Interview: CTEC Energy

Interview: CTEC Energy

Interview with Mike Burns, CTEC Energy

We interviewed Mike Burns at CTEC Energy in Newhaven Port. The gasifier project converts plastics and biomass into electricity and heat with significantly lower emissions than a traditional incinerator. 

My Goals

My Goals

Written by Peter21

August 7, 2020

I have worked as a reporter and market analyst with some of the biggest information providers in the energy sector: Standard & Poors Platts, Reuters (now Refinitiv) and the Russian business data and technology business Interfax. I have also worked as a consultant with governments in Europe, the Americas, Africa and Asia; along with some of the biggest oil, gas and power companies in the world. Throughout this time, I have had a panoply of interesting economists, engineers and journalists from all over the world as colleagues and friends. I don’t know of any industry with a more diverse range of cultures, and the industry is gradually becoming more diverse in terms of gender, personality and ethnicity.

Reflecting on my career, I was struck by how little of my time was spent engaging with the people and communities who were affected by the energy industry. We would all talk with the people who had the money: the investors, the bankers, the upstream, midstream and downstream companies who were involved in the projects; the traders and brokers; and their advisors, from lawyers and consultants, to tax specialists and diplomats. But the only contact with local groups as a journalist was almost always through environmental pressure groups who purported to represent their views. And as a consultant, communities were only consulted by specialists conducting the environmental impact assessments (EIA), negotiating local content rules and policies, and higher beings responsible for corporate social responsibility (CSR).

Beyond technology

It struck me that this was indefensible. The energy industry should be there to serve the goals of these communities; ultimately, it is the public that pays their bills. It’s obvious to me now that people and communities should be engaged with at every stage of a project, and throughout the energy value chain from production and generation to the end use in the home or office, not just when a problem blows up or there is a scandal.

The dichotomy we currently face, between a public who wants to “Save the Planet” and an energy professional class which assumes it knows what is in the public interest, results directly from this disintermediation. A huge amount of mutual suspicion exists between these two camps.

In 2012, when I set up Resource Economist, I had envisaged a training company that would be capable of providing expert knowledge to customers from within the energy industry, and to outsiders in government, environmental organisations and local communities who want to cut through the jargon and get to grips with the real issues. I felt this would play to my strength as a journalist, which was to explain things in a simple and clear way, as well as an analyst and consultant, which was to provide an unbiased expert view.

Nowadays, I feel this was at one level too ambitious, and at another level, not ambitious enough.

  • Too ambitious, because most people have their minds already made up, depending on which camp they are in. The camps reflected were the binary categories of good/bad,  pro-industry/pro-environment, protest/collude, etc.
  • Not ambitious enough, because it sought simply to explain the industry through training courses in neutral terms, rather than to engage actively with the disparate communities that made up the energy sector as a whole, and to understand their motivation(s).

I have tried to refocus this website on the people who are responsible for the Energy Transition, from fossil fuels to cleaner sustainable forms of energy. In 2014, I began a series of interviews for the British Institute of Energy Economics, meeting with some of the most able and inspiring people in the energy sector, from government, community groups, CEOs of large companies, academics, start-up tech firms and a spectrum of others. Brief clips from many of these interviews are available on the BIEE website www.biee.org/videos.

Milestones

There are two other milestones I should mention.

In 2019, I flew to Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada for a major gas conference in which I met members of the First Nations who had recently formed an alliance in support of the building of an LNG plant. The Wet’suwet’en First Nation were at the heart of this, reaching an agreement with Shell and a group of other investors that allowed the project and a gas pipeline to supply it to go ahead. The decision was hugely controversial. Shell and many in the gas industry saw it as a watershed, pouring out press releases extolling its virtues, while environmentalists reacted with dismay, and launched a furious and highly coordinated assault on those who had supported the project. The Wet’suwet’en were split.

I will do a separate post on what I learned (about myself as much as anything) from this dispute, but in short, it reflected a lack of communication that I believe mirrors the dichotomies mentioned above between “the industry” and “the environmental lobby”. I put these in inverted commas because in reality neither is as monolithic as it first seems, and a common dialogue between the two should be possible.

In August 2020, I bought an electric bike. After the Covid-19 crisis started, I spent the six months in lockdown rethinking where I wanted to take my career, and writing the draft of a book to be called Sustainable Transitions in Energy. The bike idea came to me about midway through writing this tome, which I realised would become one of many doorstopper tomes that everyone feels is worthy and no-one actually reads. My e-bike journey is at a very early stage (see the separate blog on easywheeling.com) but I thought it was important to take a stand by trying to go electric.

