Views from UK energy professionals

The Energy Barometer is an annual report published by the Energy Institute, the membership body for professionals working in energy. It is based on a survey of more than 350 UK professionals selected to represent views from oil and gas through to renewables and energy efficiency.

"This is the first Energy Barometer survey since the UK upped its ambition to net zero, and the first to factor in the challenges and opportunities of COVID-19. Our members clearly want the UK to turn the discontinuity caused by the pandemic into the moment we got real about the climate threat, our future economy and our responsibility to the world."
-Steve Holliday FREng FEI, President, Energy Institute

A year in UK energy

Click on the boxes below to see milestones in the run up to the 2020 Energy Barometer

  • 9 May 19

    UK records its first coal-free week of power generation since the 1880s

  • 27 Jun 19

    UK officially adopts a net zero emissions target by 2050, at the recommendation of the CCC

  • 10 Sep 19

    UK is confirmed as host for COP26, the international climate summit marking five years since the Paris Agreement was agreed

  • 13 Sep 19

    OVO agrees to acquire SSE’s energy retail business, creating a new member of the UK's ‘Big Six’ energy companies

  • 20 Sep 19

    Some of the largest-ever climate protests are held across the UK as part of a worldwide day of strikes and protests

  • 14 Oct 19

    Statistics show that UK renewables provided more electricity than fossil fuels for the first time in Q3 of 2019

  • 31 Jan 20

    UK leaves the European Union

  • 4 Feb 20

    UK announces plans to bring forward a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles to 2035

  • 27 Feb 20

    Drax announces that it will end coal generation at its North Yorkshire power station in 2021

  • 8 Mar 20

    Saudi Arabia initiates an oil price war with Russia, leading to crude oil prices plummeting to lowest levels since early 2000s

  • 23 Mar 20

    Measures to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic put the UK and other major economies around the world in lockdown

Biggest challenges

Bold policy changes are needed to boost a green recovery from COVID-19, and transition to a low-carbon, sustainable energy system.

Energy Institute (EI) members were asked to identify the biggest challenges facing the energy industry in 2020. Respondents provided free-text responses, which were categorised and totalled during analysis. Results from six consecutive years of Energy Barometer surveys allow for the monitoring and analysis of changing challenges over time.

This year, three challenges stood out above the rest – ‘low-carbon energy’, ‘energy policy’, and ‘sustainability and climate change’. The survey opened at the beginning of March, and during the four weeks the survey was open, the impact of COVID-19 was mentioned with increasing frequency as the severity of the pandemic became more apparent; the challenge of COVID-19 is discussed in greater detail below. The remainder of the top ten features a range of challenges, from decarbonising heat and transport to strengthening public engagement.

In 2020, energy professionals highlight the challenge of making sure the UK energy system and economy are strong and resilient, while at the same time ensuring they become sustainable and low-carbon. This drive for change, as with the rest of the economy, has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Biggest challenges facing the energy industry

Low carbon energy
Sustainability and climate change
Coronavirus (COVID-19)
brexit icon

Low-carbon energy

(Most frequently mentioned with: Investment and cost)

While the UK has made great strides in decarbonising power generation, there remains an enormous amount of work to do in transitioning to low-carbon energy across the whole economy. Energy professionals call for more low-carbon power as a prerequisite for decarbonising sectors such as transport and heat and cite investment as a key piece of the puzzle. Several drivers of decarbonisation are changing the picture – for example, falling technology costs and more ambitious national greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets. The energy industry must do more to provide low-carbon energy solutions such as wind, solar, carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS), and hydrogen.

[The challenge of] generating low carbon electricity and managing the electricity network to allow decarbonisation of heat and transport.

