Energy for a Net Zero Society

In association with:


March 30 31 2021
Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford, OX2 6GG

The BIEE’s Oxford Conference is a biennial research conference that seeks to understand the drivers of change in energy, both positive and negative. The conference is aimed at energy analysts, researchers, strategy and policy thinkers from all backgrounds, including industry, academia and research organisations, government, the finance community, NGOs and consultancies. BIEE conferences are renowned for the quality of their speakers, for their open, productive discussion and debate and for the diverse range of participants. It is the mix of people and perspectives that makes this conference distinctive.

‘The conference is a fantastic opportunity and melting pot for people in the energy industry, from government from academia from other research organisations. One of the real advantages and one of the special features of the BIEE conference is it’s a place where all of those energy interested people come together. They learn from each other they spark off each other and they build new networks and new coalitions to help drive the energy sector forward.’

Professor Matthew Leach

Conference Theme

This research conference will focus on building the foundations and policies of the low carbon transition aimed at achieving a net zero carbon society in a way that is fair and just.  It will address how we live, work and travel, and how policy, infrastructure and the private sector can respond to enable the transformation of heat, transport and industry.

Now we have all been impacted by Covid-19, it is clear that how we recover from this public health crisis will reshape how we tackle the climate change crisis. In the immediate term, there has been a sharp fall in economic activity and emissions. But the long-term impact depends on how low-carbon investments are affected, and whether opportunities are taken to reinforce some of the (positive, for the environment) behaviour changes that have been observed in lock-down (such as increased remote working and cycling) or to tackle some of the potentially negative impacts (reduced use of public transport).

The conference will consider how the transition has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, how economic recovery plans might accelerate the transition, and if governments are backing up the rhetoric in delivering plans for a green recovery. It will  look at international perspectives and what can be learnt from the experiences of other countries and market sectors.


The conference was originally scheduled for 24th September 2019 but was postponed due to the Covid-19 epidemic and the need for social distancing. The conference will now be taking place seven months before the important UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, which is being held in Glasgow in November 2021.

It will also follow the publication of the CCC’s Sixth Carbon Budget in December 2020  which will set the path to the UK’s new net-zero emissions target in 2050, as the first carbon budget to be set into law following that commitment.

Over the course of the year, to demonstrate that it is serious about net-zero, the Government will need to commit to this pathway and firm up its policy plans. The Government will be considering how to achieve the societal transformation required for net-zero which is precisely the focus of the BIEE conference.

For further information please click on the link below:

Crude oil valuation and pricing

Crude oil valuation and pricing

Course Code:


Course title:

Crude oil valuation and pricing

Course summary:

The 3-day course Crude Oil Valuation and Pricing explains how oil refiners select the crude oils to use in their systems from among the 600 plus crude oil streams that are available globally. Beginning with a review of the chemistry of crude oil, and explaining the various quality parameters of different types of crude oil, this course provides a framework for understanding how refiners evaluate different grades of oil within their overall refining slate. The course goes on to explain the different systems currently used for pricing oil around the world, including the operation of the main benchmark grades of Brent (BFOET), Oman/Dubai and WTI crude.

Course details:

The 3-day course Crude Oil Valuation and Pricing explains how oil refiners select the crude oils to use in their systems from among the 600 plus crude oil streams that are available globally. Beginning with a review of the chemistry of crude oil, and explaining the various quality parameters of different types of crude oil, this course provides a framework for understanding how refiners evaluate different grades of oil within their overall refining slate. The course goes on to explain the different systems currently used for pricing oil around the world, including the operation of the main benchmark grades of Brent (BFOE), Oman/Dubai and WTI crude.

Who should attend?

This course will appeal to producers of crude oil, in particular those seeking to market new grades of oil; market analysts and economists evaluating the different grades of oil available in the market; bankers and investment analysts financing the development of new streams of crude oil; lawyers and accounts involved in the valuation of crude oils; marketers of crude oils; refiners looking to diversify their crude slates.

Key objectives:

The crude oil valuation and pricing course aims to provide attendees with a full understanding of the key crude oil qualities; how these affect refining values; refiners’ approach to selecting crude oils; basic calculation tools such as GPW and refining margin; the use of LP models; use of pricing benchmarks and differentials; assessment methodologies of Platts, Argus and their competitors; use of futures contracts; and basic risk management tools.


Future Fuels

A panoply of fuels, from algae to hydrogen, have been identified as potential technologies that can solve the twin goals of meeting the energy needs of an expanding world population while also mitigating climate change and ensuring that future generations can live comfortably.

