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Scale up, speed up, start up

Simon Roberts, chief executive of CSE
8 June 2019

Simon Roberts on how our 40th anniversary year could prove to be momentous …

Will 2019 be a genuine breakthrough year when we see a great acceleration in action to cut UK carbon emissions? We’re going to stick our neck out and say yes.

For all the policy deadlock and distraction in Whitehall and Westminster, there are signs that the sorts of things we have been doing for many years here at CSE may be about to become much more widespread – even ‘normal’.

We say, ‘Bring it on’.

The year 2019 is the Centre for Sustainable Energy’s 40th anniversary. And we take heart from Carl Jung’s words: “Life really does begin at 40. Up until then, you’re just doing research”.

So, yes, we’re relentlessly optimistic about the year ahead. But why?

A coffee mug with the words 'Relentless optimism' written on it.

Two reasons.

The first is what we may all look back on as a stunning political tipping point: the growing roll call of local authorities which have followed Bristol council’s unanimous vote in favour of declaring a climate emergency and aiming to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. The vote was triggered by Green Party councillors as a response to the latest IPCC report on the risks of climate change. To date, Bristol has been joined by the Greater London authority and Forest of Dean and Stroud councils, in all cases with unanimous votes in favour by all parties. More councils are likely to follow. 

In the minds of some, the intention is to establish a new local carbon emissions target. That approach typically triggers a swathe of technocratic work detailing how the target might be achieved – if at all. The analysts and consultants are called in (again) and everyone waits to find out what the plan is.

To us, by contrast, the climate emergency motion’s intent is not to stimulate more analysis but to inspire – and give political backing to – stronger action sooner by more people. To scale up, speed up and, in some cases, start up the things we know need to happen and know how to do.

The second reason for optimism is the initiatives we’re currently working on which will really come into their own in 2019. We’re anticipating a prosperous new year for several projects:


This is our new market development programme to accelerate the rate of low carbon housing retrofit. Supported by the BEIS, Futureproof will stimulate both householder demand and a supply chain of trustworthy, high quality contractors.

Next Generation and OpenLV

Two major projects. Both support community energy groups to develop sustainable business models for renewable and smart energy projects in a fast-changing market.

Neighbourhood planning

Our work in this area enables communities to establish a clearer picture of their own low carbon future. And helps them plan to make it happen.


This programme will deliver sophisticated online tools to optimise the design and use of district heating and cooling networks. This will help reduce costs and reveal new opportunities to improve system efficiency and cut carbon emissions.

Social justice in the energy transition

A focus on social justice has been a hallmark of CSE’s approach since 1979. And this year we’ll be building on our extensive work to ensure no one gets left behind in the transition to a smarter energy system. The costs and benefits must be shared fairly.

Is our optimism misplaced? Possibly. But we’ve been a glass-half-full kind of organisation for 40 years and we’re not going to change now.

And we’re going to live 2019 with the aim of proving Carl Jung right.

We’ll be marking our 40th anniversary year in a variety of ways during 2019. Sign up to our e-news to keep up to date with our plans.

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