Efficiency Leader with Dr Mary Stewart 07 October 2021

The energy management sector is made up of many passionate professionals. 

In this month’s Efficiency Leader, in the lead up to November’s conferences of the parties (COP26) in Glasgow, we are profiling Energy Efficiency Council President, Dr Mary Stewart, CEO of Energetics.

Mary is the BINGO (business, industry, NGO) observer on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Technology Executive Committee’s Implementation taskforce. She was invited to take up this position by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC). The taskforce supports technology needs assessment, collaborative technology development and transfer, and uptake of existing clean mitigation and adaptation technologies. She previously represented the ICC on the Adaptation working group and the Standing Committee on Finance. Mary worked with the negotiators for two UNFCCC COPs and attended COP25 in December 2019.

Can you explain your role at Energetics?
I am the CEO of Energetics, which means I lead our company strategy, oversee performance, and support our people, culture and brand.

What did you do prior to your current role?
I have spent almost 15 years with Energetics. I started as a consultant and worked my way up from there. My PhD was on technology selection in the mining sector so my focus was on our mining and heavy industrial clients. I did a lot of site assessments under EEO [Energy Efficiency Opportunities]. Before joining Energetics, I was in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Sydney.

How would you describe the role Energetics plays in the energy management market and Australia’s energy transition?
Energetics is Australia’s largest and oldest specialist energy and climate risk consultancy. I am proud of the impact we have. We work with ASX200 companies helping them to understand, map and deliver their commitments to net zero. With this has come a significant focus on renewable power purchase agreements (PPAs). In 2020 alone we helped our clients to negotiate PPAs which represented 60% of the output in MWh contracted in the National Electricity Market (NEM), and 90% of the volume in NSW and Victoria.

Having been in business for more than 35 years, we have had a huge impact on energy management through our alumni/ae network. Our people consult to all sectors of Australia’s economy.  

What are you currently excited about in the energy world?
The role of the private sector. They are tired of energy and climate policy uncertainty and are taking back control where they can. They are committed to net zero and know that if they want to avoid a catastrophic transition the need to act now. They also see a real first mover advantage. They are driving the transition we are seeing in the energy sector. I am also excited by the increasing role of the consumer in the energy value chain – there are going to be some really innovative business models in the near future.

As someone who has attended and worked with the negotiators for two UNFCCC conferences of the parties (COP), what are your reflections in the lead up to November's COP26?
It’s going to be an interesting session. The ambition of the UK COP presidency is palpable. They have spent two years working unbelievably hard to get a real result this year. At the same time the challenges that COVID presents to the negotiation process are significant. Some negotiators have proven unwilling to make decisions in a virtual environment so the in-person meetings are very important. The presidency understands that it has been difficult to reach conclusion on some of the more political aspects of the Paris Agreement (such as Article 6 which relates to the carbon markets) because the minister typically only attends the COP in the last couple of days of the COP.

For this reason, they have convened out of session ministerial meetings to attempt to address this gap. We need to land the Paris Rulebook this year. The Kyoto period ended last year and was extended to cover this year because of the COVID delay of the COP. There have been some positive indications from the negotiators that the Paris Rulebook will be finished.

The COP itself will be quite different. The COP Presidency is making vaccines available to Party (countries) and non-Party participants (such as the BINGOs, the Business and Industry NGOs who I represent) to support their attendance. The number of non-Party attendees is expected to be much lower than usual. There are going to be a lot of parallel virtual activities so watch out for sessions you might attend.

We are not expecting any significant announcements from the Federal Government in the lead up to the COP.

Are you encouraged by where the energy management industry is with respect to representation of women in senior roles?
I am encouraged by the women who are in senior roles. Unfailingly when I meet them, they are extraordinary people: smart, driven and resourceful. Unfortunately, there are not enough women at this level.

What do you value about working with the Energy Efficiency Council, both from the perspective of Energetics as a member and your role as President of the EEC?
Energetics values its membership of the EEC because of the strong advocacy position adopted by the Council. As an SME we have limited access to some areas of Australian politics and policy, but with the EEC on our side we have the reach that we want.

As the President of the Council, I am immensely proud of its work and its people. The EEC punches well above its weight in the energy sector and adds huge value to its members.

Where do you see Australia’s energy and energy management markets in 2030?
The market is going to be completely different in 2030. How we produce and use energy will change immeasurably, as will how we pay for energy. The role of offsets in delivering emissions reductions will be clarified, and potentially reduced as people focus on emissions removable and not avoidance.

We will be working in a world with different constraints, more of a focus on time of use and how we get the power to where it is needed, instead of a set and forget on supply and constraints being around networks. The optimisation of energy spend will become more complex as we try to unpack the value stack of both in front of and behind the meter storage and generation and overlaying this onto use profiles. Energy management is increasingly going to be about data analytics and real time responses.

And that is without trying to work out what the energy consumer will be doing in 2030! The lockdown generation will be coming into their own. They are resourceful, self-reliant, resilient and a little scary, only time will tell what they decide to do about the mess we are currently dealing with.

How do you champion energy efficiency in your own home?
We have moved to electricity where possible and buy renewable energy through Red Energy. Our house was built in the 1880s so it has no insulation and is very draughty. We try to eliminate these and use blankets and jumpers instead of heaters.

Unfortunately, our roof is not suitable to support solar. I am embarrassed to say that I drive a 15-year-old 3.8l Toyota (which I love, I am a complete rev head). I have been trying to source an electric motorbike but there is only one model readily available in Australia. I am not a Harley Davidson kind of girl!

When not immersed in Australia’s energy transition, what do you do for fun?
I make every effort to keep my children alive! I enjoy knitting and crocheting and have spent a lot of lockdown making things from blankets to jumpers. I have found out how to make yarn from old t-shirts, and have made a couple of rugs. They look very cool (even if I do say so myself!).

photo of Mary's crocheting handiwork

Connect with Dr Mary Stewart on LinkedIn and Twitter.

This article was originally published in the October edition of Efficiency Insight.