The big problem with all of these is achieving the scale needed to provide energy for billions of people. It’s all very well to experiment in a lab, but the real challenge of energy is not just to produce it, but to do at scale and economically. This is the case with hydrogen.

Some of the new fuels being developed have been pioneered by large oil and gas companies, raising a real question mark over whether the research and development money being spent is “greenwash”. Algae is an example. 

The commodities used to produce future fuels also have alternative uses, raising the prospect of potential competition between supply chains. Biofuels are a good example; using crops to make energy is viable, but not if people are left without food.




Future fuels… Just because it works in the laboratory doesn’t mean that a technology can be scaled up to meet the world’s burgeoning energy demand.

Going Electric

The biggest advances in low carbon energy have been made in the field of electricity. Transport and heat lag far behind. 

E-mobility has been talked about for many years, but the portion of the world’s vehicle stock that uses electricity is tiny. Despite the many TV adverts in the west providing racy images of electric vehicles, less than 1% of the vehicles on the road are electric, and most of those in use are hybrids — which means that much of the time they will be using fossil fuels part of the time.

Using electricity is only a low carbon solution, moreover, if the fuels used to generate electricity are low carbon. Charging an electric vehicle using electricity that is generated from coal simply shifts the problem of carbon emissions from the vehicle to the power station.

For the same reason, heating is also a hard-to-decarbonise sector. Replacing a gas boiler with electric heating doesn’t reduce emissions if the electricity is being generated by burning gas. Similarly, while hydrogen boilers will help, if the hydrogen used is derived from fossil fuels rather than electrolysis, the climate benefits are negligible.


Don’t be fooled by the idea that electricity is “greener” than other sources of energy! If it’s generated from fossil fuels, there is little benefit in using it. The carbon saving comes when the power is made from renewable sources such as wind or solar,

Despite the above caveats, a revolution is underway. Electric bikes and scooters have started to proliferate in urban areas, and the range of electric vehicles is gradually improving. Innovative car finance schemes are making EVs viable options for many, rather than the wealthy few. It is still hard to see EVs making inroads in developing countries, but electricity grids are expanding globally and this could provide a tipping point for a more widespreads use of electric vehicles in emerging markets.

Smart Technology

Smart technology refers to a range of technologies that allow energy to be used more intelligently.

For most people, that means a smart meter in the home. If you live in Western Europe, it’s likely that your electricity provider will have supplied one of these already. The reality is, these machines are not very smart. They give you a reading on how much power your are using at any particular time, but not much more. 

The real value of Smart Technology comes through when tracking energy use is combined with new systems that can work intelligently together. These are often referred to as “grid edge” technologies. “The grid edge is the hottest area in energy today,” I was told at a conference. 

These technologies range from Apps on your phone that allow you to monitor the power going through your home on a room-by-room or even a device-by-device basis, to auotmation procedures that allow you to contract with your electricity supplier to feed electricity back into the grid when you are not using it. 

When these are combined with EVs, there is potential for theworld’s car fleet to become a giant battery that can supply electricity back into homes or to companies when renewable systems are under pressure. This could potentially solve the problem of the intermittency of energy sources such as wind or solar power.



Smart meters really aren’t always that smart. The one installed by my power supplier did very little more than blinking at me. I could get a few details about how much energy I had used by pressing some buttons, but nothing that gave me ideas about how to save power or reduce my carbon footprint. 

Energy Storage

In the last decade, energy storage has evolved from dysfunctional batteries to large-scale techologies such as pumped water storage and mega batteries designed by entrepreneurs like Elon Musk that provide viable alternatives to wind and solar for power generation. The cost of batteries and of energy storage is also falling rapidly.

The range of car batteries is also gradually being extended, and a range of materials such as selenium have been identified that can be used with standard lithium and cobalt batteries to boost their range and their longevity. These could also potentially resolve the resource constraint around soem of the materials used in batteries, which have limited reserves and are concentrated in only a few countries. 

Despite that, the problems around the intermittency of renewables remain, and none of the batteries developed so far as as cost-effective as fossil fuels for back-up power generation.


Energy storage technologies are improving, but are still typically not as cost-effective as using fossil fuels.

Nuclear Horizons

The nuclear industry has suffered from multiple deadly accidents over the eyars, and it remains an extremely expensive form of energy.

The already-tarnished reputation of nuclear power suffered another setback after the Fukushima incident in Japan in 2011. Most of the nuclear reactors in the world today are ageing, and many countries have balked at the cost of building new reactors, particularly given public opposition and the safety risks.

