Spotlight on….David Elmes

Spotlight on….David Elmes

By David Elmes, Professor of Practice, University of Warwick

  • What is your current role at your Institution?

Like most people in Academia, I have several roles!  My official title is Professor of Practice in Warwick Business School at the University of Warwick.  That slightly strange title is because I’m someone who spent 20+ years in industry before joining the University.  Hence a significant part of my role is to bring the view of practitioners outside academia into our work in the Business School; research, teaching and how we manage the University.  That involves a fair amount of teaching, especially at MBA and Masters levels where discussions flow between academic thinking and business practice.  I’m the Course Director for our MSc Management, a programme ranked between 10th and 20th in the world, depending what table you look at.   

At University level, I’m on various committees that plan and implement how we become a more sustainable, smart local energy system and for a while I’ve been the Co-Lead for our Energy GRP, the interdisciplinary network of researchers across departments who focus on the supply, storage and use of energy.  On the research side, I’ve had a focus on heating & cooling and am currently Co-I on a UKRI Programme Grant on low temperature networks for heating and cooling. 

  • How does this role build on previous work?

Before joining the university, I was involved in how different parts of the energy industry were starting what we’d now call the Energy Transition -the waves of change that the privatised, competitive power sector has been through in the UK and the global shift between the western-based, international oil and gas companies and the national oil and gas companies around the world.  I was involved in the challenges that energy-intensive industries such as steel face as the global economy has developed and early work in providing energy services online – not a great success at the time!   

Joining the University has allowed me to take a broader view of this since most roles in industry have an inevitable focus on the nearer term in just one area.  I hope that allows me to build a view of the transition overall and how its different parts compete with each other to become our future.  I realise that someone from a business school talking about things competing is a bit of a cliché but whether it’s in the market, in the minds of policy-makers or in the choices we make as consumers, there are a range of options all vying for our attention, for investment and for government endorsement.  

  • What is the most exciting thing about the research that you have done to date?

The speed at which things are moving, and even more changes are needed.  That’s both exciting and concerning!  When I moved from industry to academia, I could see changes happening but what the energy transition must achieve has become far greater.  While a lot of that has been driven by the increased understanding and impact of climate change, there’s a lot driven by patterns of economic growth, development and deployment of technologies and shifts in the who’s who across the supply, storage and use of energy globally.   

So, it’s exciting to see the shifting emphasis across the industry, whether a start-up making its way or the new strategy from a global firm.  Exciting too, is seeing the realisation that how we address heating and cooling is hugely important, and so the role for smart local energy systems that sort out the supply, storage and consumption of energy across heat, power and transport in ways that offer flexibility to the rest of the system, not just pass on their variable needs.   

  • What skills and perspectives are you bringing to EnergyREV and how do you think being involved in EnergyREV will help going forwards?

Please don’t just think of energy as being the supply of electricity, think local systems and “follow the money”!    

There’s still a strong mindset that energy can just be solved by more, decarbonised supply of electricity.  The initial PFER demonstrators have ended up a bit power-focused and so I’m glad that the next wave of PFER detailed design projects include a broader range of energy systems.  Just providing more decarbonised electricity would be hugely expensive in both generation and grid/distribution costs.   

At global level, we still invest over 80% of the capital in that centralised, supply-focused approach.  For every pound of investment in renewable capacity, there’s another pound invested in how we currently build the grid and distribution networks to supply it.  So, we really need to consider reducing and flattening out the energy use across power, heat and transport, and the role that SLES have in that.  Investing in traditional energy supplies is also becoming less profitable and so billions every year are looking to see if smart, local energy systems offer a better solution