Albert Einstein once remarked: “I never think of the future. It comes soon enough.” That maybe OK for a genius but it’s not a luxury that the energy sector can afford, particularly not in these highly volatile times when the future energy mix is the subject of fierce debate, the demands for energy security and diversity have never been greater and the challenges of commercialising new energy technologies remain as formidable as ever, if not made more so by the greater complexity of the solutions being explored.
Just as the global energy sector must focus on the future, so too must organisations like LCTS who support it and are responsible for delivering the engineering solutions that can make the clean energy future happen. For us, it is a constant dialogue, both internally and with our clients, to make sure that we are the organisation we need to be to find the answers and meet the demands made on us and, in this piece, I’d like to share some of our thinking.
For the future we see an essentially binary world with two very different sets of demands. On the one hand LCTS believes that the traditional energy technologies will remain strong and the demand in this space will be for high quality engineering solutions which can be delivered quickly and, more importantly, can be relied on without any compromise on safety. Cost is obviously going to remain a key driver and the challenge for organisations like LCTS is to remain lean at all times. There is a very definite cycle in the energy sector whereby organisations at every stage of the value chain ‘put on weight’ during times of favourable pricing only to ‘crash diet’ when the price goes down.
This volatility makes accurate planning difficult and there are practical and human consequences to the resulting uncertainties. Organisations are often quick to claim that their people are their most importance asset but that does not always seem to be the case when efficiencies have to be made. At LCTS, we consider that the personal relationship with the client is vital because we are dealing with high value projects and considerable trust is required from the client to accept what we tell them. These relationships are quickly degraded by staff churn and no-one can do their best work whilst trying to second guess their future. Therefore, in addition to the obvious need to deliver value on cost and time, there is also a need to manage workflows effectively and not simply to pile on the assignments and worry about the logistics later. This is a critical element of how we do business. Short-termism is the enemy and those who join us are with us for the long term.
At LCTS, we also feel that it is important to understand the commercial space we live in and our client base. We don’t operate in the mega-project space. Knowing who we are and what we are is important because there is a trend of larger engineering organisations attempting to participate in smaller projects for which they are not optimised. This is generally driven by a need to keep the order books full and everyone busy but there is a tendency for organisations operating in non-focus areas to deliver the solutions they know rather than the solutions the client needs. The engineering solution needs to be sympathetic to the specific demands of the client’s project and, critically, it needs to be achievable.
If the likely future of the traditional energy engineering sector has form and substance, the same cannot be said of the renewables sector which is still very much in the forming and storming stage and where it is still unclear exactly what the future fuel mix will look like and which technologies will be to the fore. Wind and solar are well-established and there is clearly massive political support for hydrogen as the transport fuel solution of choice alongside electric. That said, the commercial and technical challenges for hydrogen remain considerable and they is much work to be done if we are to move from where we are to where we wish to be.
For an organisation like LCTS which is looking to play a leadership role in the renewables space, a high degree of flexibility is required. Currently the renewables sector is characterised by myriad small organisations, generally technology-based, looking to prove their technology or establish their first project which is, inevitably, small scale. It is generally the case that these organisations are resource-constrained, with finance being the biggest constraint of all. At LCTS, we are in no doubt that, if engineering houses like ourselves are to play a meaningful role in the renewables sector, there needs to be a departure from traditional models of providing engineering support and the engineer/client model and, instead, a more collaborative partnership needs to be developed. For LCTS, that would generally mean active participation in the project which, in turn, demands a greater awareness of, and emphasis on business acumen and a positive attitude towards risk that has historically been the case.
There is no doubt that this is a challenge because of the multitude of project developers out there, nonetheless LCTS is convinced that the engineering players of the renewables future will be those engineering companies that shaped it and that is why we look to actively participate today. The renewables sector is exciting and has massive potential but it will not achieve that potential without the investment of time as well as money by all those involved in it.
In summary, LCTS is very optimistic about the future. The work will be there for those with the skills to do that work and the business opportunities will be there for those actively seeking ways to optimise them. The traditional energy sector will continue to drive business and the renewables sector will add a whole new raft of global opportunities.
We’ll leave the genius to Einstein but in terms of the future, for client-focused companies like LCTS which are alert to the opportunities, build from core competencies and consistently add value, it is a very exciting time to be an engineering consultancy – and it’s going to get even better.