For many people, there is a gut reaction against nuclear from the association with nuclear weapons. The infamous nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States at the end of World War II is sufficent for many to reject the peaceful use of nuclear power. 

That said, countries such as France have operated theri nuclear industry with few mishaps. Around 75% of the electricity generated in France is made using nuclear reactors. And significant advances in nuclear fusion are expected in the coming decade.

The renowned environmentalist James Lovelock advocated the use of nuclear energy in his book The Return of Gaia, and even some environmental campaigners see the potential for using nuclear energy to reduce carbon emissions.


Always controversial

The link between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons remains a stumbling block for the widespread expansion of nuclear power. But even for some environmentalists, it is seen as a potential way to reduce harmful carbon emissions.

Carbon Capture

Rather like future fuels such as algae, Carbon Capture (Use and Storage) has been seen both as a potential solution to the problem of climate change and as yet another source of hot air and greenwash.

The reality is that despite decades of promises, there are no examples of successful implementations of CCUS that are of a large enough scale to make any conceivable difference to carbon emissions.

The oil industry has “donated” $1 billion for research into scaling up the multiple pilot projects that have been attempted. But even some of the proponents of CCUS (such as myself) are beginning to wonder if this is just a gesture.

The story goes that, if CCUS can be developed at scale, it will allow fuels such as oil and gas and even coal to continue to be used without damaging the environment. But it is beginning to sound like the oil and gas companies are just kicking the can down the road. 

The reality is that CCUS faces many challenges, the most critical of which is, Who will pay? Shell’s CCS venture at Peterhead in Scotland was scuppered when the Tory government that had supported it pulled out at the last minute. But the pilot schemes have also met with public opposition, based on a lack of knowledge of what will happen to the sequestered emissions in the future.


A suspicion of greenwash and multiple challenges

It’s still difficult to tell whether CCUS has a future, or whether it will be another example of the ball being kicked down the road to justify continued investment in fossil fuels.


Climate Realities

Earth’s climate is changing, and science suggests that this is almost certainly due to human activities, notably due to the rise in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.

Despite growing public concern, however, the amount of coal, oil and gas being used continues to rise, and the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached levels that are close to the levels that most scientists believe will have a serious impact on life on planet earth. Depending on what actions are taken, the level of emissions could double by 2050. Widespread public protests, particularly in advanced western economies, reflect many people’s despair that not enough is being done to slow global warming.

Progress has been made, but it remains limited. This is doubly worrying given that the greenhouse effect has been known about for around a century, and that it is in part anthropogenic (associated with human activity) has been regarded as scientific fact since the 1960s.

The Paris Agreement, drafted in December 2015 and ratified a year later, finally set out pathways to mitigate global warming for the 197 countries that signed up. Since then, the United States has said that it will pull out of the agreement. Two steps forward, one giant leap back by the country that led the world in building a consensus that had been impossible to reach in the earlier rounds of talks which led to the Kyoto and Copenhagen agreements.

Building a consensus for action on the Paris framework is proving more difficult than building a consensus of intent.

Despite signing up to Paris, resource dependent countries such as Russia and Saudi Arabia have been reluctant to translate words into deeds. Environmental activism has become inextricably muddled up with other issues such as human rights and democracy, resulting in a backlash as liberalism has given way to authoritarian populism in countries such as Brazil and the US. The waters have been muddied further by the competing agendas of rich countries, whose development has been fuelled by oil, gas and coal for the last century or more, and poor countries who want to fund their own economic development by exploiting these resources.

Climate Realities

The scientific consensus is that climate change is real, and that it is happening now. 


For the last century, energy has been delivered under a centralised system run by powerful companies or state-run institutions.

Energy for mobility has typically been dominated by private enterprise. The Rockefeller fuels monopoly was broken up in the 1920s, creating a model of competing oligopolies that became a template for the capitalist system. The companies that operated the refineries that made the petrol also dominated other transport fuels for airplanes and ships, and petroleum commodities such as petrochemicals and fertilizers. In the 1960s and after, national oil and energy companies emerged, but these typically operate independently even though they are state run.

The state-owned model prevailed in the early years of growth in the power sector, and state control is prevalent in the utilities such as water, gas and communications that operate as natural monopolies. The split between capitalist and communist models after World War II led to a debate about the role of private enterprise, and many countries in the west, including the United States, most European and many Asian companies, have deregulated and/or privatised their utility sectors.

