Can you tell us your background before you joined ESO?
I’m a chemist by training! I studied at Oxford and after completing my studies I had the choice to stay in academia and complete a PhD or leave and go into business. I chose the latter and started working in forensic research for the Police doing real life CSI work!
We developed new forensic techniques and wrote the manual that all UK police forensic laboratories use. The techniques in the manual cover the situations police forces deal with day to day, but sometimes they would be faced with something they had never seen before and the officer at the crime scene would ring us to ask for advice.
I wanted to broaden my experience and develop new skills. I got part funding to do an MBA in the evenings and weekends and became really interested in clean tech and low carbon energy.
Once I’d finished my MBA in 2007 I left and joined a small clean tech start up making a fuel cell based low carbon heating product for homes. Because it was a small company, I got to do a lot of different things. I started doing market analysis, techno-economic modelling and reviewing competitors, then moved into corporate strategy, government relations and investor relations.
After this start up, I went into low carbon consulting, mainly looking at energy technologies and energy system modelling for a decarbonised future.
I’ve enjoyed all my roles despite them being very different. It was brilliant to be able to move from helping to build a new energy technology start-up to designing innovation support for technologies like that, which the energy system will need for future generations.
Working at the ESO is great because I feel that now I can use that experience to make a difference. We can lead the way and show the world that zero carbon is achievable.
What does your role as ESO Strategy Manager entail?
I was headhunted to join the ESO in 2016 after working on smart electricity system consulting projects. I was told that they were setting up new strategy and innovation teams from scratch. It sounded like my dream job, so I leapt at the opportunity.
I thought I already knew the business quite well, but I didn’t anticipate what a complicated a organisation it is! In my first year I got a lot of help from more experienced colleagues to understand how all the things we do fit together and in my second year I did a six-month course in power systems engineering which gave me a better foundation.
Mainly I work on the early stages of projects, framing the problems and helping the company decide what direction to take. The implementation gets handed to other teams – sometimes the innovation team, sometimes operational teams.
I’ve been working on understanding some of the big changes that will happen in system operation as we move towards net zero, in particular clean heat and other whole energy system issues. Decarbonising power generation is hard, decarbonising transport will be harder, but decarbonising heat will be hardest of all, and we need a whole system strategy that makes all of those transitions work together efficiently and securely.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you?
I think I have been lucky and I’ve had an easier time this year than many people. My work is largely thinking and talking to colleagues, which I can do virtually. I miss meeting people face to face, but it helped that I’ve been in the business a while and had already built some strong relationships before lockdown. It makes virtual interaction a lot easier.
Also, I mainly think about the issues coming 10-20 years in the future, which are not as affected by the pandemic as the issues we face in real time and have to plan for over the next year, the ones that the operational teams work on.
Personally, I’ve not been too badly hit by either of the lockdowns. Home schooling whilst working from home during the first lockdown was a big challenge. But I live in South London, so I have a long commute to any of our offices. Since that has stopped it’s been nice to see my kids much more and exercise more often. I do miss the chats at the kettle though!