Empowering the next generation of energy leaders

As COP26 approaches, the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and 2050 ambitions of the Paris Agreement are once again at the forefront of global discussions. And there has never been a more important time for the voices of tomorrow’s energy leaders to be heard, says Jonathan Dyble

The 26th annual United Nations Climate Change summit (COP26) represents a critical milestone in the grand scheme of energy industry history.

Taking place in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November 2021, its agenda will cover a series of global issues in the aim of accelerating collective action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. And its outcomes will have profound, far-reaching impacts on businesses and consumers the world over.

Indeed, the next decade will be defining for the energy sector. Between the targets of affordable and clean energy for all by 2030, which are outlined by Sustainable Development Goal 7, and the commitments of more than 70 countries to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, the industry as we know it will be transformed to accommodate climate-centric demands.

As that transition unfolds, many of today’s energy leaders will step down, paving the way for future leaders to step forward and take the mantle. And it is the views, goals, aspirations, values and visions of this next generation that should be heard today. What are their calls for action? And how will traditional energy respond?

To help answer these critical questions and get an accurate idea of what the energy industry could look like in one, two or even three decades, we asked some of the brightest minds in the sector today what’s important, and what the future of energy should look like.

From climate action, energy equality and social empowerment to developing the skills of the next generation of the industry, here’s what they had to say. 


Katarina Balcova, Marketing Manager and CRM Key User, TÜV SÜD Energietechnik; EIC Rising Star 2020. Having always been interested in different cultures, languages and travelling, Katarina opted to study international relations – a degree that landed her a job in the nuclear energy division of the global testing, inspection and certification company TÜV SÜD.Today she acts as the firm’s Marketing Manager, having made a profound impact in helping to propel the sustainability agenda, communicating the issue with various energy industry stakeholders internationally.


In your view, what are the critical issues concerning global energy today?

The critical issue from my point of view is short-sightedness. We focus more on immediate profit and think less about the future consequences, despite having known for many years that we need to reduce carbon emissions. Progress is still too slow. If we want to reach the UN Sustainable Development Goals, we need to focus more on solutions and the incredible technological advancements that have already been made. Formulating clear concepts and communicating them transparently will be key.

In your view, how can these issues be addressed?

With education and transparency. We need to educate people on sustainable clothing, food, transportation and investment choices.

Every single one of us matters. Sometimes we feel like we are too small to change anything, but that is not true. Of course, the biggest impacts stem from governments and big corporations, but I believe that when we start with individuals, we begin to influence families, small companies, big corporations and governments.



Can you summarise your key vision for a successful, sustainable energy future for all?

A successful, sustainable energy future will comprise many aspects. We must focus on further developing and transitioning to renewable energy sources, as well as improving energy efficiency and energy-saving solutions. New technologies such as small modular reactors or carbon capture utilisation and storage will also be valuable additions to the mix.


Hannah Mary Goodlad, Head of Baltic Sea Area Development, Equinor. Hannah Mary is a senior leader within Equinor Renewables, heading up the company’s Baltic Sea development efforts, and part of the Energy Institute’s Young Professionals Network, including its Future Energy 500 (FE500) project. FE500 looks at how young professionals are ‘stepping up to the challenge of our time’ and actively working towards a better future for all. The project works to showcase the energy transition underway across diverse regions, delivering a powerful message of global solidarity, ingenuity, and ambition.


What inspired you to get involved in the energy industry?

The energy industry is often viewed as part of the problem when addressing climate change, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. With innovation and problem solving built into its DNA, the sector holds the key to many of the solutions the world needs. We, as future leaders in the industry, are passionate about how we can be part of this solution and shape the future of energy for the better.

Can you summarise your key vision for a successful, sustainable energy future for all?

This has to be the decade for choice and change – to limit global warming, put our planet back on track and pivot towards a future that is fairer, cleaner and more secure for all. We live in an unbalanced world where 15% of the population has two-thirds of the income and uses one-third of the energy. If the other 85% copy those lifestyles, there is no hope for a sustainable future. We need to rebalance, and this will come at a cost.

Asking the world’s poorest countries to sacrifice economic growth for the sake of containing greenhouse gas emissions is not an option. Most of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals call for faster growth in these countries to improve quality of life, reduce inequality and enhance sustainability. This means that in a world prioritising sustainability, the world’s wealthier nations need to shoulder the bulk of the adjustments – something that will require a mindset change fit for the future, ambitious education, radical policy shake-up and levels of global collaboration that society has never experienced before.


Ben Richardson, Director, ACCEDO Group Ltd; EIC Rising Star 2018. Ben started his career in manufacturing as an apprentice before moving into engineering design and completing a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. Upon graduating, he joined Alpha Process Controls in 2012, eventually becoming Design Manager in 2017. In 2019 he started an MBA at Aberdeen’s RGU and, in May 2020, completed a management buy-out of Alpha Process Controls and Aldona Products from GT Group with his business partner.


How do you view the energy industry today? What are the key challenges?

Energy transition is a huge challenge. It’s one thing to be ‘on board’ but quite another having the resources to put infrastructure in place that can make change happen. Everyone needs to be working to the same ends, but not everyone is in a position to purchase a brand-new electric vehicle or have their appliances replaced with hydrogen-friendly technologies.

