investment and collaboration when it came to matters of energy.
Following this, an industry response panel discussed the impact Brexit could have on investment in the energy sector. Despite the current scenario, the panellists seemed upbeat due to the European Investment Bank’s long-term investment commitments in the UK, coupled with the UK’s large share in the Bank itself. From the Oil and Gas Industry, there was optimism regarding more stable oil and gas prices. Audience questions regarding the long-term policies around Carbon Capture and Storage were addressed, with the Government’s stand being that they were unwilling to invest in it, at the moment. Their focus on carbon abatement was more on switching energy sources, as opposed to post-combustion treatment. One other area that was touched on was the concerns around fracking. For me the main point on this was that the scientific community was being encouraged to present the facts in an impartial fashion.
The next segment of the conference was a presentation by Mr Eirik Waerness of Statoil, where he presented three global scenarios ranging from countries competing with each other (Rivalry) at one end to the most encouraging one of international co-operation (Renewal) at the other extreme. He concluded that developing countries would play a key role in reaching the world’s emission targets. He pointed out that shifting from fossil fuel vehicles to electricity-powered vehicles could actually be worse from a carbon footprint perspective, because a huge share of the electricity generated was actually from coal. It is thus imperative that nations first shift to electricity generation from renewables before incentivising the decarbonisation of transport fuels.
The final panel discussion was one on investment in the energy sector in the UK. The key takeaways were that as long as it was easy to do business and conducive for long-term investment, the UK would remain an attractive investment destination. In fact a large portion of investment in the UK’s Energy sector is from non-EU investors. Brexit is, of course a setback, but if there remains to be collaboration amongst the various stakeholders-both in the EU and in the UK, then investments into renewables and clean energy, along with nuclear energy, will continue.
To conclude, I was quite impressed with the openness of the stakeholders and their willingness to engage in dialogue regarding an increasingly important topic. The presentations and discussions gave a unique insight into how this forum works, and how policy is agreed. As a researcher working in academia, it was an interesting insight into the UK and the EU’s energy policy, and the plans for long-term investment in the sector. It was also a great experience to be a part of these discussions, which define the direction of policy and directly affect our research. I would like to express my gratitude to Westminster Energy and Energy Futures Lab for making this happen.