The Covid-19 crisis persuaded everyone I knew that they had been right all along ! It was like the mirror in the fairytale that told you only what you wanted to hear.

Aspirant Greens saw the collapse of the fossil fuel house of cards as energy demand plummeted and renewables took over. Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry retrenched as it always does, shedding staff to deal with prices that were half what they had enjoyed before the crash, but confident that market mechanisms would see a revival of oil and gas demand over time.

My goal now is, as it was at the start, to explain the industry inside and out, to the best of my ability. But I want to do this through talking with people, not about technologies, but what motivates them — that mysterious thing called “purpose” that reflects our humanity, and makes us so much more than the statistical noise that economists use in their model. I am deeply aligned with Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics, and I see the energy industry as a vehicle serving the needs and (often irrational) choices of people and communities.

This website is more extensive than I had originally planned, but it’s not because I have teams of people working for me. I have just drawn on the many materials I put out during my career as a journalist and analyst. But I hope it conveys my passion for the subject. Inevitably, because of the bias towards the large-scale players, it will take a while to develop my focus on people and communities. But it will happen over time. As well as delivering high-quality courses for energy professionals, I am determined to engage as much with communities, schools and even individuals, and to share what I have learned over the last thirty years so that everyone is better informed, I hope I will visit some of you on my electric bike.

 

Training and Mentoring

Resource Economist provides training, coaching and mentoring services for companies involved in energy and natural resources. 

Catalytic Learning

Resource Economist training courses cover all aspects of crude oil, refined products, natural gas and LNG, energy market fundamentals, power fuels and new energy. We specialize in delivering courses on market analysis, valuation and pricing, trading, forecasting and risk management.

Our courses involve delegates from the start in an active and participatory learning experience. Rather than the doctor-patient approach used by many training organizations, Resource Economist uses active learning methods based on coaching to maximize the knowledge and skills of delegates.

We recognize and actively harness the experience of all participants in the courses, creating a learning space that allows delegates to take risks and stretch their skills.

We work closely with companies to structure learning programmes that use their own in-house expertise to disseminate knowledge and skills. We do this through training videos, recorded interviews and written materials based on meetings with staff.

Coaching and mentoring

Resource Economist maintains contacts with experienced people across the energy sector who can coach and mentor individuals and teams.

Peter is a qualified executive coach and holds a PG Cert from Middlesex University in Psychosynthesis Leadership Coaching. He has provided mentoring to colleagues throughout his career, and is an enthusiastic advocate of using coaching as a way to motivate staff, as individuals and in teams.

Although they are often regarded as interchangeable, coaching and mentoring are actually quite different. Mentoring typically involves someone with experience passing on domain expertise, often as a way to supplement class-room knowledge with first-hand practical experience. Coaching typically is focussed more on attitudes than knowledge. A coach will seek to help an individual (or a team) to find answers from within. The focus is not so much on objective facts but on subjective realities, mindsets and feelings.

Finding the best way to help your staff or colleagues maximize their potential is one of the most important but also the most difficult challenges faced by companies. There is no single answer. Please call us to discuss your requirement.

 

Research and Consulting

Resource Economist provides top-class research on the key issues driving the energy and natural resource markets, with a particular focus on the interface between traditional fossil fuels and new energies such as wind, solar and geothermal.

Resource Economist is a corporate member of the British Institute of Energy Economics, and Peter has been a member of the BIEE Council since 2014 and has worked on a number of BIEE committees seeking members and sponsors, and organising the annual research and policy conferences in Oxford and London.

Resource Economist publishes research studies, white papers and briefings on energy pricing, data transparency, people and skills in the energy sector, and governance issues related to the development of energy and natural resources.

Peter has been an energy analyst for more than 30 years, and is a frequent speaker at industry events on oil and gas, as well as more recently on the energy transition. He provides advisory services as an associate at third-party consulting firms.

 

Rather than the doctor-patient approach used by many training organizations, Resource Economist uses active learning methods based on coaching to maximize the knowledge and skills of delegates.

 A coach will seek to help an individual (or a team) to find answers from within. The focus is not so much on objective facts but on subjective realities, mindsets and feelings

Peter is a qualified executive coach and holds a PG Cert from Middlesex University in Psychosynthesis Leadership Coaching. He has provided mentoring to colleagues throughout his career, and is an enthusiastic advocate of using coaching as a way to motivate staff, as individuals and in teams.