If the UK can show that it can be done, it would be a positive marker. Unless we can make these technologies cheaper, and governments across the globe help both businesses and the general populous to afford the move to cleaner energy, we can’t get there.

What needs to change?

Setting a positive example is key. That doesn’t just mean large steps such as installing solar panels on our houses – it also means being more energy conscious. It means wearing a jumper instead of turning the heating on, walking instead of driving, and only boiling enough water to make the amount of coffee we intend to drink. Those are things we seem to have forgotten how to do in our age of convenience.

I’d like to see a future where we can continue to live our lives unrestricted, without damaging our planet, but that’s not something that’s likely to happen soon. The key is technology, but it’s going to take time. That said, sitting and waiting for things to happen while we continue to be wasteful simply isn’t going to cut it.


Daniel Gear, Director, Voar Energy; EIC Rising Star 2017. Daniel’s interest in the energy sector stemmed from writing a book about community reaction to a large wind farm development in Shetland in 2009. He began studying as a mechanical engineer by night class, and joined Petrofac as a piping designer. Today Daniel is founder and Director of Voar Energy, a low-carbon project business focused on major developments in Shetland; looks after Peterson Offshore Group’s Shetland business; and sits on the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board.


What are key questions need to be asked of the energy industry today?

For me, these need to relate to sustainability priorities, emissions and the energy transition: how do we arrest the activities driving climate change as quickly and as fairly as possible? How do we correct a market failure, wherein the people who have contributed least to the problem of climate change now find themselves paying the highest price, both literally and metaphorically?

How big is the challenge in question?

It is huge, but it’s also a huge opportunity. We have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hit the reset button and build new industries and systems designed not to cause harm, use resources with consideration, and do so fairly. Contributions to this system depend on the contributors. In places such as Shetland and Orkney, it’s about community – local businesses grabbing opportunities to develop skills and grow locally-focused delivery capability into something exportable. In engineering and construction, there are lots of partnerships appearing between technology businesses, service companies, and even developers.

Can you summarise your key vision for a successful, sustainable energy future for all? What might this look like? And what is important to you?

It’s a combination of doing no harm and grabbing the opportunity to build a global energy system that supports the environment and people, regardless of how distant their shores are. We need to create an energy system where any harmful waste that leaves the system (such as greenhouse gas) is recaptured. Achieving that is about forming the right partnerships, being inclusive in your approach, and moving quickly to understand which part of the no-harm system you want to create. It’s also about action – financing, designing and building, as well as people, businesses and governments singing from the same hymn sheet.

Supporting the next generation of energy leaders

For these visions to move from ideology to reality, the young leaders of today must be given the right platforms and resources to be truly heard. Thankfully, the energy industry is striving to meet the expectations of such individuals in several ways.

The Energy Institute’s Young Professionals Network (YPN), which Hannah Mary Goodlad and several other professionals are engaged with, is a prime example. Aimed at supporting those aged 18–35 in the earlier stages of their career, the programme runs activities ranging from technical panel sessions to soft skills development initiatives, helping young professionals develop and hone their skillsets.

“We try to give young people exposure to the skills that will help them learn, network and grow,” explains Denis Pinto, Managing Director of Caledonian Flow Systems and founder of the Aberdeen, Highland and Islands YPN. “We give them the tools to become future energy leaders and entrepreneurs.”

The YPN aims to stimulate conversation around, and address, the issues discussed in this article, from energy transition to equal opportunities to circular economies.

“Last year, we ran a number of online sessions on net zero and the energy transition. This year we came up with our FE500 project to showcase the energy transition at COP26,” Pinto says.

Ian Phillips, Development Director at Storegga, is also passionate about helping the next generation of energy professionals.Having worked for 20 years for companies such as Shell and BP, Phillips became a founding Director of CO2DeepStore in 2007, seeking to deliver carbon capture storage at a time when it was not widely supported. He is now part of Scotland’s biggest hydrogen and carbon capture initiative, the Acorn Project, and has a passion for helping young people accelerate their careers in engineering.

“We need to encourage smart young people to become the future workforce and leaders for the energy transition, and provide the new skills and capabilities required for delivering the net-zero agenda,” Phillips explains. “Young people want ‘something’ to be done and are looking for careers where they can contribute to energy transition. We see this with those joining the renewables and low-carbon sector. As Greta Thunberg put it: ‘You must take action. You must do the impossible. Because giving up is never an option.’”

The tide is turning

The Acorn Project, YPN and Future Energy 500 are not alone. Globally, numerous initiatives support the aspirations and opportunities of young energy professionals – the Sustainable Energy Youth Network, Student Energy, the World Energy Council’s Future Energy Leaders initiative, and Young Professionals in Energy all stand as examples. They show that the tide is starting to turn.

Governments and companies are waking up to young people’s demands. There is growing recognition that addressing emissions in a fair, logical manner must be the priority, and that a significant proportion of young people simply won’t want to work in oil and gas and fossil fuel-burning enterprises, or for companies that are failing to contribute to a greener world.

We have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hit the reset button Daniel Gear, Director, Voar Energy

“The challenge is that we have to deliver this transition in a just manner,” says Phillips. “Fuel poverty, regional inequalities and skills shortages are issues in society today – we need to ensure that the enormous investments in energy transition improves rather than exacerbates this reality.”

Should organisations want to attract the best and brightest talent, they must not only consider what they are doing to address the climate crisis, but also consider how they are doing it.  

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