-Survey respondent

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Energy policy

(Most frequently mentioned with: Sustainability and climate change)

Respondents to the Energy Barometer have consistently ranked energy policy as one of the biggest challenges for the energy industry, and this year is no different. While we now have a Government with a clear majority, and Brexit has now occurred, uncertainties remain about trade and other Brexit-related issues, and the impact and recovery from COVID-19 is occupying a great deal of Government bandwidth that would normally be free to plan and develop crucial energy policy. While the past year has seen some eye-catching announcements, for instance the adoption of a net-zero emission reduction target, respondents are concerned that the policy framework has yet to set out a clear pathway to get there. Regulation and market support mechanisms need to be extended urgently within an overarching policy framework, with a view to simultaneously decarbonise and safeguard the economy.

There is sound advice here for ministers looking to stimulate Britain's economy in a way that averts future risk. Most immediately, the economic, environmental and social co-benefits of upgrading our existing housing stock have never been clearer. But nor can we afford to delay bold decisions on low-carbon heat and transport which are essential for the trajectory to net zero.

-Dr Robert Gross FEI, Chair, EI Energy Advisory Panel and Director, UKERC

brexit icon

Sustainability and climate change

(Most frequently mentioned with: COVID-19)

Energy professionals were keen to highlight the importance of sustainability and climate change in their comments this year. The UK’s adoption of a 2050 target for net-zero GHG emissions has undoubtably focused minds in the energy industry. Businesses are adapting so as to remain profitable while still cutting emissions; creating a balance between the needs of the UK economy and the pace of change required for net zero is essential. Members also stress that sustainability and climate change are issues of global scale that require international cooperation and highlight the difficulty in meeting the increasing global demand for energy while reducing GHG emissions.

To lay the groundwork towards a net zero economy, amid the disruption of global energy markets caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

-Survey respondent

brexit icon

Impacts of COVID-19

(Most frequently mentioned with: Markets, economics and competition & Sustainability and climate change)

Over the weeks that the Energy Barometer survey was open, the disease COVID-19 spread around the world, creating a global health crisis with millions of people infected and tens of thousands losing their lives. The UK went into lockdown, with the subsequent drop in business, trade and free movement depressing the economy.

In the short term, recovery from the enormous economic downturn of the coronavirus epidemic – but [we must] take opportunities it may offer… to accelerate the energy transition.

-Survey respondent

Energy professionals cite the enormous challenge for the energy industry of responding to the ongoing economic uncertainty caused by COVID-19 – for example, oil and gas companies struggling with low, volatile prices due to a drop in demand. Demand has reduced for road transport, industry and aviation in particular. Furthermore, energy professionals do not believe that demand will bounce back immediately once restrictions have been lifted, particularly for travel and transport. Almost 90% of respondents expect reduced passenger flights ‘for an extended period’.

To what extent do you expect the following impacts of COVID-19 on the UK energy industry to remain, after government restrictions related to the pandemic have been lifted?

COVID-19 follow-up survey, N=184

The challenge of COVID-19 should not be understated; however, the pandemic does present some opportunities to accelerate change and ‘build back better and greener’. See Section 4 for more.

Each year, EI members consistently predict that the price of Brent crude will rise by about $10 by year’s end. For the first time in 2020, respondents expect oil prices to fall by that amount, citing geopolitical factors and instability, actions and policies of oil producing nations, and demand levels in developed countries. There was also specific mention of the COVID-19 pandemic in a significant number of write-in responses. At the time of publication, the pandemic had led to unprecedented demand reduction, with an associated price reduction of about $10, to $43 per barrel.

There is a clear consensus from the UK energy industry in this research. We are proud of our success at decarbonising power, but need to do more on energy efficiency and innovative technologies. We need to recover and rebuild after COVID-19 – and these views show that a Green Recovery is not just possible, it's the preference of the energy industry.

