Tag: careers

A net zero UK will be good for people and the planet

Peak district walker

For the UK to reach net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 and do its part in tackling the biggest challenge of our time, all sectors of the economy must reduce their emissions and do it quickly.

I believe the best approach to tackling climate change is through ‘co-benefit’ solutions: solutions that not only have a positive environmental impact, but that are economically progressive for society today and in the future through training, skills and job creation.

As an energy company, this task is especially important for Drax. We have a responsibility to future generations to innovate and use our engineering skills to deliver power that’s renewable, sustainable and that doesn’t come at a cost to the environment.

Our work on Zero Carbon Humber, in partnership with 11 other forward-thinking organisations, aims to deploy the negative emissions technology BECCS (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage), as well as CCUS (carbon capture, usage and storage) in industry and power, and ramp up hydrogen production as a low carbon fuel. These are all essential technologies in bringing the UK to net zero, but they are also innovative projects at scale that can benefit society and the lives of people in the Humber, and around the UK.

New jobs in a new sector

The Humber region has a proud history in heavy industries. What began as a thriving ship building hub has evolved to include chemicals, refining and steel manufacturing. However, these emissions-intensive industries have grown increasingly expensive to operate and many have left for countries where they can be run cheaper, leading to a decline in the Humber region.

If they are not decarbonised, these industries will face an even greater cost. By 2040, emitters could face billions of pounds per year in carbon taxes, making them less competitive and less attractive for international investment.

Deploying carbon capture and hydrogen are essential steps towards modernising these businesses and protecting up to 55,000 manufacturing and engineering jobs in the region.

Capturing carbon at Drax: Delivering jobs, clean growth and levelling up the Humber. Click to view executive summary and case studies from Vivid Economics report for Drax.

A report by Vivid Economics commissioned by Drax, found that carbon capture and hydrogen in the Humber could create and support almost 48,000 new jobs at the peak of the construction period in 2027 and provide thousands of long term, skilled jobs in the following decades.

As well as protecting people’s livelihoods, decarbonisation is also a matter of public health. In the Humber alone, higher air quality could save £148 million in avoided public health costs between 2040 and 2050.

I believe the UK is well position to rise to the challenge and lead the world in decarbonisation technology. There is a clear opportunity to export knowledge and skills to other countries embarking on their own decarbonisation journeys. BECCS alone could create many more jobs related to exporting the technology and operational know-how and deliver additional value for the economy. As interest in negative emissions grows around the world, the UK needs to move quickly to secure a competitive advantage.

A fairer economy

This is in many ways the start of a new sector in our economy – one that can offer new employment, earnings and economic growth. It comes at just the right time. Without intervention to spur a green recovery, the COVID-19 crisis risks subjecting long-term economic damage.

Being at the beginning of the industrial decarbonisation journey means we also have the power to shape this new industry in a way that spreads the benefits across the whole of the UK.

We’ve previously seen sector deals struck between the government and industry include equality measures. For example, the nuclear industry aims to count women as 40% of its employees by 2030, while offshore wind is committed to sourcing 60% of its supply chain from the UK.

Wind turbines at Bridlington, East Yorkshire

At present, the Humber region receives among the lowest levels of government investment in research and development in the UK, contributing to a pronounced skills gap among the workforce. In addition, almost 60% of construction workers across the wider Yorkshire and Humber region were furloughed as of August 2020.

A project such as Zero Carbon Humber could address this regional imbalance and offer skilled, long term jobs to local communities. That’s why I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement of £1bn investment to support the establishment of CCUS in the Humber and other ‘SuperPlaces’ around the UK.

As the Government’s Ten Point Plan says, CCUS can ‘help decarbonise our most challenging sectors, provide low carbon power and a pathway to negative emissions’. 

Healthier forests

The co-benefits of BECCS extend beyond our communities in the UK. We aim to become carbon negative by 2030 by removing our CO2 emissions from the atmosphere and abating emissions that might still exist on the UK’s path to net zero.

Background. Fir tree branch with dew drops on a blurred background of sunlight

This ambition will only be realised if the biomass we use continues to be sourced from sustainable forests that positively benefit the environment and the communities in which we and our suppliers operate.

Engineer working in turbine hall, Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire

Engineer working in turbine hall, Drax Power Station, North Yorkshire

I believe we must continuously improve our sustainability policy and seek to update it as new findings come to light. We can help ensure the UK’s biomass sourcing is led by the latest science, best practice and transparency, supporting healthy, biodiverse forests around the world; and even apply it internationally.

