Shell’s John MacArthur met Energy Voice to talk about the Shell Springboard competition as he prepared to host the event in Aberdeen. Mr MacArthur is Shell’s vice president of Group CO2, a central team which oversees the company’s net carbon footprint and climate change policy positions. He explains how Shell Springboard contributes to the UK’s low carbon economy and fits in with Shell’s new energy and carbon dioxide commitments.
Q. How did you get involved in Shell’s Springboard competition?
A. The MacArthur family business started in the oil industry in Aberdeen, focusing on high tech, downhole electronics. So I have a lot of understanding for people starting up businesses in the energy industry. But setting up a business in Aberdeen is a great experience thanks to the energy ecosystem that exists here. When I was asked six years ago if would come and host the event, I jumped at it. There are no strings attached in term of the funding, and I really like that. Shell is contributing to broader society by helping to develop clean energy through Shell Springboard. A lot of innovation comes from the smaller enterprises and the competition reflects and celebrates that.
Q. Of all the ideas presented at Shell Springboard, which stand out in your memory?
A. I have lots of fond memories of brilliant ideas and people who have gone on from Shell Springboard to do well. Shell Springboard attracts all kinds of technology. One that stands out is Deciwatt. Their GravityLight innovation brings power to homes which are not connected to the grid. It involves the use of a bag connected to a pulley system. The bag is filled with sand, and as it is lowered from a height, the pulley system generates energy in a small motor. It can power a light to allow someone to read a book, for example. Another terrific technology came from Upside Energy. They developed a cloud-based energy service that collects the energy stored in systems people and businesses already own, such as solar panels and electric vehicles. It is then sold to the national grid, helping reduce the reliance on power stations during peak demand times. That can make a big contribution to lowering our carbon footprint.
Q. Why should low-carbon technology developers enter the Shell Springboard competition?
A. One of the big pluses is there are no strings attached with the funding. Also, we don’t decide who wins. We have an independent panel of judges. The objective of Shell Springboard is to support society and the communities in which Shell works. None of the entrants get a flat “no”, even if they don’t make the final. The judges use their experience to advise entrants. They give feedback to people to help them grow their ideas. It’s not just about the winners on the night. We want everyone to have an opportunity to win in broader terms. We can help nurture their ideas and give them practical advice on things like how to make better presentations. As well as the £40,000 for regional winners, and the additional £110,000 for the national winner, Shell Springboard participants also get visibility. It’s very helpful for businesses to hear judges telling them they have a great idea. Upside, to give one example, has gone on to do really well and secure more funding. Graham Oakes, Upside’s founder, has said Shell Springboard was a crucial stamp of approval for the business. When you are an entrepreneur setting up a business with a new idea and you’re out there in the world, it’s difficult. So to have someone who believes in you is a really strong catalyst for success.
Q. What does organising a competition like Shell Springboard say about Shell’s commitment to a low-carbon future?
A. Last year Shell made a big announcement on net carbon reduction. We aim to bring down the net carbon footprint of our energy products by 20% by 2035 and by 50% by 2050. It could mean switching our product mix from 50% gas to 75%. That could, for example, mean selling the energy from 200 large offshore wind farms. That commitment shows Shell is in step with the Paris Climate Change Agreement and with society. This is why we invest where we work – we are a partner in our community. We have invested in electricity and have had our first foray into domestic supply with the acquisition of First Utility. With electric vehicles, there are three types of plug, but whichever one you’ve got, we’ve got all three at our service stations. We won’t reach our targets using just one approach. It will be a combination of everything. That is the size of the challenge.
Q. Is there a particular type of low-carbon technology that excites you most?
A. At Shell Springboard we get a really broad suite of technology, but I’m really excited about hydrogen. Shell was the first fuel retailer with hydrogen in its service stations in Europe and the UK. Hydrogen presents an opportunity for clean transportation. There are also a couple of businesses participating tonight which are using carbon as a valuable product, not waste. We should not be throwing things away. It’s part of having a circular economy. I want to be surprised when I come to something like this. Shell doesn’t want to miss anything. You can’t have all of the most innovative and clever people within your own company. There’s a lot outside in academia, SMEs and government. There’s a lot of innovation in the world and we have to be aware of that.
Q. Why do you think Scotland is a suitable host for an event like Shell Springboard?
A. Scotland really is a world leader in carbon dioxide emissions reduction targets. The government is trying to reduce them by 80% by 2050. Great progress has already been made up until now. Scotland’s emissions are almost half of what they were back in 1990, which shows how progressive Scotland is. There are great natural resources in this country that people are accessing. In the north-east of Scotland, Statoil and Vattenfall, with their wind farm projects, are providing great examples of how our industry is learning to thrive in the energy transition. Aberdeen is not the oil and gas capital of Europe, it’s the energy capital, though there is still a long way to go for oil and gas. The north-east can be a great exporter of talent in renewable energy, not just oil. The region has a great opportunity as we move into the new energy space.