Both the fuels and utility sectors have operated top-down business models with centralised decision-making and where economies of scale dominated business models. 



Minsets reflect a way of seeing the world, a kind of prism that determines the visible spectrum. As the energy transition progresses, old ways of thinking are being eroded by new challenges.

The advent of renewable energy was disruptive to the status quo. New technologies such as energy storage are both a threat and an opportunity to the oligopolies who have dominated the energy sector. Meanwhile, the prospect that fossil fuels will be phased out by the end of the present century has led coal, oil and gas companies to reinvent themselves. Faced with this existentiasl threat, radical restructuring is seen by many energy companies as a strategy for survival.

Strength is only one of the aspects of the will, and when dissociated from the others, it can be, and often is, ineffectual or harmful to oneself and other people… In order to go somewhere, one does not proceed by walking in a straight line across open country or by climbing over buildings. One rather studies a roadmap and uses existing roads, which although not in a straight line, can lead one to his (her) destination  with the least amount of effort.

Roberto Assagioli

Author of the Act of Will, Founder of Psychosynthesis

Future Leadership

These disruptive changes in the energy landscape require a different mindset from 21st century leaders of energy companies.

In his book Reiventing organisations,    

Rather than a CEO working with the board of directors to implement plans that can be rolled out in tiered levels across an organisation, leadership is gradually evolving as a creative process that stimulates and catalyses change at a local level and where decisions from the bottom up are integrated and synthesised.

Of course, there is no single recipe. The disruptive nature of change means that these trends in leadership are emergent and fragmented. The model of organised chaos that has led to such spectacular growth among technology companies can provide only a partial template for the energy sector where the importance of safety is a powerful driver of standardised procedures,

But as the delivery of energy becomes more distributed, and communities have a bigger voice in the forms of energy that serve their local area, energy leaders are becoming more adaptive and flexible. The 20th century model of leaders as deal makers, wielding influence in secret and behind closed doors, is giving way to a new model in which leaders communicate and embody a creative vision.

Companies are changing. It is only in the last 2-3 years that I have heard an executive at the oil company Shell use the word “passion”. The verdict is still out on whether this reflects a change in DNA or a passing management fad.


Times are changing

Traditional leadership models are evolving in the face of disruptive change in the energy landscape.

Business Models

The challenge of leadership is closely related to the issue of what business models are required to run an industry on the scale required to meet world energy needs while still meeting the goal of combatting climate change.

For much of the last century, the energy system oscillated between the twin poles of the “free market” and government “regulation”. These opposed modes of operating reflected divergent narratives. The free market ideology has a story that pits  heroic individuals and their corporate correlatives against the suffocating machinations of bureaucracy and the state. Government regulation, in contrast, sees itself as a responsible counterbalancing mechanism that protects individual against the depredations of corporate greed.

These ideological extremes became embedded during the Cold War with individual libertarianism and corporate capitalim opposed to State domination and Communism.

Since then, the yawning gulf between the two ideologies has narrowed. Companies have demanded clear regulation from governments even if it is stringent, provided that the playing field is level. Financial institutions and funds have pressured the big oil and energy companies to do more on climate change. Governments have supported innovation and entrepreneurship as vehicles for the Green Economy.

The old shibboleth of the State vs the Individual, the heart of the adolescent novels of Ayn Rand, has been modulated by the common need for a sustainable future. Although populist governments have tried to revive the old dichotomies, the realities of a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous make simple solutions and mantras increasingly irrelevant.



Re-envisioning the future

In the VUCA world, the old dichotomies break down: right vs left, State vs individual, “us” vs “them” feel increasingly irrelevant.

Frederick Laloux in his book Reinventing Organisations has suggested an evolutionary path for business from centralised Robber baron organisations, which he characterises by the colour red, through more devolved creative companies (orange) to companies that actively pursue goals for the benefit of society (green) and eventually to companies that are driven by self-governing groups that have a sense of shared purpose and community (teal).

It is still unclear whether the future for energy companies is orange, green or teal, but it’s fairly clear that the model of aggressive corporate competition is under challenge. Activist shareholders require the companies in which they invest to have high ethical standards, and are willing to push this agenda at AGMs and in public forums. meanwhile, social media have brought a spotlight on any activities that cut corners with Ciorporate Social Responsibility.

As a result, business models are changing. Greater disclosure, more transparency and community engagement are essential.

Meanwhile, populist governments have tried to trun back the clock, particualrly on anti-corruption and money-laundering. The future direction is unclear at this stage.

