E-FWDThe E-FWD logo.

deep dive

‘What is being created is critical’

E-FWD LAUNCH EVENT: Founding members reflect on a unique evening of open, honest dialogue on the North Sea energy transition.

There is nothing new about industries demanding more from governments, and it is rare for any administration in Westminster to be told everything is fine and they are doing a great job. But the gulf between what North Sea industry energy leaders need and what is currently on the table has reached chasmic proportions.

This was the overriding message that emerged from the inaugural E-FWD members event, held last Thursday in central Aberdeen. The sold-out gathering brought together 50 founding members from across the North Sea energy transition space with political leaders past and present, and the team behind the E-FWD brand.

Held under Chatham House rules, the launch provided a discreet space for open and honest dialogue on what’s working in the North Sea energy transition, what’s not, and how to fix the many bottlenecks.

It was an excellent kick off session and I think what is being created is critical.

E-FWD founding member

Lord Deben, the ex-Chairman of the Climate Change Committee, gave a whirlwind speech about how sustainability is becoming an overriding business imperative. He spoke eloquently about the way in which coherent energy policymaking has fallen victim to sharp shifts in the ‘Overton window’ of post-Brexit UK political discourse, and the risks of failing to capture the economic supply chain opportunities inherent in the race to net zero.

Lord Deben speaks during the E-FWD launch event.

This was followed by a presentation of the CCUS Country Attractiveness Index, produced by E-FWD in partnership with Gaffney Cline, and a panel debate about what the UK must do to improve its ranking in future iterations of the index.

Great questioning… I really, really enjoyed the whole thing. Quite different from the usual, good discussion and great insight! Job well done!

E-FWD founding member

Over dinner, in the glorious atrium of the Aberdeen Art Gallery, the Rt Hon Gordon Brown spoke at length about the historic role of the North Sea in supporting coastal communities and transforming lives in the most deprived areas of the UK. The ex-prime minister also shared his vision for how the North Sea can continue to do so, even as oil and gas production winds down. 

It was wonderful to attend the E-FWD event today… It was the first time I have ever heard an intelligent and forward-thinking conversation about the energy transition.

E-FWD founding member
Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown addresses E-FWD founder members at the Aberdeen Art Gallery.
Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown addresses E-FWD founder members at the Aberdeen Art Gallery.

Food for thought

Members participated in wide-ranging conversations on everything from the dangers of over-reliance on Chinese supply chains to the philosophical challenges of finding hope in a chaotic and unpredictable world. They contributed to dynamic and open debates on the merits of carbon storage versus utilisation, and what can be done – on a practical level – to maintain delivery momentum in an era so devoid of the kind of political leadership needed to drive progress.

The crying need for a credible vision for the future of the North Sea was a recurring theme. Entrepreneurs and business leaders voiced over and again their hunger to seize the many opportunities that the offshore energy transition offers the UK, if only there was a coherent plan to drive investment to where it is most needed.

In the absence of that, those with mobile capital are hedging their bets and beefing up teams that can deliver at scale in the EU and US, where credible visions of a green industrial renaissance are backed up by proportionate support regimes and quid-pro-quo regulations.

Aberdeen Art Gallery

‘The vision thing’

Subsidy regimes – whether capital or revenue support, fiscal incentives or something else – are hard to get right and require endless tweaking and iteration. The back-and-forth between industry, officials and ministers in search of the right balance is all part and parcel of operating in a heavily regulated sector of the economy.

But the bugbear of E-FWD members, judging by comments expressed from stage and over dinner, is not about the specific technicalities of the Contracts for Difference (CfDs) regime or the merits of CCUS cluster sequencing (although these topics were on people’s lips too).

No. It is the lack of direction. The lack of purpose and urgency. The lack of what US president George H.W. Bush famously referred to as “the vision thing”.

Crowd watches panel session at the E-FWD launch event.

We all know that seeing off the worst effects of climate change is a race against time. What is less appreciated – among a segment of the political class, at least – is that the economic prize in doing so will be won by those countries that move fastest. Those that achieve momentum. Those that are decisive and unwavering in their support of strategic industries. Those that actually have a strategic plan.

The UK government’s recent flip-flop on net zero, and the prime minister’s attempt to paint decarbonisation as a culture war issue, merely confirmed what was clear to see: there is no grand vision for low-carbon industries, no zeal to seize the initiative, no capacity to look beyond the next election.

Breaking down policy silos 

That doesn’t mean nothing is happening. On the contrary, officials in Westminster have been working overtime and there are signs of progress on many policy fronts. A bumper Autumn Statement delivered several noteworthy wins for energy transition investors: an exemption for new projects from the Energy Generation Levy (EGL, AKA the ‘windfall tax); a smorgasbord of grid reforms in a Connections Action Plan; proposals for a Strategic Spatial Energy Plan to cut build time for new infrastructure projects; and an extension of tax relief on capital investments.

(L-R) Energy Voice emerging markets editor Ed Reed; Gaffney Cline’s Dr Raeid Jewad; Alistair Macfarlane, Manager, UK Carbon Transportation & Storage, North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA); Beena Sharma, CEO and Co-Founder, CCU International; Steve Murphy, Chief Commercial Officer, Storegga.

All these developments are welcome. But in the absence of an overarching vision, ministers are perpetuating the uncoordinated and siloed approach to market intervention that for too long has characterised the UK approach to energy policymaking.

We are already looking ahead to our next members-only event in February, which will include a special focus on offshore wind. With this in mind, E-FWD will continue to hold to account the political leaders whose job it is to define a purpose for the North Sea in the UK’s economic and energy future – and provide a space that fosters fruitful, solutions-oriented dialogue.

Further details about the next in-person event will be shared with members over the coming weeks.

Related Content