Interview: David Boyland
Mott MacDonald is a £1.4BN global management, engineering and development consultancy. It is one of the world’s largest employee-owned companies, with 16,000 employees and over 180 offices delivering sustainable outcomes for clients in 150 countries worldwide. It works on projects in the transportation, buildings, power, oil and gas, water and wastewater, environment, education, health, international development and digital infrastructure sectors. Mott MacDonald supports clients including financers, developers and insurers with a range of technical advisory services tailored to their particular needs.
David Boyland is the manager of Mott MacDonald’s hydropower and renewables team. He is responsible for leading and growing the consultancy’s global service offering, which encompasses project and advisory work across the hydropower, onshore and offshore wind and solar energy sectors. Here he talks to Finance Monthly about trends in the energy industry, complexities surrounding energy-related projects and offers valuable advice to professionals working in the industry.
The energy industry has expanded exponentially in the past few years – what have been the trends in the solar, wind, energy and hydropower systems sectors in the past twelve months?
Globally, the commissioning of renewables overtook conventional generation capacity several years ago. Last year, more renewable energy projects were commissioned in non-Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries than in OECD countries. This shows that developing markets have overtaken the rest of the world when it comes to levels of investment. Hydropower continues to be strong internationally, with strong support for responsibly developed schemes. We’ve also seen China accelerate its activity and expand worldwide. Meanwhile in the UK we’ve seen something of a pause. New onshore wind has slowed, leaving the focus on offshore, while solar tariff cuts and ongoing photovoltaic cost reductions has reduced market impetus. Support for anaerobic digestion is also being reduced.
Other trends we’ve seen include the extension of renewable electricity production tax credits in the US, progress in the integration of storage – although this is only at an early stage – and a reduction in tariffs for offshore wind projects.
What would you say are the typical challenges surrounding energy-related projects in the UK?
Over the last two years, the generation market has become shaped by the government’s decisions on support. These days, capacity is only built if there is a government contract to underwrite them, such as contracts for difference (CFD) for low carbon capacity projects in areas such as renewables, carbon capture and storage and nuclear or capacity agreements for firm and dispatchable fossil fuelfired plants. Meanwhile in the last 18 months, small-scale embedded fossil generation plants, diesel or gas engines connected to distribution networks, have benefited from an increase in embedded benefits arising from avoided network charges and deepening ancillary service markets.
The challenge is that it is not clear what level of support will be available and how it will be allocated, as this is influenced by political trends and available financing. Coupled with this is the fact that the regulatory framework appears to be continually changing. For example, the exemption on the Climate Change Levy was ended for renewables and combined heat and power two years ago.
Other challenges to consider are how National Grid’s transmission network use of system charges has significantly increased, the fact that the quantity of offshore wind schemes is constrained to the volume of CFD awarded in a year and environmental permitting considerations for hydropower projects.
How does your company overcome the challenges presented by the fast-moving nature of the energy sector?
We have a team of specialists with a background in all types of power technologies who are wellinformed, which we make sure is the case by working closely with a wide range of clients. We also have the agility to work in a range of different countries. There is regular communication between countries, especially when the level of activity is growing fast, so you need to have a presence and be active in as many countries as possible. Many members of our team are working across different countries, bringing knowledge of
technologies being deployed from one country to the next. Our diversification across client types, energy technologies and geographies means that we pick up on many new developments – this is a great sign of business resilience.
You have established a global business delivery model for your company’s renewable energy and energy environment business, through the creation of team hubs in a number of countries across the globe – can you detail the key complexities that you were faced with in the process?
There are multiple benefits to working globally. Firstly, our clients are usually working across multiple markets deploying the same technologies globally, so it makes sense to work with them in as many places as possible. Secondly, it is difficult to grow if you only operate in one market as there will generally be country or region specific constraints to work with. Finally, we can draw on the expertise of the wider Mott MacDonald Group, to manage any cultural sensitivities when it comes to doing business in different parts of the world.
What are the unique challenges of operating on offshore energy projects?
Safety, accessibility in weather, getting a viable and affordable approach to maintenance with regards to ships and equipment are some of the challenges we face on offshore wind energy projects.
As a leading professional in the renewable energy industry– is there any general advice you could offer to corporations that are challenged to adapt their business models to the renewable energy transition?
Surround yourself with the best people in the industry. Think globally and expose team members to opportunities in a range of locations. There’s a good chance that there will be more fundamental changes to the renewable energy industry in the near future, so we need to build those potential scenarios: “Will generation become more decentralised?” and “ How can we integrate storage into new developments?” – into business planning.