-Emma Pinchbeck, Chief Executive, EnergyUK

Other challenges facing the energy industry

Markets, economics and competition

(Most frequently mentioned with: COVID-19)

The impacts of COVID-19 are testing businesses in the energy industry; however, while few will have predicted the huge disruption caused by the pandemic, respondents are also concerned about longer-term economic viability of the industry. There is a particular focus on the oil and gas sector – EI members stress that every part of the industry needs to prioritise the energy transition above short-term profitability for long-term economic health and societal wellbeing. Energy sources such as offshore wind and solar PV have already proven that there is scope for market investment in low-carbon energy.

Public engagement and acceptance

(Most frequently mentioned with: Low-carbon energy & Sustainability and climate change)

Achieving a net-zero GHG target will be impossible without having energy consumers on-board, given the huge changes required to heat, transport and industry. This requires improved communication on the part of energy professionals regarding the necessity and benefits of as well as the challenges to decarbonisation. There is cause for optimism – the past year has seen wider society in the UK more engaged and interested in climate change and energy usage than ever before.

Investment and cost

(Most frequently mentioned with: Low-carbon energy)

The energy industry must manage the balance between a desire for short-term dividends and the scale of investment into low-carbon technologies required in order to meet emission reduction targets. Energy sources that were previously expensive and limited in scope are starting to become widespread and profitable, such as offshore wind and solar PV. EI members stress that similar journeys need to take place for hydrogen, CCUS and battery technology – this is essential for rapid decarbonisation and development of a more sustainable economy.

Decarbonising transport

(Most frequently mentioned with: Decarbonising heat)

This is the first year that decarbonising transport has placed in the top ten biggest challenges. Energy professionals suggest a number of key recommendations, including improving the range, efficiency and charging speed of electric vehicles (EVs), as well as continuing to expand national charging infrastructure. A greater supply of low-carbon power and a more flexible grid are the essentials of coping with increased and varied demand from EVs. In addition, there is the need to find viable alternatives to fossil fuels for shipping, aviation and heavy goods vehicles (HGVs).

Decarbonising heat

(Most frequently mentioned with: Decarbonising transport)

Decarbonising heat will be a huge challenge, the pathway to which will likely include a mix of electrification, ‘green gas’ and heat networks. Upgrading domestic heating systems require substantial investment and modification of buildings and infrastructure; therefore, respondents call for long-term policy stability as a prerequisite for the delivery of the solution. Additionally, they recommend making the most of waste heat, by adopting a more extensive system of heat networks (district heating).

People and skills

(Most frequently mentioned with: Energy policy)

Energy professionals fear that their industry is facing a shortage of skilled workers, such as engineers, technicians and data scientists. As the industry’s need for the best talent becomes more apparent with the urgent challenges of our time, solving this issue will require joint efforts from government, educators and businesses. Decarbonisation of sectors such as heating require the development of a whole new supply chain, with concomitant specialist skills and expertise. According to respondents, the industry must ensure it is an attractive destination for new talent, and this will involve addressing their concerns about the sustainability and longevity of their future careers and the ability to reskill and develop people within a sector experiencing rapid transformation.

Biggest challenges facing the energy industry (2015-2020)

Answers were volunteered in open text, then coded and totalled during analysis. N=475 (2015), 393 (2016), 335 (2017), 349 (2018), 351 (2019), 355 (2020).

While energy policy has regularly been a top challenge cited by energy professionals, the challenges of low carbon energy as well as sustainability and climate change have grown in respondents’ views over the past six years.

Looking back: Reflections on the past decade

Growth of renewables in the electricity mix stands out as the main success story of the past decade in UK energy; while energy efficiency, despite being seen as low-risk, was the biggest missed opportunity.

As a new decade begins, EI members were asked to reflect upon the previous one; the Barometer survey asked about the greatest successes and biggest missed opportunities of the past ten years, in terms of lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The growing proportion of electricity provided by renewables stood out as the greatest success, chosen by more than half of respondents. Around one third of respondents chose as their greatest success the switch from coal to gas-based electricity generation.

In terms of lowering greenhouse gas emissions, what do you consider the greatest success story in UK energy over the past decade?

