Energy Innovation Brief
Issue 38 | March 2024

In Western Canada and around the world, the energy sector is rapidly transforming to one that promises to be cleaner, greener and more efficient. Each month, the Canada West Foundation’s Energy Innovation Brief brings you stories about technology innovations happening across the industry – in oil and gas, renewables, energy storage and transmission. If you have an idea for a story, email us at .

The U.K.’s rapid pivot to net zero – what’s working and what’s difficult

In March, the Canada West Foundation’s Marla Orenstein had the opportunity to travel to the U.K. as part of a week-long Energy Commentators Mission organized by the British Consulate. The U.K.’s approach to net zero is quite different than what is happening in Canada and this month’s Energy Innovation Brief highlights some of the key takeaways from the week.

This issue is a little long, but we promise it’s worth the read. Skip to the Note at the bottom to see who we met with. In this issue:

  • What is the U.K.’s net zero plan?
  • Marla’s Top 5 Takeaways
    1. They have a very aggressive timeline for a net zero economy, and everybody appears on board.
    2. Success comes from building on what exists.
    3. They face a huge shortage of skilled workers.
    4. The U.K. is taking an industrial planning approach.
    5. There are opportunities for Canada and the U.K. to help one another.
  • Bonus: Systems thinking is unlocking circularity in Aberdeen.

What is the U.K.’s net zero plan?

The U.K. has very ambitious net zero targets, which they have enshrined in binding legislation. The targets commit them to reducing economy-wide GHG emissions by at least 68 per cent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. To deliver these emissions reductions, the government established the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) and has committed over £30 billion of domestic investment. Some key elements of the transition are:

  • Installation of up to 50GW of offshore wind—both fixed and floating—by 2030

This is a good bet for the U.K.: they have a lot of shoreline and a lot of wind, and siting turbines offshore avoids most environmental and social impacts. They also have a lot of shallow seabed which makes tethering turbines easier. To date, the U.K. has installed about 14.7GW, and the cost has fallen by 50 per cent. The country is definitely a leader in this area and is likely to remain so.

  • Hydrogen production

The U.K. plans to use hydrogen domestically for mobility and heat and to build a pure hydrogen pipeline between Scotland and Europe. This makes sense—primarily because of the success of offshore windfarms which will often supply more electricity than the country needs. Storing the excess as hydrogen is smart. Hydrogen production in the U.K. will have to be certified as low-emissions, but “colour” (blue vs. green vs. pink) will not matter.

  • Carbon capture and storage (CCS)

CCS is also planned as a key element to reduce industrial emissions as well as emissions from power generation, landfills, etc. While the U.K. government is bullish on CCS being in the ground at scale by 2030, no industrial facilities have yet been built.

  • Many other elements, including nuclear energy, EVs, heat pumps and building decarbonization, etc.

By 2021, the U.K. had halved its emissions (compared to 1990) and over-delivered against its targets. The U.K.’s approach—and its ultimate success—is uniquely shaped by their own geography, resources and politics. There are, however, some interesting lessons for Canada.  Here are my top five take-aways.

Marla’s Top 5 takeaways

1. They have a very aggressive timeline for a net zero economy, and everybody appears on board

The fact everyone is on board with the net zero timeline was the most surprising aspect of the trip for me. It’s what I had heard but not what I expected to find.

There really is a “Team U.K.” mentality, in which all players have signed onto the plan, are operating under well-defined expectations and have—across most sectors—already made substantial progress. This doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges, but nobody appears to be debating the direction of travel or the need for speed.

Why is this? The government cites a moral imperative, but there are a number of strong economic drivers that are probably more important.

  • The first is energy security. There is a strong desire to become energy self-reliant—both to wean off energy from Russia and to provide insulation from price spikes.
  • The second is the opportunity for re-industrialization. The U.K. was an industrial powerhouse, but no more. Coal: gone. Fishing: gone. Steel: halved. Oil and gas: diminishing reserves. As one of our presenters said, “The country has shifted from providing products to providing services.” The U.K. sees a net zero transition as a way of re-industrializing.
  • The third is its trading relationship with the European Union (EU), which is the U.K.’s largest trading partner. The EU is bringing in a carbon border adjustment mechanism in 2026 (and the U.K. in 2027). If British products want to sell in the EU without a tariff, they need to quickly find a way to produce them with low emissions.