Complexity and Synthesis

For at least the last 35 years, it’s been a central dogma of energy pricing that markets can allocate resources more efficiently than mandated pricing systems. Even before the oil exporters’ cartel OPEC switched to market-related pricing, however, commodities have changed hands based on market principles.

The mechanisms used in the pricing of oil, and related commodities such as gas, assume that prices will adjust any imbalances between supply and demand. For example, a sudden shortage of supply caused by a geopolitical event will result – almost immediately – in a price spike that will encourage oil producers to pump more oil onto the market.

The trouble with this approach is that, while the commodity is in abundant supply, there is no economic incentive for potential competitors to develop to deal with future shortages.

The problem has been solved by subsidies, which underpinned the early growth of renewables. This led many governments to subsidise fossil fuels at the consumer level, leading to an uneven playing field.


An Uneven Playing Field

Subsidies have led to an uneven playing field with crippling economic costs. But while cheap energy encourages wasteful consumption, the fact that energy is essential to life makes subsidy removal painful and controversial.

The carbon markets are a different story. The European Union’s Emissions Trading System has been set up as a model for the pricing of “regulated” commodities, but for most of the period since it was incepted in 2005 the carbon price has been below that required to ensure a transition from heavily-polluting fuels to clean energy.

The Paris Agreement highlights the “important role” for providing incentives for carbon reduction through domestic policies and carbon pricing.

Carbon pricing has three main objectives: to penalise emitters of greenhouse gases; to encourage the transition to cleaner fuels; and to fund investment in carbon disposal. Three main methods have been devised by governments to achieve these goals: emissions caps; market-based mechanisms, such as the EU emissions trading system (ETS); and carbon taxes, including carbon price floors.

The vast majority of countries that have committed to carbon pricing in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – submitted to COP21 – have favoured market-based measures rather than carbon taxes. The World Bank estimated in 2016 that around 61% of global emissions would be covered by such schemes, including emissions from China, the United States, India, Brazil and the EU.

The trouble with these schemes is that, to date, they have failed to deliver the certainty needed to encourage low-carbon investment or carbon abatement on a large scale. Since its inception in 2005, the EU ETS has failed to deliver a high enough price either to encourage a switch from coal to gas in power generation, or – as it was intended to do – to fund carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects that would allow carbon disposal.

Many of the INDC commitments favouring the market approach are conditional, and tied to unspecified levels of financial and technological support. It seems unlikely these would meaningfully contribute to emissions reduction within the next decade, with the possible exception of China’s nascent National Emissions Trading Scheme.


Much less publicised than the Nationally Determined Contributions to mitigating climate change are the national plans for adaptation to the consequences for a changing climate. Given our projections that, even if we manage a transition from fossil fuels over the next 25-30 years, the earth’s climate will still warm by 3 degrees C, putting in place “common purpose” plans to adjust to the consequences of the temperature rise is essential.

The high-level consequences of global warming are well-known: iconic photographs of melting ice caps have popularised these so that they become a series of vignettes, each of which has a strong emotional resonance.

The trouble with the emotional appeal of such images, largely popularised by climate lobby groups to whip up resentment against corporations, is that they offer no solutions when they become realities. The emotional charge of an image is great at creating a sympathetic response but does not provide any engineering or economic solutions to the dangers it portrays. A picture paints a thousand words but does not create a consensus on what to do. Moreover the nationalistic approach to mitigating climate change makes a global response to adapting unlikely. The gradualness of the problem is also likely to create a slower response; the boiling frog dilemma means that the prompt and pre-emptive action required is not likely to materialise.

The consequences of climate change of 3 degrees C are likely to be as follows:

  • Rising sea levels
  • More extreme weather
  • Widespread desertification
  • Disappearance of snow
  • Changes in ocean currents

Each of these high-level changes will have specific consequences related to it, although these will vary from region to region.

The assumption has been that adaptation to climate change will only be needed if there is a planetary failure to deal with the challenge of mitigating the onset of climate change. The reality is that the need for both mitigation and adaptation will accelerate together, and that there will be competition demands from both challenges.


It’s realistic to envisage that global warming of 2-3 degrees C will occur over the next few decades. This will have enormous impact but the effects of climate change will be experienced unevenly around the world. Some poorer countries will be decimated; some richer countries may actually benefit.  


Energy Transitions

Sustainable Transitions

A Sustainable Energy Future?

The world’s energy system is going through a profound transition from fossil fuels to low carbon and renewable resources. Many people believe that the risk of climate change is not being addressed quickly enough, and that the switch from fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas is happening too slowly.

