David Still: “Energy Is the Lifeblood of Any Country!”

UK renewables and wind expert David Still lives in a country with huge onshore and offshore wind resource and additional major potential for exploiting waves and sea current energy. Still firmly believes in a sustainable future energy supply based upon renewables and provided as an essential public service to the people in the UK. Availability and access to energy is, in his view, the lifeblood of any country.

David Still

The trained psychologist started his career as a financial advisor for the British organization VSO in Papua New Guinea. After returning to the UK, Still wanted to continue his involvement in less developed countries and joined a company specialised in small scale renewables, including building small turbine solutions for rural Outer Mongolia. When in the early 1990s the community wind market started developing, he founded Border Wind, a project development firm. The first project, comprising nine 300kW Windmaster turbines, was completed in 1992 at Blyth. Still said: “Later on we started exploring opportunities for developing offshore wind in the UK, and teamed up with Shell, PowerGen (now E.on) and Nuon (Vattenfall) for our 4MW Blyth Offshore project completed in 2000. This involvement established a sound footing for further UK offshore wind development, and strengthened relations with the Crown Estate.”

Manufacturing opportunity

Later, UK developer AMEC acquired Border Wind. Still served a 5-year term as chairman of the BWEA (now RenewableUK) before becoming the renewables advisor for UK Energy Ministers. His government contacts brought him a cooperation with Clipper Windpower during 2002 – 2004. This US supplier considered the UK a main market for offshore wind and decided to make the country the main development and manufacturing hub for a new 10MW turbine design called Clipper Britannia. Still: “I got involved right from the beginning and considered this project a major opportunity for rebuilding the UK manufacturing industry. Simultaneously, I would simply not believe our proud engineering heritage could not deliver the necessary skills set for the Britannia.

“Even though the Clipper venture unfortunately failed to succeed, there are still plenty opportunities left to develop a viable local supply chain for offshore wind. However, this requires strong political will and firm financial and other commitment too.”

Still is concerned by the current government plans for a new large-scale nuclear power plant, especially because it will be built and financed by foreign-based public companies. He said: “National public ownership of energy generating infrastructure is as we all know far from perfect. However, in the proposed commercial setup for the new nuclear plant foreign companies will do the bulk of all engineering and construction work. Their shareholders will reap the operational benefits, while the overall project structure will inevitably lead to more complexity and more legal interventions and thus higher legal costs.”

Knowledge loss

According to Still, equally worrying is that the project design will result in massive loss of local engineering knowledge and skills. He said he is failing to understand why the UK must be one out of few countries in the developed world that is actively pursuing a nuclear future: “There appears a knowledge as well as a perception gap on both basic nuclear know-how and all risks and costs involved. One would expect that the disastrous experiences with two new nuclear plants under construction in Finland and France should here provide ample proof and make politicians at least rethink. In both cases total costs will have risen to about three times the initial turnkey budget after final construction completion. But how can the government honestly believe that the picture will be more favourable when a largely similar plant is built in the UK? Not to speak of the agreement to pay these future owners € 130/MWh during a 35-year operating period!”

Best solution

A wider philosophical question is whether state-owned companies in China and France can effectively provide the best long-term solution for the UK people, Still said. “Our country apparently does not want to bear the cost for plant construction and ownership, but will have to bear all future risks and costs. This includes the finding of alternative generating capacity if the project gets delayed with 6 – 7 years like what happens in Finland and France.”  

He pointed out that the UK has one of the best wind resources in Europe. Why then not opt instead for a future-oriented energy strategy, where new capacity can be added gradually and for increasingly lower lifecycle costs, while simultaneously creating jobs and wealth for the country, Still concluded.

Interview by Eize de Vries