According to EI members, the most important factors which enabled the growth in renewables were falling costs of low-carbon technology and infrastructure, followed closely by direct financial support for specific technologies. For example, the introduction of Contracts for Difference auctions in 2014 helped to drive down the price of offshore wind significantly. On the other hand, the introduction of mandatory standards and regulations was considered the key enabler for the switch from coal to gas. In both cases, members send a clear message that progress correlated with stable government policy which set a clear direction of travel for the sector.

Biggest missed opportunity of the past decade

Energy efficiency
Nuclear power
Carbon capture utilisation and storage

Asked to cast a critical eye over the past decade, respondents named the lack of action on improving energy efficiency as the greatest missed opportunity. This is echoed in the previous question where only a minority of respondents identified energy efficiency improvements in buildings or industrial processes as successful areas. Other missed opportunities of the past decade included renewables – suggesting despite their success even more could be done – new nuclear power, and carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS). EI members have consistently emphasised the potential of and need for more investment in energy efficiency; in 2019 it was singled out as the best way to ensure the low carbon transition helps to alleviate fuel poverty. While CCUS and nuclear power are viewed as high investment risks due to policy uncertainty (see Section 3), energy efficiency is considered low-risk, so this is a particularly big ‘no-regrets’ option that has been consistently neglected.

Energy efficiency is indeed the biggest missed opportunity of the last decade. But it can also be the best investment of the next; at the core of a drive to refurbish our buildings and make them fit for the future. Government and the energy sector must put high energy performance buildings at the heart of the energy system of the future, to ‘build back better’ and set us firmly on the road to net zero.

-Dr Joanne Wade OBE FEI, Deputy Director, the Association for Decentralised Energy

Taking stock: Our current position

Energy professionals warn that without more ambitious UK energy policy, emissions reduction targets are unlikely to be met.

EI members were asked to assess the effectiveness of UK energy policy across a number of sectors of the industry. Just as in 2019, the sectors most positively impacted by policy were ‘renewable electricity’, ‘low carbon transport’ and ‘technology research and innovation’, with over 50% of respondents citing a positive or very positive effect.

What effect do you think the UK's energy policy has had on each of the following areas in the last 12 months?

'Not sure' option has been removed. Results ordered by weighted net score.

The political landscape in the UK has been particularly turbulent over the past four years, with two general elections and the implementation of Brexit. The result is that there has been reduced bandwidth for Government to develop and update energy policy, such as the long-delayed energy White Paper. As such, close to half of EI members thought UK policy had no effect on supporting either energy efficiency or low-carbon heat, suggesting new policies are needed to drive progress in these areas. This was also the case for simplifying energy taxation.

‘Delivery of new nuclear’ and ‘reducing fuel poverty’ continue to be seen as most negatively affected by policy, with ‘support for carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS)’ also viewed as having had negative effects. This is despite the Government’s commitment to deploy CCUS at scale during the 2030s, with plans for several industrial cluster projects underway in areas such as Teesside and Merseyside.

Putting net zero into law is a game-changer. The end is brutally simple (there is no wiggle room), but the means are far from obvious. Our technology and innovation base provides a strong platform, but the development of markets that will unleash the scale of change needed is a critical challenge. Now, more than ever, we need to build deeper understanding of the interaction of multiple systems if we are to navigate the transition.

-Philip New FEI, Chief Executive Officer, Energy Systems Catapult

Respondents were also asked to what extent policy uncertainty was affecting investment risk across different areas. Offshore wind, energy efficiency of buildings, and electric vehicles are considered to be low investment risk, while nuclear, CCUS, marine power and onshore oil and gas exploration and production are considered riskiest for investors because of policy uncertainty. Again, this is broadly consistent with 2019 Energy Barometer results.