Communities Are Key

Most companies and even governments think about the energy transition in techno-economic terms. They argue about what technologies to put in place, the potential costs and who will pay. But for most people it is more basic: they want access to energy at a reasonable price, but they also to live on a planet that has a future.

Understanding The Transitions

The energy transition is not a single thing. Decarbonizing heating and cooling is a very different challenge to switching the world’s car fleet from gasoline and diesel to low carbon alternatives. It helps to break down the problem into manageable chunks, and then see the synergies between the different pathways. 

Don't Get Hooked on Technologies

For the last century, the energy industry has harnessed sophisticated  technologies to deliver energy from centralised hubs to  billions of people. That top-down model is now changing. Disruptive new technologies are emerging that will transform the energy landscape, giving more power and choice to communities and individuals. 

Leadership and Vision

For the transitions to be sustainable, radical transformations in leadership, business models and systems are urgently needed. Uncertainties cannot be used as an excuse to delay taking action. We believe that everyone needs to have a voice in the energy system of the future. A visionary approach that treats individuals with respect, rather than as costs and externalities.

What I Offer

I have worked in the energy industry for more than 30 years, as a journalist,  consultant and analyst. I  offer training and consulting on the impact of new energy on oil and gas use. I believe that the future of energy will be decided by people rather than technology and offer training and coaching on strategy and leadership in the new era of energy transition.

Follow the Story

Click on the nearby buttons to find out more about our stance on the energy transition

Heating and Cooling

Fuels used in heating  have gradually evolved from solid fuels such as coal, to liquid fuels such as kerosene and heating oil, to gaseous fuels such as LPGs and natural gas.

The equipment used to burn the fuels has moved in tandem. My grandmother’s house had kerosene stoves in each room, and there was a coal fire in the living room. The use of energy to provide in home is known as residential, and for shiops and offices it is generally called commercial heating. Sometimes you will see the term ‘space heating’ to differentiate between heating to keep warm and to heat water for cooking.


The use of coal gave way in the 1970s and 1980s to central heating, where a central boiler powered by gas or electricity would heat the water in radiators to provide heating for the home. Many older homes, particualrly in germany and parts of the UK, have large tanks which are filled up with gasoil (also known as heating oil) during the year, and that provides the fuel to keep a house warm. Nowadays, natural gas is now most commonly used in homes in Europe as the boiler fuel, although electrical equipmentn may also be used, for instance electric bar heaters in the UK or electric-powered portable oil or fan heaters, as well as the kotasu in Japan.

The picture for commercial properties is broadly similar to the residential picture, although larger factories may find significant economies of scale that can be integrated with their production processes.

Blowing Hot and Cold

As global warming accelerates, and people become more affluent in emerging markest, the balance between heating and cooling needs is changing.

Many homes in poorer countries do not have central heating, and so use local installations such as LPG, kerosene or paraffin stoves to keep warm, and for cooking. The use of firewood and coal is also common in less affluent countries in northern Asia. El;etcric heating is generally expensive, but may often be found in poorer homes which cannot afford to install more efficient central systems. In the former Soviet Union, many homes were heated using waste heat from industrial facilities, and this form of heating remains fairly widespread.

A notable trend for the future is the increasing use of electricity for cooling, particularly in countries that have been too poor to afford such luxuries. Air-conditioning is common in the United States and the Middle East,  but is being installed more frequently in homes in Europe, South America and Asia. Electric fans have been used in tropical regions for cooling for many years, and their use is also growing. This trend is likely to be accelerated by global warming.

The intensity of the heat source required has become a notable field of research. While intense heat is required to cook, less intensive sources can be used to warm water or to keep homes warm. Tapping geothermal energy through the use of heat pumps has become popular in some countries, although it remains an expensive option. 


Mobility and Transport

Few people know that the first road vehicles were powered by alcohol and natural gas. Alcohol went out of use in the United States in the 1920s when prohibition came in. The growth of petrol (gasoline) and diesel as a fuel soared the the 1940s and 1950s as passenger use became more popular, and as long-haul trucking became the norm. Nowadays, 1 in 11 barrels of oil is used by the American motorist, and transportation use accounts for nealry two thirds of all oil demand.

Transport is regarded as a hard-to-decarbonise option because the vehicle stock turns over fairly slowly. Most cars are on the road for at least 15 years, and while decisions on the make-up of commercial-vehicle fleets are usually based on economics, the choice of passenger vehicle is dictated mostly by brand image and psychology. People who have driven a liquid-fuelled car for most of their lives are often loathe to experiment.

