Dreams come true - Tim German

Comment by Tim German, Senior Strategic Relationship Manager – Places at Energy Systems Catapult.

At 08.48 (GMT) on Saturday 1st January 2000, my wife and I were sitting on a mountainside overlooking Loch Lomond watching the dawn of a new millennium. It was a once in a lifetime experience.  We had spent an hour trekking uphill to get a good vantage point. It was peaceful and calm.

Before the sunrise we had reflected on the past 40 years, or so, of our lives. The sight before us was our ‘special place’. My wife is from Loch Lomond and it is where we were married. Our profession as opera singers had brought us together and had provided us with our livelihood. However, we knew that the millennium was a turning point so, after the sun rose, we considered what challenges may be ahead and what dreams we had that we would like to come true. Climate change was a big factor in that discussion. We reflected on man-made climate change and what it would mean for our children and any grandchildren we may hope to have in the future. The elation of the new millennium experience soon turned to concern, and that year proved to be a major turning point for me and my career.  Nine years previously I had moved from ‘performing’ to ‘arts management’. My ‘speciality’ however was using skills learnt in ‘performing’ to bring together people and organisations from different sectors with the aim of breaking down barriers and strengthening effective delivery. It was this ‘speciality’ that provided the gateway into a new career in the transformative world which we now call ‘Net Zero’ energy. I wanted to ‘make a difference’ and be part of a process that could lead to dreams coming true.

Skip forward twenty-four years and I am retiring and hanging up my work clogs. In those twenty-four years I have worked for Energy Systems Catapult since its inception in 2015/16, the Energy Technologies Institute from 2013 – 2015, and, prior to that, since the millennium, I created and managed a multi-award winning cross-sectoral energy partnership in Cornwall.

So, what has been learnt in those twenty four years and what differences have been achieved?

I think it is typical of people who, like me, feel passionately about our work, to be easily tempted to say, ‘not much has changed’. Indeed, as a general comment progress driven nationally has been slow but when you examine progress in microcosm, you can see that vast technological strides have been made and there is undoubtedly a greater appreciation of the need for a transformed energy system.  However, like the writer James Martin infers, in his book ‘The Meaning of the 21st Century’, I feel that there is a serious gap between the creation of new technology and the wisdom of how to use it. Martin says: ‘We are brilliant at creating new technology but are not wise in learning how to cope with it’.

I know that the industrial revolution helped lead the Earth’s climate blindly towards the adverse state it currently finds itself, but we should have learnt from the leaders of the industrial revolution that change can happen and it can happen quickly with positive economic and social consequences.

For the past twenty-four years I have worked with politicians of all political persuasions, even some that fundamentally (and crazily) don’t believe in man-made climate change. In all UK parliaments climate change has been described as ‘a great political leveller’, and we are constantly told ‘all parties support action to mitigate climate change’. Why then is change so slow? Why are we hearing that the UK will not meet its target of 600,000 annual heat pump installations by 2028? Why, after 24 years am I still hearing the same ‘is it the right technology?’ argument about, for instance, the mass roll-out of heat pumps. It is as if there is always an argument that ‘there could be a new technology around the corner’ and that argument only leads to the deferment of the inevitable risk in making any major fiscal decisions to support the manufacturing and mass roll-out of heat pumps. Innovation is, of course, essential but a heat pump is no longer ‘innovation’, it is a technology that has been around since the mid 19th century!  So why are we treating heat pump technology as if it were risky new innovation?  We should be well past that intellectual and risk averse argument. A decision could have been made at least twenty years ago to escalate the process of domestic heating transformation. I was very proud to be part of a consortium that delivered the first retrofitting of Ground Source Heat pumps into social housing in the far west of Cornwall (a big call-out to the inspirational Denys Stephens).

Also, whilst I was Director of the Cornwall Sustainable Energy Partnership, I helped support the expansion of Kensa, then the only UK-based Heat Pump manufacturer when they moved to their current site at Mount Wellington mine. In 2003 I first spoke at the World Sustainable Energy Days Conference and Exhibition in Linz, North Austria. Heat pump manufacturers from Austrian and Germany were in abundance. My trip included a visit to a local Vocational Training College. The exhibition, and in particular that college visit, opened my eyes as to how far many parts of Europe had progressed way beyond the UK in their ability to Heat Pump manufacture and skills development. A whole manufacturing industry (the new’ clean and green’ industrial revolution) could have been created to replace all the manufacturing and industry the UK lost in the 1980s. In the 1960s and 70s it took less than a decade to transform the gas supply of fourteen million homes from ‘town gas’ to ‘natural gas’. Whilst ‘technologies’ can always be improved – we already have the technologies such as heat pumps. Just imagine how much further along the transformational pathway we would be if they were installed en masse 20 years ago. That is what Smart Systems and Heat was created to support. How can enhanced knowledge help speed up delivery whilst providing greater confidence amongst industry and the public sector.