The consistency of energy professionals’ asks over multiple years suggests that aforementioned inaction on policy still needs to be addressed. Lack of policy frameworks and regulation contributes to their growing concerns about the UK’s progress regarding greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the energy transition.

In the UK, what in your view is the level of investment risk due to policy uncertainty in each of the following areas?

'Not sure' option has been removed. Results ordered by weighted net score.

The UK’s emissions reduction targets were a central focus of the 2020 Barometer survey. Respondents across the board are split on whether the UK will achieve or miss the fifth carbon budget (a 57% reduction in emissions from 1990 levels) based on current policies. To meet the projected shortfall at least cost, EI members think the UK government should prioritise energy efficiency, transport and heat to cut the necessary emissions. Energy efficiency has been the top choice for meeting a shortfall in emission reduction for the past four years.

The 5th carbon budget (2028-2032) requires greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to fall by 57% (from 1990 levels). In 2018, UK GHG emissions were 44% below 1990 levels (BEIS, provisional). By 2032, given current UK emission reduction policies, do you expect emissions reductions to:

Looking further ahead, since the EI College was last surveyed the UK officially adopted a target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, raising its ambition from the previous 80% reduction on 1990 levels by the same date. The doubt that current polices go far enough is more acute for the 2050 target than the fifth carbon budget. Almost 90% of respondents across the board believe the UK will fall short of net zero given the UK’s current emissions reduction policies. However, the adoption of a more ambitious target has undoubtedly changed respondents’ thinking on what is possible. In 2019, just 3% of EI members predicted the UK would achieve an 88% or greater reduction in emissions by 2050 - this has jumped to 37% this year.

The 2050 UK climate target is to reduce all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to net zero. By 2050, given current UK emission reduction policies, do you expect emissions reductions to reach:

‘Not sure’ option has been removed. N=543 (2015), 438 (2016), 466 (2017), 397 (2018), 459 (2019), 355 (2020). The UK 2050 climate target was changed in June 2019 from 80% reduction to net-zero GHG emissions.

When asked what the greatest barrier to achieving net zero would be, the vast majority (82%) of EI members cite either a lack of clearly defined, consistent energy policy, or insufficient behaviour change by energy consumers. Only 10% believe that inaction by businesses will be the main barrier.

Barriers to meeting net zero

Lack of clear energy policy
Insufficient behavior change
Inadequate steps by businesses

When assessing the impacts of COVID-19 on the energy transition, respondents are split. Almost 40% think that the pandemic will hasten the energy transition. Behavioural changes during the pandemic (working from home, reductions in commuting and flight travel) have led some members to predict that individuals may be more likely to make choices that favour the low carbon transition in the future. Additionally, a number of members expect the Government to align economic stimulus packages with the net-zero target, enabling a faster transition.

Conversely, one third of respondents believe that COVID-19 will hinder the UK’s energy transition to net zero. Some respondents worry that the impacts of the pandemic on the economy mean that there will be less investment available for new low-carbon energy projects, and there will be less focus on the low carbon transition in general, as the country grapples with a new, deadly virus. Additionally, low oil prices and fears about public transport may drive people to use their cars more often.

Do you expect COVID-19 to hasten or hinder the UK’s transition to net zero by 2050?

COVID-19 follow-up survey, N=184

First steps to net zero: Government

Government must take action immediately to set the trajectory to net zero; first steps are needed in hard-to-decarbonise sectors, and a ‘green recovery’ from COVID-19 could be the catalyst.

Results from this year’s survey send a strong message that energy professionals are dissatisfied with the UK’s current policy agenda for lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Only 13% believe the UK government is doing enough to meet the 2050 net zero target.

How do you feel about the following statement: The UK Government is currently doing enough to move towards the 2050 net-zero target.

As discussed in Section 2, respondents highlight active government policy as a key contributor to the biggest successes of the past decade. Measures such as direct financial support for technologies, and mandatory standards or regulation have been among the most important factors for enabling greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions thus far.

