Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Professor John Loughhead, Chief Scientific Advisor for DECC comes to Birmingham

Yesterday, the chief scientific advisor for DECC, Professor John Loughhead, came to Birmingham to speak as the first in a series of lectures run by the Birmingham Energy Institute
Before the lecture, there was the opportunity to attend a student Q&A session, which I signed up for as soon as I heard about it! 

I arrived to discover there were only 12 of us in the Q&A, so an ideal opportunity for us to ask Professor Loughhead our questions in a much more personal environment. There were students from a range of research backgrounds, which led to a nice variety in the questions asked. From small modular nuclear reactors, to onshore wind subsidies via Electric Vehicle uptake and carbon labelling we covered most of the main areas of a future UK energy system. I, of course, asked about hydrogen and it's part of the UK's future. Professor Loughhead agreed that the technology is very attractive, mainly because there are no emissions at point of use. However, whilst there is still the option to buy petrol/diesel cars, there needs to be additional advantages to ownership: people don't like to be different. Maybe even the support of a Hollywood star would shift the balance...?

Throughout the session, Professor Loughhead was very personable and answered (or at least, tried to answer) all our questions: even when asked whether DECC, and himself, actually had any influence over governmental decisions! 

After a quick chat with us over a cup of tea, we all went upstairs to be joined by a theatre full of people to hear his lecture. Beginning by admitting he had one of the best jobs in the world, he then went on to speak about the UK's targets as set by the Climate Change Act, and how DECC was helping the UK get to these targets. 

He stressed the need for new technologies, and encouraged us students to get back to the lab! However, we were warned of the uncertainty of the energy system (including oil price fluctuations) and how this can be a massive turn-off for investors.

There were some really interesting graphs in his presentation, including one showing the reduction in research and development funding in energy research that occurred towards the end of the 1980s, and which is only just starting to rise. 

To finish, he stressed that innovation is not just needed in technology, but also business models and markets. 

It was a great talk, with an excellent opportunity before hand to discuss individual issues with the speaker. I look forward to the next in the lecture series!