I have a lot to thank Smart Systems and Heat (SSH) for. If it wasn’t for SSH I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to have such a wonderful time and work with such brilliant people at Energy Systems Catapult.

SSH was an extremely important, worthy and ambitious (some may say ‘overambitious’) £100 million programme announced in 2012 by the then Prime Minister David Cameron. Initially led by the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI) the programme and its team, including me, transferred into the brand-new Energy Systems Catapult, creating its core team of c30 people in 2015. The future-proofing ambition of SSH was incredibly challenging but, like those who initiated it, I felt it was essential for the delivery of the UK’s decarbonisation ambition. The task of SSH was to create local energy plans and deliver the outcomes in three local authority areas. The work would demonstrate how to produce economically viable heating solutions for the UK’s housing stock. The project aimed to successfully combine the understanding of consumer needs and behaviour with the development of integration of technologies and new business models. It was a phased project. Its first phase was to develop and deliver what we now call Local Area Energy Plans in three local authority areas. Its second phase was to deliver the outcomes of the plans in (up to) 10,000 homes in those areas.

For people like me who had been struggling at ‘local level’ to push the importance of the domestic heat decarbonisation challenge at national level, the Smart Systems and Heat project was a dream come true. The programme provided hope for future generations.  It addressed such vital issues that when the CEO (the sadly missed David Clark) of the ETI called me and asked me to lead the work with local authorities across the UK, I jumped at the chance. Luckily my work in Cornwall had attracted the eye of one of the ETI Board members, (EDF Energy Director, Peter Hofman) who had recommended me for the important task.

Although demonstration at scale is vital, sadly phase two of SSH was never delivered. Perhaps it was overambitious to expect the anticipated funding to be accumulated. Importantly though, the first phase of SSH, the development and delivery of Local Area Energy Plans (LAEPs), was completed and successfully demonstrated in the three LA areas of Greater Manchester, Newcastle, and Bridgend. I thank the members and officials of each of those authorities and their regional network operators for sticking with us at that time.

I absolutely believe that the ‘bottom-up’ approach to a Net Zero economy and how that local delivery can be aligned with national strategy and planning is the way forward. In retrospect, the greatest triumph of my time at Energy Systems Catapult, and perhaps my whole career, is my small role in the expansion and roll-out of LAEPs. At the time of writing about ninety local authorities across the UK have or are having LAEPs delivered for their geographical areas. The Catapult has created the LAEP market. I have enjoyed working with my brilliant colleagues in the Catapult and Welsh Government to get LAEP successfully rolled-out to all of Wales’ twenty-two local authorities. Even greater, the Welsh Government are now working with the Catapult and a wide range of Welsh partners to scale up from local level and use the LAEPs as a foundation for a National Energy Plan. I am proud of how the Catapult has assisted the Welsh Government to be the first to fully roll-out LAEP and use them to scale-up into a National Energy Plan.

That bottom-up / top down’ approach was really my dream when I was helping to run energy programmes from Cornwall. My only disappointment is that the UK Government has still not adopted LAEP as a duty which it must support. Sadly, I doubt that such a nationwide investment approach to decarbonising our 26 million homes will be an item on which any of the major political parties will be campaigning in the coming general election. More house building yes, but, although vital, the costly retrofit of heating in homes and decarbonisation at scale requires the type of brave decision making that is longer lasting than a political term.

I may be retiring but my passion for this great work at Energy Systems Catapult will always continue and I will not cease doing whatever is in my meagre power to make that dream come true.

The twenty-four years I worked on energy transformation is an extremely small amount of time compared to the time my grandchildren could be living in a world ravaged by climate change.  As a granddad, I am eternally grateful to all those with whom I have worked and who remain working with passion to help my dream will come true, ensuring future generations will not look back on my generation asking, ‘why were they so slow at taking action?’

Before finishing I want to call out the exceptional way Energy Systems Catapult celebrates the diversity and cultures of its workforce. I have been privileged to work in an organisation which involves such brilliant people from diverse backgrounds and ethnicity. It is a model for how things should be.

So, what’s next for me? A large garden awaits my attention. In between my voluntary lock keeper work at Stoke Bruerne on the Grand Union canal I will be campaigning on the two major themes of my working life – (i) decarbonisation of energy and (ii) the future of opera, classical music and music education in the UK.

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