EI members were asked to consider three hard-to-decarbonise sectors that require particular attention from policymakers: aviation, road freight and domestic heating. Respondents were asked to recommend the most important first steps which must be taken by government in the next decade in order for the sectors to successfully transition to net zero.

First steps to net zero for aviation

Low carbon aviation fuel
Lower cost for other modes of transport

For aviation, respondents believe the first step should be to increase funding for research and development into low-carbon biofuels and synthetic fuels. Of near equal urgency is encouraging greater usage of other modes of transport (for both people and goods) by lowering costs.

First steps to net zero for road freight

Hydrogen HGVs
Shift freight to rail

Another transport sector requiring immediate policy action to reach net zero is road freight. EI members recommend shifting freight demand from road to rail, as well as incentivising the development of hydrogen heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), both of which would require corresponding infrastructure upgrades.

First steps to net zero for home heating

Low carbon heating tech
Energy efficiency of existing house

Finally, respondents were asked about first steps for eliminating GHG emissions from home heating. Incentivising energy efficiency improvements for existing housing stock was the preferred first step, followed closely by incentivising low-carbon heating technology such as heat pumps and hydrogen-ready boilers. Indeed, energy efficiency of buildings is consistently mentioned by energy professionals as a low-risk, cost-effective option for lowering emissions (see Section 2).

First steps to commercialising CCUS

Pilot/demo in industrial clusters
Power station

Additionally, carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) has been singled out by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) as “a necessity not an option” for reaching net-zero emissions, given the technology’s strategic importance in achieving deep decarbonisation. Energy professionals believe funding pilot and demonstration projects should be the first step by the UK government to ensure the commercial deployment of CCUS during the 2030s. These projects should be carried out in both industrial clusters and power stations. A significant number of respondents also support mandating the use of CCUS on large emissions sources as a vital first step to the commercial deployment of the technology.

How do you feel about the following statements, drawn from the recent Committee on Climate Change letter to the Prime Minister (6th May 2020), regarding the UK’s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis? The Government should…

Not sure' option has been removed. COVID-19 follow-up survey, N=184

Not only is urgent action by the Government needed to set the UK on its path to success in 2050, but domestic UK action is critical to climate leadership and credibility on the international stage, according to the CCC. More respondents cite the importance of leading by example at home than any other factor in the UK retaining its credibility as a climate leader. Setting a good example will be all the more important as the UK is set to host the UN COP26 climate conference in November 2021. EI members believe that the most important outcome of that conference will be commitment by parties to more ambitious nationally determined contributions (NDCs), as mandated in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The UK’s pathway to net zero must also be thought of in the context of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Members overwhelmingly support the CCC’s recommendations regarding the UK’s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, including making support for emissions-intensive sectors contingent on them taking real, lasting action on climate change. When asked about policy priorities to ‘build back better and greener’ after the pandemic, energy efficiency retrofits of existing housing stock and development of infrastructure to reduce transport energy demand come out on top, each chosen by almost half of EI members.

The overwhelming support from energy professionals for a resilient recovery from COVID-19 should give Ministers confidence to act. Decisions in the coming months will shape our economic recovery – and bend the path of future UK emissions. The dissatisfaction of energy professionals about current policies for Net Zero is a frustration we share. This is the year to put that right, as the world’s gaze falls on the UK, in the Presidency of the next UN climate summit in Glasgow, 2021.

-Chris Stark, Chief Executive, Committee on Climate Change

First steps to net zero: Energy industry

Two thirds of EI members believe the energy industry is not doing enough to move towards net zero; big changes are coming, including for the role of oil and gas companies, to ramp up the pace of decarbonisation.

While there have been reductions in emissions over the past decade, notably in the power sector, the energy industry as a whole is viewed only slightly more positively than government when it comes to action on decarbonisation. Just 15% of respondents agree that the energy industry is doing enough to move towards net zero, compared with 63% who disagree. The scepticism is consistent across sectors, member grades and disciplines of respondents.