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The BIEE’s bi-annual research conference will be held on March 30-31, 2021. The 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.

Concrete Steps (Still) Needed

The article below was carried in the December 2018 edition of Power Fuels Tracker, an Interfax publication of which I was editor. Most of the content is still (sadly) relevant.

By Peter Stewart, Interfax Chief Energy Analyst
“Don’t divide the skin while it’s still on the bear.” The 20,000-plus delegates and negotiators attending the COP24 climate summit in the Polish city of Katowice on 3-14 December, 2018 – the third such conference to be held since the 2015 Paris agreement – would do well to bear this Polish proverb in mind.

The Paris agreement, which aims to limit global warning to 1.5C, has been signed by 197 countries and ratified by 184. Significant progress has been made on defining what the agreement means for individual nations. But tangible results, in terms of concrete new steps to slow climate change, have been lacking.

At Katowice, the dialogue will enter a political phase that will provide guidance and a framework for nations to implement the Paris agreement. That will mean reviewing progress to date, fleshing out the actions needed to implement the agreement’s work programme and formulating these in a rulebook.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has outlined some of the key issues that will need to be resolved in Katowice. These include how emissions will be mitigated as part of nationally determined contributions (NDCs); drawing up the transparency framework for action and support; how developed countries will provide finance; making a ‘global stocktake’ on the efforts countries have made to mitigate climate change; the development of cooperative approaches, such as a new market mechanism; and the creation of shared timeframes for countries to submit and/or update their NDCs.

The trouble with this strategy is that it provides a recipe for further talks about talks rather than creating immediate action to limit climate change.

There are two risks in this approach. The first is that momentum could be lost – support from governments and the public for action on climate change could wane unless there is clear evidence that the international consensus is resulting in firm action. The second is that, rather like the prospects for emerging technologies such as algal fuels and carbon capture and storage (CCS), the promise of future benefits could become an ever-receding mirage. While it may be reassuring to hear that action will perhaps be taken in the future, this provides no guarantee that any actual steps are being taken to limit climate change.

The political consensus behind the Paris agreement was always fragile, and the impetus for a deal happened largely because of a consensus between the United States and China – albeit as a result of different drivers.
The US is one of the world’s major polluters, but while former President Barack Obama backed the deal in 2015, his successor Donald Trump has withdrawn his support. Brazil has also stepped back. There is now a risk that those who only want to pay lip service to the deal can stall indefinitely. Protest groups such as Extinction Rebellion in the UK have started to take direct action to drive climate change higher up the political agenda because they feel governments are being too slow.

The stakes are high. They were raised even higher in October, when the latest International Panel on Climate Change report described the catastrophic results of a temperature rise of above 1.5C. The Paris agreement committed nations to limiting global warming to 2C above pre-industrial levels, but also committed them to pursue efforts to limit the rise to 1.5C.

Immediate action is required to limit fossil fuel consumption if the more ambitious target is to be met. However, this does not yet appear to be high on the agenda at Katowice. The aim at COP24 is to secure agreement on three declarations, to be adopted either by heads of state or at a ministerial level. These cover forests, electric vehicles and the ‘just transition’ – a policy to ensure that the shift to green energy does not hurt the workers and communities that rely on outmoded industries such as coal. A high-level dialogue on climate finance will also take place.

Meanwhile, the Talanoa dialogue – which was launched at COP23 under the presidency of the Republic of Fiji – will end. Based on the Pacific concept of ‘talanoa’ – storytelling that leads to consensus-building and decision-making – the dialogue aims to ensure that countries enhance their NDCs by 2020 by allowing non-state actors to submit ideas. But there is a risk that the consensus resulting from the dialogue will be a fiction, rather than firm commitments for action.

Katowice itself is a kind of microcosm of the environmental challenges that will dominate the discussions. The town became wealthy in the 19th century from mining coal from the nearby mountains. In the Soviet era, heavy industry such as steel manufacturing was developed, resulting in severe urban pollution. Although it is now developing renewable energy, Poland has resisted steps to curtail its coal industry because it is supported by a powerful political lobby. Many NDCs identify ‘clean coal’ as a preferred way to meet their climate targets.
Poland could blaze a trail by tightening controls on stack emissions, and by embracing CCS and related technologies as priority investments. Or it could act now by setting a schedule for shutting down older coal plants.

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