Global leadership

Delivering deep decarbonisation for the UK will require collaboration from industries, government and society. What we can achieve through large-scale projects like Zero Carbon Humber is more than just the vital issue of reduced emissions. It is also about creating jobs, protecting health and improving livelihoods.

These are more than just benefits, they are the makings of a future filled with opportunity for the Humber and for the UK’s Green Industrial Revolution.

By implementing the Ten Point Plan and publishing its National Determined Contributions (NDCs) ahead of COP26 in Glasgow next year, the UK continues to be an example to the world on climate action.

Climate change is the biggest challenge of our time

Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner

Climate change is the biggest challenge of our time and Drax has a crucial role in tackling it.

All countries around the world need to reduce carbon emissions while at the same time growing their economies. Creating enough clean, secure energy for industry, transport and people’s daily lives has never been more important.

Drax is at the heart of the UK energy system. Recently the UK government committed to delivering a net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and Drax is equally committed to helping make that possible.

We’ve recently had some questions about what we’re doing and I’d like to set the record straight.

How is Drax helping the UK reach its climate goals?

At Drax we’re committed to a zero-carbon, lower-cost energy future.

And we’ve accelerated our efforts to help the UK get off coal by converting our power station to using sustainable biomass. And now we’re the largest decarbonisation project in Europe.

We’re exploring how Drax Power Station can become the anchor to enable revolutionary technologies to capture carbon in the North of England.

And we’re creating more energy stability, so that more wind and solar power can come onto the grid.

And finally, we’re helping our customers take control of their energy – so they can use it more efficiently and spend less.

Is Drax the largest carbon polluter in the UK?

No. Since 2012 we’ve reduced our CO2 emissions by 84%. In that time, we moved from being western Europe’s largest polluter to being the home of the largest decarbonisation project in Europe.

And we want to do more.

We’ve expanded our operations to include hydro power, storage and natural gas and we’ve continued to bring coal off the system.

By the mid 2020s, our ambition is to create a power station that both generates electricity and removes carbon from the atmosphere at the same time.

Does building gas power stations mean the UK will be tied into fossil fuels for decades to come?

Our energy system is changing rapidly as we move to use more wind and solar power.

At the same time, we need new technologies that can operate when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining.

A new, more efficient gas plant can fill that gap and help make it possible for the UK to come off coal before the government’s deadline of 2025.

Importantly, if we put new gas in place we need to make sure that there’s a route through for making that zero-carbon over time by being able to capture the CO2 or by converting those power plants into hydrogen.

Are forests destroyed when Drax uses biomass and is biomass power a major source of carbon emissions?

No.

Sustainable biomass from healthy managed forests is helping decarbonise the UK’s energy system as well as helping to promote healthy forest growth.

Biomass has been a critical element in the UK’s decarbonisation journey. Helping us get off coal much faster than anyone thought possible.

The biomass that we use comes from sustainably managed forests that supply industries like construction. We use residues, like sawdust and waste wood, that other parts of industry don’t use.

We support healthy forests and biodiversity. The biomass that we use is renewable because the forests are growing and continue to capture more carbon than we emit from the power station.

What’s exciting is that this technology enables us to do more. We are piloting carbon capture with bioenergy at the power station. Which could enable us to become the first carbon-negative power station in the world and also the anchor for new zero-carbon cluster across the Humber and the North.

How do you justify working at Drax?

I took this job because Drax has already done a tremendous amount to help fight climate change in the UK. But I also believe passionately that there is more that we can do.

I want to use all of our capabilities to continue fighting climate change.

I also want to make sure that we listen to what everyone else has to say to ensure that we continue to do the right thing.

People strategy

Our people strategy: One Drax

Following extensive consultation with employees, we developed our people strategy to 2020 – One Drax. It has been designed to address the key issues that were raised by employees in our 2016 employee survey, such as the need for clearer learning and development programmes and more effective internal communications. The strategy focuses on valuing our people, driving business performance and developing talent to deliver our strategic and operational objectives.

We launched the five aspects of the strategy: my career, my performance, our behaviours, our reward, my recognition. In 2018, we will focus on all of these aspects and, in particular, our reward, my recognition and my career.

Behavioural framework

We have developed a number of HR programmes in line with our people strategy. The foundation of this is a new behavioural framework that identifies positive behaviours reflecting our Company values: honest, energised, achieving, together. The behaviours are integrated into all areas of our people management processes at Drax Group. The HR team consulted with one in five employees across the business, including senior leaders and union representatives, to develop the framework.

