We caught up with Director of Business Development at SSE Energy Solutions, Ian Belfield, to understand his views on the key topics of Decarbonising Transport, Heat and Energy as well as some of the challenges and opportunities businesses are facing to reach their net zero targets.
I joined in November 2022 just six months ago, so it’s still fresh in my mind. Interestingly, the first person I saw was Steve Jennings, who happened to be on the board of Veolia Water with me for many years – so, it was quite interesting to walk into SSE as the newbie, bright eyed and bushy tailed, and the first person I saw was someone I used to work with!
I’ve been aware of SSE’s position in this market for a long time and have coveted its market position – the organisation has created a niche for itself as being a leader in many areas, so it wasn’t without purpose that I targeted SSE in the recruitment process to join the business and I was really thrilled when I joined.
My first impressions of the business was its size, scale and capability and was as I expected as it aligns with its market position; but the quality of the people and the enthusiasm of our people to make an impactful change - that is the thing that is most compelling about the business.
Pace is the hardest thing and a route to procurement. Many of our clients have to follow strict rules – they have an imperative to reach net zero, but are restricted by a very prescriptive procurement process.
Many of our clients are buying something that they’ve never bought before – this isn’t the same as anything off the shelf or something they’ve bought many times. Our clients are trying to purchase a long-term service of decarbonisation – whether by solar, heat networks, etc. They’ve not had to think of these before, so trying to go to market and create a procurement event is a challenge for them. Many of the conversations my team have with clients are around helping them understand optimum procurement processes, so we can get to a better and meaningful result in a reasonable time.
As we’re in this transition period, the gap is going to be difficult to close at pace. We still need to deliver ‘business as usual’ and keep the heating and lights on to keep all the services to the UK economy moving. At the same time as finding the solutions to decarbonise all the above whilst managing external constraints such as obtaining planning permission and grid capacity. I think businesses that set themselves stretching goals and then make early decisions to work in exclusive relationships with companies like SSE, have the best chance to meet their goals.
Investment – we are an organisation that invests heavily in the technologies associated with the energy transition.
Investment is two-fold, you need cash to invest in these solutions but the other area is investment in the green economy. Without doubt, there will be some pinch points in the available resources and skills that we need to deliver net zero in the UK. Therefore, we need to invest in those skills – which is what we’re doing by creating regional hubs to sit in the community, identifying people who may not have considered the energy sector for a career. We’re bringing them in, training and developing them to be the next generation of project managers. Net zero leaders of the future.
People need to have started their journey – many people have set goals but don’t necessarily have a clear plan to reach those goals. The longer you leave it the harder it will become to find the skills I’ve mentioned to deliver the race to net zero. We are here to help businesses realise those plans and build a solution. Start as soon as possible!
Not sure it’s missing, but hydrogen is at the early stages of development in the UK – Energy Solutions along with colleagues in our thermal business are already working on solutions for the deployment of Hydrogen. Transport, shipping, logistics; it almost certainly will have a part to play in the decarbonisation of these areas. So, it isn’t missing, it is just at the very early stages of development however SSE are already very active.
There are a lot of markets but as an example, logistics. The HGV market is something at the very early stages of development. The UK-wide EV strategy is accelerating rapidly, domestically rolled out across the UK, and lots of companies are active in this space, including ourselves.
However, the HGV market is still at the very early stages of that decarbonisation journey and will need a lot of focus over the next 2-5 years to reduce the diesel on the roads. We’re currently looking into a number of sites for HGV charging hubs across the UK to help create that market.
Other than procurement – another would be access to land upon which to build local generation. Clients don’t always have access to land, so trying to create a local solution can be very difficult but we can be very creative with that by sourcing local land and building private wire networks to the client’s premises.
Another would be heat – finding another solution to gas and finding renewable solutions to firing power plants. We’re looking into all sorts of solutions to help with these complex issues such as Ground Source Heat Pumps, Air Source Heat Pumps and Advanced Deep Geothermal.
Trying to conceptualise these solutions end to end as whole system can be a barrier, which is where we can really help in developing solutions to simplify the complexities of decarbonisation. Clients are procuring this for the first time, so we want to help guide and support them on their journey.
If you focus on one technology to solve decarbonisation, you solve part of the problem. If you apply whole system thinking, you solve the entire problem and deliver Net Zero. We’re one of the few companies that can do that There isn’t a silver arrow that solves all clients’ decarbonisation objectives, it’s often multiple technologies that gets to a 24/7 green solution for clients. We’re one of the very few companies that can bring that all into one place. Whether that be solar, wind, batteries, EV, heat, we can bring a vast array of decarbonisation solutions into one place. When we think about decarbonising entire Regions of the UK, we can really support with creative solutions such as the deployment of local area microgrids where customers may be clustered together. By considering the needs of multiple clients across the entire cluster we can then optimise the network on our digital platforms and reduce the cost to serve for all.