These influences are different than the ones Canada is grappling with. But in the U.K., political rancor over the transition is noticeably absent.

2. Success comes from building on what exists

Former B.C. Premier Christy Clark, speaking at a Canada West Foundation event in Ottawa in March, emphasized that “if you want to create a new economy, you need to build on the old economy.” The U.K. couldn’t agree more. As one of the experts we met with stated, “tomorrow’s prosperity is built on the oil and gas expertise of yesterday.”

Much technology know-how is directly transferable from oil and gas to new energy applications. Building an offshore oil platform, for example, is not much different than building an offshore wind platform. CCUS and hydrogen production are similar in many ways to oil and gas upgrading and refining. Geothermal requires drilling wells.

The expertise transfer extends to the supply chain as well – we met with the company Fugro, which provides geodata to energy companies. They have a long history of using remote sensing to monitor undersea pipeline integrity, which they are now applying to other offshore energy types.

The oil and gas industry has decades of expertise in project management, construction, operation, financing, selling energy products, managing supply chains and other things that a new energy mix will need if it is to be built quickly, safely, successfully and on a major scale. This is also why, in the U.K., much of the new energy industry has oil and gas majors as the developers, often as part of a joint venture.

3. They face a huge shortage of skilled workers

This was a refrain from almost everyone we spoke with. Many of the needed skills are transferrable from other industries—welding, pipefitting, electricals, etc. But there is simply a shortage of trained people.

The problem isn’t limited to the trades. The Department of Energy Security and Net Zero spoke about the shortage of professionals for planning and permitting activities; and we also heard about the need for people in other  roles—project managers, geoscientists, etc.

What isn’t a problem for the U.K.: the need to transition large numbers of workers from the oil and gas sector into new jobs. The oil and gas jobs are still required, and people in that sector are retiring faster than the jobs are disappearing.  In addition, many people currently employed by the oil and gas sector are transitioning within their companies to new roles working on complementary energy activities.

Some of this worker shortage is a problem of the U.K.’s own making, as Brexit cut their supply of skilled workers from EU countries. But the U.K. is attempting to tackle the problem proactively, through apprenticeship, training and reskilling programs.

4. The U.K. is taking an industrial planning approach

Unlike Canada, the U.K. is using a top-down industrial planning approach to manage (and accelerate) the transition. There are a few elements to take note of.

a) Regionally-based industrial clusters

Industrial clusters have a concentration of heavy industry. Plans for these clusters combine different elements (offshore power, CCS, hydrogen production, etc.) in a way that creates new economic opportunities for each company while also providing decarbonization options.

We visited the Humber Industrial Cluster in eastern England, which emits more CO2 than any other location in Britain from iron and steel, refining, cement and chemicals. The Humber decarbonization plan was developed by the government in close collaboration with the affected industries.

b) Industry councils and framework deals

Industry Councils bring together senior industry leaders with government for cooperative planning. The Offshore Wind Industry Council is one example;  Offshore Energies UK  (representing oil and gas production) is another. These provide the structural framework for policy development and concrete planning. One person we met with described their industry council as “the secret sauce by which industry deals with government.” The industry councils have had a strong role in shaping the U.K. government’s “deals” such as the North Sea Transition Deal, which outlines how the country’s oil and gas sector will help deliver on decarbonization targets.

c) Planning for supply chain needs

It’s not just skilled workers that will be in short supply; it’s also other elements of the supply chain. Here’s an example that stuck with me: apparently, there is not enough steel in the world for all the cables and chains that will be needed to meet the U.K.’s offshore wind ambitions. U.K.-sponsored innovation centres are testing and developing new synthetic chains as alternatives. Another example: floating wind turbines need deep ports where they can be assembled before being towed out to sea. Key U.K. ports are being overhauled so they will have sufficient depth.

d) Structural supports to help industry navigate change

The U.K. has created many organizations that provide supports for existing energy proponents, new energy entrants, supply chain providers, individuals, etc. Most of these operate as independent, public-private partnerships, often with commercial contracts as well. Here’s a sample of these organizations:

  • Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult. Technology innovation and research centre for offshore renewable energy.
  • Floating Wind Innovation Centre (FLOWIC). Provides technology developers with access to testing and demonstration infrastructure, which reduces risk and cost in advance of deployment.
  • CATCH. Addresses the skills shortage by providing hands-on training facilities and programs. Recruits and trains apprentices and places them with employers.
  • Energy Transition Zone. Transitions the SMEs that deliver oil and gas. They create wraparound supports to help companies commercialize successfully.
  • Net Zero Technology Centre. Develops and deploys technologies for an affordable net zero energy industry.
  • National Energy Skills Accelerator. Prepares the workforce for an energy transition.
  • UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Provides funding for research and innovation.

And there’s lots more.

5. There are opportunities for Canada and the U.K. to help one another

If you have read this far, you have seen that the U.K. and Canada share a similar objective (getting to a net zero economy across all sectors of society), but have some key differences in timing, approach and challenges. Nonetheless, there are ways we can help one another.

The first is through complementary expertise. For example:

  • Canada has more experience than almost anyone else in actually building large-scale CCUS. This is an ambition in the U.K., but not yet the reality. Knowledge transfer to the U.K. could help their transition and our economy.
  • Conversely, the U.K. has substantial experience in building offshore wind, whereas we are just starting. Numerous U.K. organizations are pioneering solutions that we can benefit from. One natural ally is Flotation Energy, founded by Canadian Allan MacAskill, who started Kincardine, the world’s largest floating wind project.
  • Both countries are looking to add small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) to the energy mix (as is the U.S. and several other countries). Time and cost are two challenges faced by both countries—and shared learning on technology, regulation and implementation may help bring down the time and cost involved.

Another area is through provision of the skilled workforce that the U.K. is so desperate for.  Can we lend a hand?

Bonus take-away: Systems thinking unlocking circularity in Aberdeen

We saw a great example of circularity in action at the Port of Aberdeen. In addition to being the largest port in Scotland, the Port of Aberdeen is the oldest, continuously operating since it was established by King David of Scotland in 1136.  They recently built a new harbour able to take deep water vessels. This required excavating a lot of granite. Instead of landfilling the granite, however, they built a manufacturing facility adjacent to the new harbour to turn the granite into Accropods (geometric stone forms that protect the harbour from waves). This avoided the need to import 9,000 of these from Spain. In addition, the CO2 emissions from the City of Aberdeen’s waste-to-energy facility are being used to produce methanex to fuel ships at the Port. Pretty neat!

The trip was hosted by the British Consulate General in Calgary.

My great appreciation goes to Jonathan Turner, the Consul General, and Tiffany Langford, Senior Energy Policy Analyst. Jonathan and Tiffany both organized the trip and travelled as part of it. Peter Tertzakian (ARC Energy) and Emma Graney (Globe & Mail) were the other Canadian participants. You can hear more about the trip on the ARC Energy Ideas podcast from March 19 (The Energy Tourist: Peter Tertzakian’s Mission to the UK).

Note: Who did we meet with?
The organizations we spoke with included: Aberdeen City Council; Aberdeen Port; CATCH; UK Department of Energy Security and Net Zero; Energy Transition Zone; Flotation Energy; Fugro; Humber Cluster; Humber Freeport; Imperial College London, CCUS Pilot Plant; Innovate UK; National Energy Skills Accelerator; Northeast Lincolnshire Council; Northland Power; Offshore Energies UK (OEUK); Offshore Renewables Energy Catapult; Phillips 66 refinery; RenewableUK; Robert Gordon University; RWE; Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN); X-Academy.

We took a tour of an offshore windfarm, an oil refinery, a CCUS pilot plant and a geosurvey company operational centre.

We also attended the Canada-U.K. Energy Summit and roundtable, which had Canadian and British participants from 120 organizations.

In Western Canada and around the world, the energy sector is rapidly transforming to one that promises to be cleaner, greener and more efficient. Each month, the Canada West Foundation’s Energy Innovation Brief brings you stories about technology innovations happening across the industry – in oil and gas, renewables, energy storage and transmission.

The Energy Innovation Brief is compiled by Ryan Workman and Marla Orenstein. If you like what you see, subscribe to our mailing list and share with a friend. If you have any interesting stories for future editions, please send them to .