In 2018 we will further embed the behavioural framework and our Company values into our culture by developing an online tool for employees to evaluate how they demonstrate the behaviours.

Developing our people / apprenticeships

At Drax Power, we have a proud history of apprenticeships, with the majority remaining to work at Drax and progressing through the Company.


Mick Moore joined Drax on 7 September 1976 as a craft apprentice.

On completion of his apprenticeship, Mick continued to further his education and completed an HNC in Electrical & Electronic Engineering. After a 10-year break he resumed his further education, graduating from Humberside & Lincolnshire University with a degree in Electronics & Control Engineering, achieving Chartered Engineering status with the Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1999.

Having worked at Drax for 41 years, Mick’s career has included roles such as Instrument Mechanic, various engineering grades from Assistant Engineer to Process Control Engineer & Maintenance Section Head. Mick is now the Electrical, Control & Instrumentation Engineering Section Head for Drax Power and is currently responsible for a team of 51 people.


 

Forests, sustainability and biomass – the expert’s view

It was a forestry catastrophe that first inspired Matthew Rivers’ interest in forests.

Dutch Elm trees, an iconic part of the UK landscape for over 250 years were becoming infected with a fatal and fast-spreading disease. The race was on to save them.

A schoolboy in North London at the time, Rivers joined the after curricular school team tasked with saving its trees – first by injecting them with insecticide, and when that didn’t work, by felling and replanting them. It was an early foundation in how forests work and the challenges of keeping them healthy.

Decades later, Rivers is Director of Corporate Affairs at Drax. It’s a role he finds himself in following a career as a forester, helping to manage forestry businesses, and supporting the setting up of wood product manufacturing plants.

His own estimation of his working life is a humble one, however. “I think I’m probably a failed farmer,” he says.

“A forester always plants in hope.”

Rivers studied forestry at university in Scotland before taking up jobs in the forestry industry across the UK, Uruguay and Finland. Working in this industry, he says, is one that requires patience.

“In the UK we’re talking about 30- or 40-year growth cycles. The trees I planted at the start of my career are only just coming to maturity now,” he explains.

But more than the long investment of time, being a forester relies on faith. “A forester always plants in hope,” he says. When a forester plants a tree, he or she most commonly does not know who the end customer will be.

So when the call came from Drax for a forestry expert to help guide the company through an important transformation – upgrading the power station from coal to biomass – the challenge was one he was ready to take.

“Drax already had ambitions of converting three boilers to run on biomass. That would mean consuming tonnes of compressed wood pellets,” he says. The business needed a supply, and Rivers was drafted in to set this up.

As part of the supply solution, and Chaired by Rivers, Drax set up Drax Biomass, a pellet manufacturing business in the USA that makes and supplies compressed wood pellets to Drax Power Station.

Setting up its own manufacturing plant not only means Drax needs to rely on fewer external suppliers, but also that it can use the learnings about the technologies, the economics and the sourcing of the process to continually hone its supply chain.

To operate responsibly and receive governmental support, Drax has to be sustainable, and this is particularly important when it comes to where and how it sources its fuel. This comes with its own challenges.

No universal definition of sustainability

“To my understanding, there is no universal definition of sustainability,” says Rivers. So how do you proof your business for an unclear entity?

“At its heart, sustainability is about not doing anything today that would prejudice doing the same thing for the next generation or generations to come.”

A responsibly managed forest is one that is as healthy, productive, diverse and useful in 100 or 500 years’ time as it is today. They key to this, is to think of forests as a whole.

Rivers explains: “Think about a single tree – you fell it and use it to heat your home over one winter. But it’s going to take perhaps 30 years for that tree to grow back,” he says. “What do you do for the next 30 years?”

“In a sustainably managed forest you have all different ages of tree represented – one thirtieth devoted to each age- and, when you use an older tree to warm you in winter, you plant a replacement. That way, for every year you’ll have trees reaching maturity ready to provide your power.” It’s a cycle that, if managed responsibly, keeps delivering a useful resource as well as maintaining the health of the forest.

Rivers continues: “Sustainability is the very nature of what a forester does; because if we don’t take care of our forests, and ensure we have a crop to harvest year after year, we lose our livelihood.”

forests_trees_growing_for_winter_heating_smh4nj

Becoming a private forester

Two decades ago, Rivers completed a loop he started decades ago amidst the Dutch Elm crisis and became a forest owner himself. In Scotland, he bought, and now manages, his own private forest.

