As we reach the end of 2021, it’s time to look back at a tumultuous year for the sector and the Association. There’s a risk of these things turning into a list, but please indulge me this once, because I think it’s worth reminding ourselves of all that’s happened in the last 12 months and all that we’ve been able to achieve by working together.
One piece of brilliant news – because there has been some in 2021 – was Audrey being awarded a richly deserved OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours back in June. Audrey’s contribution to consumer issues and to the energy sector continues to be immense. 2021 has also been a year of change for EUK, as we've moved offices, welcomed many new team members, reorganised our internal teams and worked with the Board on a new strategy. We've had fifteen new members joining us this year and the new membership team are working to improve our engagement with members. In the new year we will also start the reorganisation of our Committees and Working Groups.
Externally, I really think we've been punching above our weight in terms of our impact this year. We’ve continued to work closely with the UK Government and the Devolved Authorities and had a place at the table for many of the urgent and important discussions with policymakers that have been critical to member businesses – particularly in recent months on retail. We’ve had nearly 100 meetings with Ministers from across the administrations and have spoken at five Select Committees, with our evidence being reflected in both subsequent media reporting and Committee recommendations.
Recent events also saw EUK doing 100+ media interviews in September/October, ensuring the voice of our industry was heard loud and clear in the coverage. I think I can probably thank (I use the phrase advisedly) all that for my Question Time appearance – which was both nerve wracking and hopefully a welcome opportunity to present the sector differently. We have appeared on many of the flagship political and news broadcast programmes this year, from Sky News' climate programme with the public to the Today Programme.
On a similar note, our Annual Conference took place as the impact of the gas crisis started to become clear to the public, and, with both the Secretary of State and the CEO of Ofgem speaking, we’ve never had more interest in this event; it was surreal to see our event headlining BBC news. It’s is also great (for now!) to be able hold events, like the YEP awards and the Parliamentary Reception, in real life – on top of 45 other hybrid and online events, like our Diversity & Inclusion Conference with Ofgem, during the year.
The main event we had expected this autumn was COP26 and, while we will only be able to judge the overall impact of the Glasgow Pact over the coming years, it was remarkable to see how serious business was about the Net Zero transition. The Energy Transition Hub, held in partnership with RenewableUK was a great success with a fascinating and varied programme of sessions and discussions which are still available on YouTube (ideal Christmas television!).
I’m extremely proud of the reports we’ve done this year highlighting real work being done by members – such as committing to a net zero power system in the 2030s in the Towards Net Zero Emissions report. The commitments made to support your most vulnerable customers, as illustrated in the Vulnerability Commitment best practice report, are more relevant than ever. These commitments by industry have enabled us to team up with consumer groups for a Winter campaign, underlining the support that suppliers are providing to customers.
Of course, it’s in the cause of Net Zero that much of our policy and advocacy work has been directed. Another report we published this year was on EV Smart Charging; the recommendations in that report are now the subject of draft legislation and come accompanied by a ZEV mandate - another long-standing EUK policy ask to accelerate transport decarbonisation.
Underneath dealing with the very live issues of the gas crisis and pandemic, we are all still adjusting to a post-Brexit world and we were pleased to set up the TCA Open Forum to oversee the implementation of the Brexit agreement, and continue to push hard on market integration, giving evidence on EU ETS linkage in Parliament and securing a letter in the FT.
Our team has also supported members through the latest iterations of the CfD auctions and the Capacity Market and achieved clarity on the future of the Warm Home Discount and ECO schemes post-2022. Our countrywide focus has seen Scottish Government legislation on heating mirroring our asks, and a new Cabinet post for Net Zero and Energy.
At times it has felt like there’s hasn’t been much scope for the long-term thinking and reform that we know is required to reach Net Zero but that’s something the Future Power Market Design work we’ve started will address and we continue to highlight how elements like the planning system – as shown by our recent Select Committee appearance on National Policy Statements – need to support Net Zero not hinder it.
And while nobody would have chosen the circumstances, Ofgem and the UK Government have belatedly and recently accepted that we need a Future of Retail Strategy that delivers a sustainable industry that can innovate for Net Zero - not based on a backward looking understanding of the market and ideas like collective switching. We are still processing the implications of Ofgem's winter package, and will continue to do everything we can to make sure Government understands the scale and challenge of the gas price crisis for our industry (and the wider economy, and our customers) in 2022.
That is far from an exhaustive list but I think it’s a representative good cross-section and I must thank my team for all their hard work on all this and more - and all of you for supporting and advising them. It’s been the very definition of a challenging year and 2022 clearly isn’t going to be easy either. Resilience is a much used word now but it’s exactly what this industry continues to show in delivering heat, light and power to every home and business despite the challenges. This will always be our core purpose but we also of course have a huge role to play in shaping the future of this country.
It remains a privilege to represent you all and I am deeply grateful for your continuing support. I wish you all a restful Festive period and despite the circumstances, I hope that you can spend precious and enjoyable time with your families and loved ones.
Emma Pinchbeck, Chief Executive, Energy UK