On a more positive note, members’ own organisations are starting to incorporate net zero into their business strategy. Although the UK legislation was adopted less than a year ago, 35% of respondents’ organisations have already publicly committed to a net zero target, and of these, around one third are already implementing an action plan. The number of members reporting that their organisation is committed in some way to the net zero target is lowest in the natural gas and oil sector.

It is clear to energy professionals that changes are coming, and they do not think that businesses will be the main barrier to delivering on net zero (see Section 3). Respondents were asked to predict the pace of change likely to be experienced within their operating environment, in areas such as profitability, supply of skilled workers, and the supply chain. Overall, the expectation is that changes up until 2050 will be gradual rather than disruptive. But while more members still expect gradual change, rapid disruption is most anticipated in terms of who the key industry players are, suggesting that incumbents may be challenged by new entrants.

The oil and gas sector in particular will have to undergo a significant transformation under a net zero scenario. Oil and gas companies as a whole currently spend less than 1% of their capital expenditure in low-carbon businesses, falling short of what will be needed to put the world on a more sustainable path, according to a 2020 report by the International Energy Agency. By 2050, EI members expect oil and gas companies to put much greater emphasis on low-carbon liquids and gases, as well as other low-carbon energy technologies and services. It is expected that these companies will significantly scale back their provision of traditional oil and gas products by the middle of the century.

Not sure' option has been removed

In both 2030 and 2050, EI members working in natural gas and oil are most likely of all sectors to expect oil and gas companies to provide oil and gas products coupled with methods to clean up associated emissions (e.g. carbon capture usage and storage), and least likely of all sectors to expect them providing entirely new forms of energy or services. However, going from 2030 to 2050, these members still expect the emphasis on new forms of energy or services to overtake that on traditional oil and gas products, in line with members in other sectors.

Major oil and gas companies have a huge task ahead to pivot their activities, build profitable new lines of business, and invest in the oil and gas production still needed, in order to meet growing global energy demand AND achieve a net zero world as soon after 2050 as possible. The Barometer highlights that changes need to go faster and further than seen just a year ago; but, encouragingly, some companies are publicly grasping the nettle. Attracting top talent, sufficient capital, and a social licence to operate, will be key to which ones will succeed.

-Malcolm Brinded CBE FREng FEI, Past President, Energy Institute

The 2010s saw an enormous boom in the extraction of shale oil and gas, particularly in the US – this led to companies such as Cuadrilla exploring the potential of fracking sites in the UK. However, support for fracking continues to decrease among EI members year-on-year. Those that think shale gas exploration should not be pursued in the UK in any form has increased from 16% in 2015 to almost 40% in 2020. This is a further demonstration of the changing role for oil and gas companies and the challenges they face in the years ahead.

No data for 2018. 'Not sure' option has been removed. 'Pursue in some form' includes the response options 'Pursue with relaxed regulation', 'Pursue', 'Pursue with stricter regulation' and 'Pursue after uncertainties resolved'

First steps to net zero: Individuals

Citizen pressure is a key driver of the low-carbon transition, but insufficient behaviour change by consumers is seen as a barrier to net zero. Vulnerable consumers in particular will need help to take action.

This year’s Barometer took a closer look at the role of individuals as part of the transition to net zero. EI members were asked about the additional factors besides emission reduction targets which are driving the low carbon transition in the energy industry. A full two thirds of respondents chose ‘consumer and citizen pressure’ as the leading factor, compared with 54% in 2019.

Biggest driver of decarbonisation

Consumer and citizen pressure

Similarly, energy professionals believe that public engagement and acceptance is one of the biggest challenges facing the energy industry in 2020 (see Section 1). This is in agreement with the Committee on Climate Change, which has stated that in order to meet a net zero target by 2050, significant changes in societal or consumer behaviours (such as flying less and eating less meat) are not optional but a necessity.