“We’ve had kids’ birthday parties, we’ve dug out a pond, we harvest chanterelles in the autumn – there’s a millennium capsule buried somewhere,” he says.

It’s not only a family heirloom. It’s a place for him to exercise a passion – maintaining and managing a responsible and healthy forest.

 

My four principles of leadership

1. Have vision  

The first task of any leader is to have the vision for the future of their organisation. This doesn’t mean creating it on his or her own. It means that a leader needs to be ready to challenge assumptions, embrace change, have courage and be brave when necessary.

When I think about this I’m reminded of the challenges we faced when we decided to upgrade our power station in Yorkshire to use compressed wood pellets instead of coal .

In delivering this strategy, we faced three major hurdles:

  • Nobody had ever done it before.  There was no technical solution readily available. We had to create one ourselves using our own engineering know-how.
  • There was no supply chain for the compressed wood pellets. We would need to build our own.
  • Civil servants doubted we could deliver it and regardless, there was no Government support for our vision.

Because we had been so thorough, I knew that we had our facts right. In particular, I was certain that we could produce the same amount of electricity while cutting carbon by 80 per cent.

The only logical conclusion was to drive forward. It would never have happened if we hadn’t been confident about our vision.

I’m particularly proud of the way Drax engineers have developed a world-leading technology to transform the way the UK’s largest power station works without any interruption to supply. In 2015, we generated 7.9% of the UK’s electricity or 26.7 TWh from the one single site in North Yorkshire, according to data in our annual report and from the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC). That included 11.5 TWh of compressed wood pellet power – equal to around 13% of the UK’s total renewable electricity (up from 12% a year earlier) or enough to meet the needs of around three million homes (one in every 10 in the country). From the fourth quarter of 2015, we began generating more electricity from sustainable biomass than from coal.

There’s still a long way to go – at least three years if not more – before we can say our work is done, but it’s already a massive achievement.

2. Always be open and approachable

Everyone in your organisation needs to understand what you’re seeking to achieve and why.

For me, being open is also about being honest, approachable and interested in other views. Not just as an individual, but as an entire organisation. As President Obama said while addressing young people on his recent visit to the UK:

“Seek out people who don’t agree with you, and it will also help you to compromise.”

In some instances you need to push forward, while in others you need to compromise. That means a leader needs to trust in their vision while being open to challenges.

At Drax, we know our employees have integrity and can be trusted. At all levels, people need to have highly sensitive information to do their job. This can be a very challenging issue for a company listed on the London Stock Exchange, where a leak could do very serious damage indeed.

When we first listed in 2005, this led to boardroom disagreement. On one side, directors wanted to restrict information to a minimum because they felt this was the best way to limit risk.

As Chief Executive, I strongly disagreed with this. Obviously some things need to be kept confidential, but I really believe that it is important for a leader to be open. In fact, I think one of the key strengths of the Group is our open and frank culture. We have never suffered a significant leak in my time in charge.

3. Together we’re stronger 

A leader’s role is not to take all the decisions. Leadership is about getting the best out of everyone around you. That includes the team you work with on a day-to-day basis, the wider team across the whole organisation, and all your stakeholders.

You never know in advance where the best idea is going to come from. If you’re recruitment is right, you’re surrounded by highly qualified experts.

At Drax, I encourage colleagues to have their say. I am surrounded by people who are willing and able to challenge my views and those of my colleagues on our Executive Committee. I would be silly not to listen to them. We all are more engaged when we’re involved in finding the solution to a problem than when we’re merely dictated to.

Central business district, Gaborone, Botswana

4. Drive the future  

No leader can wait for events to unfold. You have to drive your organisation forward in order to shape its future. In my opinion, indecision is the worst decision of all.

In my 20s I worked for the National Development Bank of Botswana in Gaborone. The bank provided farmers with short- term loans to buy seed to grow their crops.

One day a farmer who was clearly very poor turned up to see the loan officer who shared an office with me. He hadn’t received his loan, because the loan officer hadn’t processed his application in time. So there were no seeds to plant and no crops for the next season.

For years I blamed the loan officer for the farmer’s misfortune. However, from my practical experience as a leader, I now know better. The loan officer’s manager, who was afraid to reprimand him because he came from a privileged local family, should have had more courage. Because they couldn’t decide how to handle the situation, the company and the community it served suffered. Leadership is not an exact science and nothing can compare to experience.

For the sake of future generations, the world needs to urgently move away from coal. Unlike the manager in Gaborone who jeopardised a farmer’s future, my Drax colleagues and I know our leadership is driving the future towards the decarbonisation of our economy.