The Big Energy Debate

Posted on: 21 September 2022 in Issue 3

Rachel Hanmer-Dwight, Carbon & Utilities Manager, recently joined the Panel for the Big Energy Debate during this year’s UHEI conference. The session focused on energy and the different paths estate management professionals in both the HE and NHS sectors are taking to reach net zero, reduce fossil fuel dependency and adopt more sustainable power sources.

Each year, the UHEI (University and Healthcare Estates and Innovation) conference series brings together estates directors, staff, and other specialists to share leading practice and explore the many challenges and opportunities they face. The University of Liverpool has previously spoken at UHEI on its District Network operations and sustainability commitments. 

This year, Rachael was invited to sit on the Panel at the Big Energy Debate, where she was joined by Helena Tinker (Manchester Metropolitan University), Claire Hennessey (Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust), and Bethany Goodwin (Inenco). The Panel discussed the complexities of navigating energy transitions in the current climate and the various paths to Net Zero. 

“Our discussions led us down the road of blended and transitional technology solutions,” says Rachael. “The role of gas, good and bad, the scale and diversity of our individual decarbonisation challenges, and the harsh and expensive realities of operating in a currently volatile and unforgiving energy market.”

The Panel stressed that ‘bottom-line’ business cases with short paybacks are insufficient to meeting the sustainability demands of today. Rachael explains: “Adopting a longer-term outlook and one that accounts for all aspects of sustainability, including carbon reduction, welfare, social value, and natural capital, is critical. At the same time, everyone on the Panel agreed there is unlikely be one quick-fix – or the resources required – to deliver transformation overnight.”

Other factors, such as technological advancements, bridging and closing the skills gap, unlocking investment, and global events, will all influence the direction and speed of each sector’s decarbonisation journey.

Rachael adds that the Panel echoed views from the Conference’s Plenary session, featuring Estates Directors Trevor Payne, University of Birmingham, and Andy Nolan, University of Nottingham. “While framed as a ‘race’ to net zero, we are all in the same pack at the starting line and setting the pace for each other,” she stresses. “Our energy solution lies in a mix of radical transformation and culture change – paired with good estate management, quality maintenance and attention to the basics.”