Energy professionals have a critical role to play in delivering the required changes for net zero, both as the workforce at the centre of the transition, and more widely as members of society. According to a National Grid report on the net zero energy workforce, the energy industry needs to attract 400,000 new recruits in new and existing roles over the next 30 years to get the UK to net zero. EI members believe the most effective route to building a future net zero workforce is to start early through STEM education and vocational training, alongside retraining and re-skilling existing energy industry employees.

When asked about their personal lives, EI members responded positively in their willingness and ability to change their own behaviours in line with requirements for net zero GHG emissions. For every area, from air travel to diet, at least 65% of respondents are fairly or very willing to change and feel fairly or fully able to do so. EI members in the first five years of their career (AMEIs) are the most willing to change their behaviour in each area, while the ability to change is consistent across EI member grades.

For each of the following areas, to what extent do you feel WILLING to bring your personal behaviour in line with the net-zero target between now and 2030?

'Not sure' option has been removed.

For each of the following areas, to what extent do you feel ABLE to bring your personal behaviour in line with the net-zero target between now and 2030?

'Not sure' option has been removed.

One area notably registered a disconnect between willingness and ability: method of home heating. While 44% were very willing to improve in this area, only 24% feel fully able to do so. Meanwhile, ‘amount of air travel’ ranked towards the bottom for both willingness and ability to change. Notably, EI members expect COVID-19 to reduce people’s demand for air travel for an extended period (see Section 1), and think that the Government should capitalise on changed social norms such as this during the pandemic to create long-term emissions reductions (see Section 4).

Government action will be required to support households which want to make changes but are unable to, or which lack the necessary tools and finance. EI members believe the most important actions government can take to empower individuals to make the necessary changes towards net zero are ‘investment in low carbon infrastructure’ and ‘making low carbon products and services less expensive’, for instance via subsidies.

Empowering individuals for net zero

Cheaper low carbon products and services
Low carbon infrastructure

Supportive policies will be especially vital for vulnerable consumers who may face constraints on individual action. Energy professionals were asked what the most important action will be in the next decade to ensure that the transition to net zero does not leave vulnerable consumers worse off. According to EI members, making low-carbon energy affordable should be the top priority, followed by ‘clear policy and planning’, and ‘support for low carbon buildings’, including energy efficiency and heating.

It’s great to see Energy Institute members thinking about how to ensure consumers in vulnerable situations benefit from the transition to net zero carbon emissions. Clear policy and planning will be essential to ensure that both the move to low carbon heat and improving the energy efficiency of buildings are a success. People will need information, protection and support to engage with these changes.

-Dhara Vyas, Head of Future Energy Services, Citizens Advice

Report References

Committee on Climate Change (2019), Net Zero – The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming

Committee on Climate Change (2020), Letter: Building a resilient recovery from the COVID-19 crisis to Prime Minister Boris Johnson

International Energy Agency (2020), The oil and gas industry in energy transitions

National Grid (2020), Building the Net Zero Energy Workforce Report

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (2015), The Paris Agreement

Thank you for your interest in the 2020 Energy Barometer

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The Energy Barometer 2020 was published on 8 July 2020. The survey underlying this report was sent to 932 professional and pre-professional members of the EI in the UK, of which a total of 355 completed the survey online in March 2020. An additional survey on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the UK energy industry was sent to the same group of EI members and completed by 184 of them in late May; these results were also incorporated in this report.

The findings in the report represent the views of the EI’s members in the UK. As in previous years, there was a high degree of consensus on most energy issues; where there were prominent differences across sectors (where N≥70) or member grades, these have been singled out in the report. This report constitutes a step towards creating an informative, useful account of the energy industry based on the views of those working within it. For more detail on the results from this year’s survey, the full data set is available for    download here.

Learn more about this project and visit the archive of previous years’ Energy Barometer reports here.