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Gemma Stanley, Comms and Policy Manager at Piclo: Energy market myth busters

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ARTICLE SUMMARY

In a world of fake news, Gemma Stanley, Comms and Policy Manager at Piclo, takes a look at some of the biggest energy myths and scopes out the truth.

At Piclo, I am responsible for our policy and communications, which means keeping up to date with what is happening across flexibility markets in the UK and internationally. Before this, I worked as a senior policy analyst at Solar Energy UK and as a regulatory analyst at a renewable energy supplier.

Gemma from Piclo
Gemma Stanley, Piclo

Myth 1: We can’t run the world on renewable energy

I hear this narrative quite often and my initial response is that it should never be a matter of if we can or cannot, it’s a must. And that shift in perspective is becoming the norm. Yes, there is still a lot of work to do to get there. For example, we need a lot more enabling technologies such as battery storage on the grid to help meet demand and we need more policy and regulatory support to move us forward at the pace we need to avoid climate disaster. But this transition won’t happen overnight, and Piclo Flex is a great example of a solution accelerating the decarbonisation of our energy networks, one that allows more low carbon technologies like renewables and electric vehicles onto the system and transitions us to net zero in a way that is cost-effective and minimises risks such as blackouts.

This year, more than any, we’ve seen the importance of having diversity in our energy sources and the impact on society from high prices. This is the perfect opportunity to reignite our efforts for installing renewables across the UK, removing the barriers slowing the pace of this and creating a fair and sustainable future.

Myth 2: Net Zero is going to be expensive

To tackle this question head on with respect to the cost of living crisis and rocketing energy bills, the costs we are incurring are not related to decarbonisation. There is a lot of finger-pointing to green initiatives at the moment as to why we are facing these costs but these do not hold up under scrutiny.

More generally, when talking about the cost of net zero, I encourage you to think of the counterfactual; what is the cost of doing nothing? What is the cost of mitigating the disastrous consequences that will impact all intersections of life? More often than not, this counterfactual isn’t evaluated in Government proposals for new decarbonisation initiatives, so it’s easy to just focus on the cost of projects or ideas. This kind of analysis is essential to really understand the true impact.

But beyond this, it’s worth noting that renewables such as solar PV, onshore and offshore wind have proven for some time to be the cheapest sources of generation and technologies such as batteries are on a similar downward cost trajectory.

Plus there is constant and exciting innovation advancing cost-effective solutions. Take the case of flexibility, as we decarbonise, our grids can face more stress in balancing demand and supply. The traditional solution would be to build more physical infrastructure to reinforce our grids – but this can be very expensive. Yet instead, flexibility can use homes, businesses, EVs, heat pumps, or renewables connected to the networks to help balance the grids as a smarter, more efficient and cost-effective alternative.

Myth 3: I can’t have impact

As much as I am an advocate for taking responsibility to reduce your carbon footprint (e.g. I have cut out meat and dairy and try to avoid fast fashion) as it can make a legitimate difference en masse, I can understand the powerlessness you can feel seeing big companies and wealthy individuals (that probably total your annual footprint in a day alone) evade accountability. But it does not mean that we can’t have an impact!

The biggest takeaway I can advise when feeling like this is to focus on your actions that can drive systemic changes. Two ways I do this are: through political engagement (this can be anything from voting to protesting, organising or discussions with friends and family on environmental points) and through choosing to work for a company that is driving progress on a system-wide basis.

At Piclo, we have a collective perspective that we are not powerless against climate change and I’ve found working in the policy space has been a great example of this. Take the commitment of net zero by 2050 that the UK and many European countries have signed up to. When getting into the fine details of this, it’s clear there’s still a lot more to figure out. Flexibility has been identified as an important part of the tool belt to get us there cost-effectively, but many countries do not have policy or regulatory frameworks set up for local flexibility markets.

Piclo’s experience is helping to drive the development of these markets in the UK and internationally, and is having a real impact on the decarbonisation of the networks. Part of my role feeds into this, which can mean sitting in cross-collaboration sessions with various policy experts and stakeholders or responding to consultations with evidence, insight and suggestions. It can be a long-winded process at times that involves open-mindedness and collaboration, but it’s fulfilling to see how my role has been able to influence more clarity on the direction we should take to get to those net zero milestones.

Myth 4: Energy is a ‘traditional’ sector

The transition to a net zero future means there is far more evolution on the energy sector’s horizon for this decade than in the last century. I think the sector is transitioning from being one of the most traditional sectors, to being one of the most progressive and future-focused areas to work for. The energy sector often talks about the 4Ds: decarbonisation, decentralisation, digitalisation and democratisation, and these are helpful to understand why change has been catalysed so much in recent years.

These four trends mean we are not only seeing successful innovation and new companies emerging that can provide low-carbon solutions, but we are also seeing the older, more established companies adapt. Take car brands, they are all investing in EV vehicles. Take our energy generation and distribution, which prior to our net zero commitments, was centralised and closed off to a small number of stakeholders. With the adoption of greater renewable sources of energy, such as the ~970,000 homes with solar on them, our energy networks are now varied, decentralised and diverse.

As are those participating in the sector: the homeowners, the businesses like supermarkets or breweries installing renewables to decarbonise their own footprint, the community groups or local authorities looking to batteries and aggregation are all far from traditional energy players. Excitingly, this shows the playing field is starting to even and the doors to participate are widening open. No longer lie a select number of decision makers to influence the future of our networks. New business models and customers are coming in full force, such as the Flexibility Service Providers on Piclo Flex, who provide GWs of flexible energy back into our systems.

Digitalisation too has opened up the sector considerably. Take Piclo, our software solutions are making our grid systems more ‘21st century’, streamlining the complex, slow and ineffective processes that existed before. By adopting more digital approaches, the energy sector has also opened up to a wider array of multi-disciplinaries, with new pushes for UX designers, software developers and innovation managers.

Myth 5: Companies in the energy sector are hierarchical, bureaucratic and corporate

When I started working for Piclo, I was pleasantly surprised at how wrong some of my preconceived notio
ns were about electricity network decarbonisation. Everybody equally cares about what you contribute and how we can be a part of the mission. Here you are approaching old challenges in new ways, fresh perspectives, with diverse experiences and different backgrounds.

It was great to see team members embody and actively promote our company values. Collaboration, being human and pushing boundaries (as examples) are ones that really stuck out to me. I felt like my voice was not only heard but encouraged, no idea is stupid. People were open to providing feedback, across teams, which facilitates a critical thinking culture. But all done with empathy, meaning the relationships I established with my colleagues were grounded in respect and where we all understood that everyone is human – with all the flaws and limitations that come along with that!

But I can’t deny that working at a start/scale up is a part of this progressive culture. I’ve been able to get my hands dirty and stuck in many pots, which has allowed me to gain responsibilities and develop skills that I would not usually do in a more corporate setting. I’ve been able to attend events where I present, speak and represent Piclo. I have helped shape Piclo’s strategy and approach toward policy. I have been able to lead teams and individuals. But the most meaningful facet is that I get to help this company as it scales up. Piclo is undergoing rapid growth. And being in the heart of it means that I can leave a legacy behind and say that I was able to contribute to that growth and impact!

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Georgina Denis is the CEO and co-founder of PSI, the collective intelligence platform eliminating bias in group decision-making.