Q&A with Andrew Crossland
To mark the release of DEIs Podcast with Andrew Crossland, founder of MyGridGB and DEI Alumnus, we asked him some questions about his inspirations and views on UKs progress towards decarbonising our Electricity mix.
In DEI Online Diaries #1 Dr Andrew Crossland speaks with Dr Britta Turner, both Alumni of Durham Energy Institute's Centre for Doctoral Training in Energy about his research, his career to date, creating MyGridGB and his recent book on Decarbonising Electricity.
Tracking the energy mix is not just important, it’s exciting! Transitioning our whole way of life to a sustainable footing in just 30 years will be an achievement akin to putting man on the moon – although perhaps without the same glamour! It’s ambitious, affects all of us and relies on innovation that we can barely imagine.
The energy innovations in the UK and abroad are so inspiring. I’d love to host a TV documentary about some of them one day!
I believe that it’s our duty as engineers and scientists to provide unbiased data to help people make good decisions – whether in energy, physics or when dealing with new viruses!
When I was doing my PhD at Durham, people would always ask me what is the point in wind turbines when they are not spinning all the time or how solar could ever help us get energy in the winter. I had the data that gave people the answers, and felt that it was important to get that data out to people.
MyGridGB makes very simple data about electricity accessible. It’s a really nice product and I’m excited about developing it further.
The UK likes to celebrate decarbonisation journey. The British electricity system now gets more than 55% of its energy from low carbon sources. Carbon emissions have almost halved in 10 years. Coal supplies just 2.3% of our annual supply. You can see this transition for yourself at http://www.mygridgb.co.uk/historicaldata/
New stories about no coal from power stations or record volumes of renewables make the headlines. I sense a strong public support for sustainable, affordable energy through my followers on MyGridGB.
However, the UK isn’t capitalising on our early gains and our carbon emissions are sky high. We’re hopelessly inefficient with our use of energy – particularly in the heat and transport sectors. Rates of adoption of domestic solar PV have also stalled despite these allowing homes to achieve 2030 carbon targets today in some cases. I see no real strategy to reduce energy poverty in the UK.
In short, the transition appears to be stalling. Our work in low carbon energy around the world shows that the best way of affecting decarbonisation is to create the right climate for investment and the era for a subsidy is over. I’d urge the UK Government to urgently look at the mechanisms it can put in place to accelerate investment in decarbonisation in this decade to achieve its ambitions.
To achieve decarbonisation, we have to recognise that energy takes capital expenditure that isn’t accessible to many of us. Coming out of COVID-19, the low carbon energy sector should be poised to support thousands of skilled jobs.
Around the world, we have to accelerate investment in low carbon technology. Everything stems from that whether it is research, construction or economic development.
There’s always been talk of the energy trilemma which says that new energy needs to be affordable, sustainable and secure. That means that by 2050, the energy system to be sustainable and needs to do its part to help address some of the fundamental inequalities in our society.
However, I personally think that this mantra misses the importance of energy access. A future energy system needs to help address poverty and to help all of us to live fulfilling lives. There’s a huge societal divide in the UK with millions unable to heat their homes. That situation is exasperated in other parts of the world. At the same time, the wealthy are consuming more and more unsustainable energy – sometimes to do genuinely incredible things.
The future of energy to me is about ensuring expanded access to all.
Energy is only successful when we understand how it impacts lives and business. This manifests through good engineering and science as well as through good business cases and social science. You need to have an interdisciplinary team make energy systems work – whether on a remote island in The Pacific or grid scale solar in the UK. Durham University taught me how to work with all disciplines and in my professional life I’m respected for my ability to pull different teams together to try and achieve a common goal.
Infratec have to be one of the leading organisation in the world that nobody has heard of. With less than 30 employees, we work in over 10 countries in The Pacific – and even did some consulting for a company in the UK in Teesside! We focus on specialist development, construction and commissioning of low carbon energy projects be that grid scale solar in New Zealand, supporting utilities in Indonesia or building networks/generation for decarbonising Pacific Islands.
My work centres on being an internal consultant – so in the morning I might be helping our amazing operations team to understand how to build a control system for batteries and in the afternoon it might be speaking to investors in large solar farms. The challenge with that is remaining focused and tempering my own excitement to get involved with everything Infratec does!
The context of energy in New Zealand itself is interesting – the Government is very progressive and there’s a real desire to transition to 100% renewable energy. The next five years in New Zealand could be really interesting with growth in solar, wind, hydrogen, battery storage and marine technologies all being developed. Being a relatively small population, it’s easy to be recognised as a specialist in your field and as such it creates great opportunity for all of our staff to really shine and get the best out of themselves.
It will be interesting bringing that to the UK one day.
I’ve definitely continued to be a massive energy geek since I studied with the DEI. I now run a consultancy company in the UK called Advance Further Energy Limited. People value our interdisciplinary skills and as such we’ve attracted organisations as diverse as startups in Kenya seeking advice on microgrid business models to developers of battery storage in the UK. I’m also really proud to have developed the new MCS standard for calculating the returns from solar and storage for all UK homes (which you can try here http://app.solarhomecalculator.co.uk/).
These projects only happen because of the good people I’ve been lucky to meet. I’m grateful for that.