The main Alternative Fuelled Vehicles (AFVs) use either gas or electricity.

The AFVs that use gas are usually termed Natural Gas Vehicles (NGVs) and the fuels they use may be either Liquefied Natural gas (LNG), Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) or Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG). Large trucks often use LNG as their fuel, while passenger cars and vans most often use LPG or CNG as an alternative to petrol or diesel. 

The use of electric power in transport is mainly confined to passenger cars, usually at the top end of the price range, and for short-haul driving in giolf carts, trolley buses and so on. The types of electric vehicle (EV) include pure EVs and a panoply of different hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), which have electric batteries but can also use gasoline or sometimes diesel.  



On your bike

Like many people during the Covid-19 lockldown, I bought an electric bike and have not regretted it for an instant. My ventures can be followed on my blog at The lockdown led to a surge in sales of electric bikes across Europe, as people with time on their hands opted for e-mobility for leisure. Many came out of lockdown with a renewed commitment to achieveing a sustainable lifestyle.

Manufacturing and Freight

The use of energy in manufacturing is determined partly by the type of goods being manufactured, and also by the location of factories and manufacturing plants and their proximity to different sources of energy.

Power sources can be incredibly flexible. In the 1700s, wind and water were widely used to drive mills that would do everything from grinding down grain to making cloth. Nowadays, the energy-intensity of fossil fuels means that coal, oil, gas and fossil-fuel derivatives such as petroleum coke are most widely used in manufacturing. This is particularly the case in large-scale energy intensive industries such as metal smelting.

Electricity is also used in  smaller factories, but it is generally more costly than bulk fuels. The size of the factory and economies of scale are always a consideration. In ceramics, for example, gas may be used for larger kilns, while electricity would be used typically for studio ceramics. This same pattern is seen across the manufacturing sector. Decisions need to weigh not only the current cost of fuels but also their future costs. Considerable research may be required when deciding on fuel selection.


Heavy Duty

Fuel decisions for manufacturing depend largely on the scale of the factory and how intensive the form of energy that is required. Decisions can affect long-term profitability, and need to be carefully considered.


As well as manufacturing the goods, energy is also consumed in delivering the goods to storage locations and their end-use markets. The type of energy consumed depends on the facilities used for transport.

Ships and barges are often used for bulky products that would be expensive to move by road. These typically use heavy fuel oil, diesel or gasoil. In the past, thse have used the power of wind, and this has occasionally made a resurgence. Electricity and gas are also occasionally used.

Trucks and lorries are also commonly used. These mostly use diesel, although ion some parts of the world gasoline is more commonly used. The idea of using gas in various forms has become more popular, but still not achieved critical scale (see above).

Airplanes are also commonly used to carry smaller items of freight. Most planes use aviation kerosene as their fuel.

An interesting development for the future relates to the location of the manufacture. The traditional pattern has been to make goods where it is cheapest, and then transport them to the markets where they will be consumed. The development of three-dimensional plastics could be a game-changer, as it would allow goods to be manufactured using computers and to minimise the freight required to reach market.    



Most people’s image of the power sector comes from the pylons that are used to transport electricity around the country, or perhaps of the wind farms and solar panels that you drive past on the motorway.

It’s difficult from this to conceptualise the scale of the power generated around the world. At any instant, the world consumes an amount of electric energy that is equivalent to that released by tens of thousands of nuclear explosions. This electricity has to be generated on a continuing basis because electricity is a flow, and it cannot be stored (although technologies are being developed to do this).

Electricity generation is either from fossil fuels, increasing natural gas, or from renewables such as wind, solar and geothermal energy.  

The transmission and distribution of electricity involves a gradual stepping-down of the load carried in the lines until finally, when it reaches you home, it is relatively safe to use.

Industry also uses significant amounts of electricity, but this may be delivered more intensively as three-phase power.


The future is electric

Whether the electricity you use is low carbon depends on the fuels used to generate it. These range from coal and oi to lower carbon fossil fuels such as natural gas to zero-carbon renewable sources such as wind or solar.

Did you know how much carbon is emitted by a single search on Google? There’s an interesting factoid that goes the rounds that a single search uses enough power to fuel a light bulb for an hour. This turns out not to be true see but may people are unaware of the scale of energy use by the Internet. As the Internet of Things gets bigger, the use of power by technology firms will increase.  

Food and Agriculture

The world’s population is forecast to rise from 7.5 billion people currently to as many as 10 billion by 2050. This growing population is likely to be more wealthy than past generations and, for much of history, that has correlated with higher food consumption.

