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Blog: Neil Kermode – Future energy scenarios and sharing Orkney’s vision with the Prime Minister

My wife says I need to get out more, get away from the computer, and think less about energy. This came on the back of an admission that I had really missed the launch of National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios report (FES2020) this year.

Future Energy Scenarios in 5 minutes - July 2020

Future Energy Scenarios in 5 minutes – July 2020

If you don’t know about FES; it a continual scenario planning round that culminates in some conferences around the UK where the fruits of the deep thinking done by the FES team are presented, and feedback sought. Having attended three in the last few years, and even hosted some FES team members in Orkney some years ago, I always look forward to seeing the developing thinking.

They produce a variety of materials, but their ‘FES in 5’ document is well worth flicking over with your coffee. I warn you; it will then lead you into more detailed reading and thinking, but I really do urge you to have a peek.

In essence they postulate on some outcomes across the whole energy space and put forward four scenarios based on varying appetite to change and speed with which we make those changes. Underpinning all the outcomes now is the concept of ‘Net Zero’ and solid data that they have built up over many years.

As with any scenario planning one ends up with a spread of outcomes, but also some elements are common to all, and the smart steps usually involve getting on with the ones which are common as they really are ‘no-brainers’. The electrification of transport, the improvement in energy efficiency, the end of natural gas and the coming of hydrogen are solidly in the ‘no-brainer’ category.

However on a personal level; what I really enjoyed about the conferences was the quality and depth of conversation and knowledge in the room. Chance conversations over coffee and across break-out tables genuinely changed my thinking and arced across corporate boundaries. I hope some of my comments also cut through.

So I genuinely missed this aspect this year and unfortunately I couldn’t get in online due to other commitments (the tyranny of TEAMS and ZOOM). The FES Team are a knowledgeable and helpful bunch and the events are clearly a chance for them to shine and show off their work of the last year. But they also listen and engage. One of their staff even posted me her personal copy of their handy little A5 summary book some years ago when I couldn’t get one. You don’t do this if you aren’t proud of your work and if you don’t care.

And one of the other interesting aspects is the way the inputs to the scenarios change year to year.

I recall one year that the number of EVs to be deployed in the UK doubled in their planning from the previous year. This seemed a bit radical. The next year I think it had doubled again and it happened the next year too. This year the electrification of transport is not in question; five years ago I would say the prospect of electric driving was a bit ‘out-there’, now it is the subject of every advert break on the TV.

The act of making an educated guess and writing it down was then helpful as it stimulated thought and could then be tested later and revised. It shows that any individual estimate will probably be subject to revision, but if all the revisions keep being made in one direction that also tells you something about the accelerating rate of change.

And don’t forget; the outputs of FES are not just the dreams of one; they are the normed thoughts of many. They are the articulation of the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ and we ignore this at our peril.

It is not the end of the world that I didn’t get to have useful conversations at FES, but I do feel poorer by the absence. Living in Orkney can have its challenges; at times it can be difficult to get information into and out of the right circles. FES gave opportunities to get into different orbits.


In Orkney we have to make decisions locally and we do what we can within the limits we face. We often rail against the limits imposed by others and seek to challenge those limits we all place on ourselves. Often the underlying cry is ‘if only they would listen, we could get on faster!’ Well the other week we had direct evidence that ‘they’ are listening and this time it was not FES.

On Thursday the 14th of July, seven members of the Orkney community were waiting somewhat nervously for the meeting with the Prime Minister in Stromness when in bustled our premiere along with his entourage. We sat down in our appointed, appropriately distant, seats and were delighted when he opened with ‘So tell me about the exciting things you are doing with hydrogen that I have been hearing all about.’

In the all too brief 35 minutes that ensued with the PM and Scottish Secretary Alistair Jack MP, we covered Orkney’s vision for the UK of renewably fuelled shipping, our different approach to the grid underpinned by the ReFLEX project, the opportunities to move distilling away from fossil fuels and our challenges with OFGEM.

The whole meeting was arranged on the back of the PM’s announcement of the ‘Islands Deal’ of £100M. This is the last of the ‘City Deals’ and represented the culmination of years of lobbying by local politicians from all three island authorities in Scotland (Shetland, the Western Isles and Orkney). The money is to be used in several projects and whilst welcome, is recognised that it needs to be spent wisely to bring in further support.

Prime Minister Boris Johnston meeting with local businesses in Stromenss, July 2020 (credit Orkney Islands Council)

Prime Minister Boris Johnston meeting with local businesses in Stromenss, July 2020 (credit Orkney Islands Council)

Having been involved in the shaping of Islands Deal it has been interesting to see how the focus of the money has become sharper, and has also developed into projects that need to underpin the move to Net Zero. Some more ephemeral vanity projects have fallen by the wayside and a core suite of low and zero carbon proposals is now emerging. This too has been the result of continuing conversation and challenge, but it has also been the result of realising that decarbonisation is not only necessary; it is possible.

Gareth Davies of Aquatera clearly surprised the Prime Minister when he pointed out that 25% of the UK’s electricity could be supplied by Orkney’s abundant renewable energy resources, but that at present less than 1% of the potential is being exploited. With Orkney having produced more electricity than it consumes every year since 2013 it shows that decarbonisation is possible; and the over 200 jobs believed to be in renewables in the county today show it is both profitable and that people are keen and willing to see this new sector grow.

The Prime Minister very effectively summed up our asks and had clearly taken our points in and offered to get his ministers to more fully engage. I genuinely think he listened and he ‘got it’.

And inevitably those of us in the room were changed by the meeting. I left with a feeling of hope that we had passed on our message to ‘them’ and that it had been heard. In our assorted conversations afterwards the local participants clearly felt buoyed that their points had been listened to and, that when tested, our arguments and perspectives had been robust. And the opportunity ‘to speak truth unto power’ further emboldens us to strive to push on with the decarbonisation mission.

The PM and the Scottish Secretary seemed to go away enthused by hearing about our successes and I believe are motivated to help us tackle the barriers we find ourselves up against.

Time will tell whether that day marked the sea-change we need to see.

Neil Kermode (Credit Colin Keldie) 150






Neil Kermode
EMEC Managing Director








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