The climate toll of large-scale agriculture is clear. The amount of methane created by farm animals used for meat, the impact on biodiversity from  pesticides used to improve crop yields, and the deforestation that results from clearing large swathes of countryside to make land available for agriculture have all been widely noted.

More recently, however, there has been a growing awareness that food and energy issues cannot be separated.

The linkages were first exposed when the use of grains and sugar in biofuels resulted in fears of shortages of these foods for nutrition,

Biofuels are seen as valuable for meeting climate targets because, the theory goes, the crops used have already extracted the CO2 from the air, so it can be emitted without any overall climate impact. This has been the justification of European Union rules on bio-content in fuels, but it was only belatedly that these were accompanied by standards of sustainability and certification of the crops used.

Food and Energy Supply Chains in Conflict

Food and energy could end up competing for space. Biofuel requirements for fossil fuels are well intentioned, but the competing demands for grains and sugars from the food and energy sectors could become problematic.

Your content goes here. Edit or remove this text inline or in the module Content settings. You can also style every aspect of this content in the module Design settings and even apply custom CSS to this text in the module Advanced settings.

Waste Disposal

As the world’s population grows, more waste is produced. Waste disposal is critical to ensure that the environment for human habitation is hygienic and safe, but also to avoid biodiversity loss.

Although carbon has had a higher profile in recent years, the pollution from energy production includes a range of pollutive by-products, from sulphur and nitrogen oxides (SOx and NOx) to particulate matter (PM) and shloro-fluor carbons (CFCs) that can damage the ozone layer. There are always tradeoffs between making energy and curbing its harmful effects.

Pollution control is part of a bigger issue of how waste from a multitude of human activities can be disposed of safely and with the minimum damage to the environment. In many cases, the problem is not what we do or use, but how we get rid of it.

Recycling everyday garbage from household activity involves most people placing their used bottles and cans in a recycling bin. But that doesn’t solve the problem if the recycled products are shipped off to a foreign country where they may simply be burnt or jettisoned into the biosphere. That simply exports the problem.

Demonizing certain activities does not help. For example, plastics are durable and have the potential to be used to reduce carbon emissions. But disposal of plastics has become a major hazard to marine systems. 

Don't breathe too deeply

Air pollution and carbon emissions are both problematic for the environment. But in Asia, air quality issues are of much more concern for most people than the long-term risk of climate change. 

A Methodological Approach

The issues around waste and hygiene are hugely divisive. It is fraught with issues of wealth, class and privilege.  Social groups often demonize each other without self-scrutiny. As the populist right has become more dominant, this is often expressed in overt racist tones — Trump’s references to the Covid-19 virus as the Chinese virus are a case in point.

Many people take the approach of turning a blind eye. It it’s not visible, it’s not a problem. Exporting waste to poor countriers in Africa and Asia is common-place, and this has also been proposed as a solution for the disposal of nuclear waste. Organised crime has often got involved in the waste business because it is profitable and because there is limited oversight of those involved. Usually that’s because people would rather not know what goes on.  

A methodological approach is required to measure the various impacts of waste disposal. Just as fossil fuels and renewables have been evaluated using the yard-stick of life-cycle analysis, a holistic approach to waste disposal that would provide objective metrics about who is affected is required. Above all, there needs to be transparency among the companies and institutions involved in waste disposal. Local councils cannot hide behind the promises of their contractors, but should actively monitor their activities.   

Energy Efficiency

Improving your own carbon footprint is obviously a positive step, and much can be done by simply improving energy efficiency, particularly where grants are available from local or central government.

But it’s also human nature to do nothing when you see other people doing nothing. And it’s just as much a human failing to feel smug about your own contribution and to disdain others who you perceive to not be doing as much as you.


Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency can be measured easily, and improvements are often not nearly as costly as people think.

Energy efficiency is not just about improving how your boiler works. Enormous energy savings can be made by businesses, by managing the activities of employees in the heating and illumination of offices, but also by monitoring energy use in manufacturing processes, particularly those that are energy intensive such as ceramics or metal-smelting. 

Societal Change

Improving your own carbon footprint is obviously a positive step, and much can be done by simply improving energy efficiency, particularly where grants are available from local or central government.

But it’s also human nature to do nothing when you see other people doing nothing. And it’s just as much a human failing to feel smug about your own contribution and to disdain others who you perceive to not be doing as much as you.


Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency can be measured easily, and improvements are often not nearly as costly as people think.