Graeme Cooper is currently the Head of Future Markets at National Grid for Renewable Energy/Clean Transport/Market/Policy/Regulation. His role involves coordinating collaborations between the government and the automotive and energy sectors, to set strategies in order to provide the infrastructure needed.
He is an experienced leader in energy, infrastructure and clean transport, with over two decades working in the power, energy market and utilities sectors. These include renewable energy from offshore wind, onshore wind, solar photovoltaic and renewable heat.
Greame has consulted, advised and supported on government policy, and lobbied UK and Irish governments, and the EU, on regulatory, climate and market issues, along with the UK Government EV Energy Taskforce amongst other regulatory and policy areas.
He’s part of Westminster Energy Forum, DECC Transmission Access Review, OFGEM strategy groups and National Grid CUSC modification working panels, among other electricity industry groups.
Graeme is a colourful character, who lives by his words, having renovated his Grade 2 listed property to effectively zero carbon and drives an electric car.
EDs: What led you into the sustainable business world?
My degree is in civil engineering and when I came out of university the biggest expanding industry was the mobile phone industry. I spent my first 10 or 11 in business rolling out mobile phone networks across Europe.
Then I started a family and I realised I wanted to have a job that my children would be glad their dad did when they grow up. Having children gives you a whole perspective on everything and you suddenly realise that you have a legacy.
When I was in the mobile phone industry it was a technology disruptor, it was pushed by the government, it was pulled by consumers, it had significant infrastructure and a strong regulator.
As the mobile phone network industry was maturing, I started looking for the next big disruption and I saw these same trends in the wind industry. I dipped my toes in to see if I had any transferable skills and I was quickly pulled into it.
Over about 11 years I played my part in building over £500 million worth of onshore wind in Scotland in eight large commercial wind farms and developing a £3.2 billion offshore wind farm off the coast of Scotland.
EDs: What steered you towards the National Grid?
When I was 11 years old they started building what turned out to be National Grid’s control room in the forest near to my house and I used to sit on the diggers and watch them build it.
Then years later when I was building mobile phone networks, I worked for a division of National Grid, enabling putting mobile phone base stations on National Grid’s high voltage towers and on gas holders.
Later again, as a wind farmer, the thing that always held me back was the grid. It was the single most expensive thing I had to pay for and it took a long time to get there. My years as a wind farmer were spent demanding that the energy networks go faster, probably being a complete pain to the National Grid.
When they asked me to come and work for them, they were predicting that the UK was going to have much more disruption on the journey to net zero. They’d seen the disruption of renewables and now they were seeing the disruption of electrifying heat and transport.
Nicola Shaw, then the COO, approached me and said: “Can you help National Grid approach these new markets in the way you’d wished the networks industry had approached the wind industry?”
That meant asking industry what they wanted and trying to work out how to enable what they’re trying to do but also asking them what we need to not interfere with. That’s why it was a draw to me. It’s a big business that’s critical to the journey to net zero.
EDs: What initially motivated you to work in this field?
I’m not just paid to talk about this stuff, I’m genuinely passionate about it. I take my work home with me. My house is effectively carbon neutral, so I buy clean electricity, I use ground source heat pumps, I drive an electric car and I even treat my own wastewater. I may influence regulation and policy at the top end but on a personal level, as an early adopter and consumer, I live and breathe sustainability as well.
EDs: How did your career at National Grid evolve to the point you’re at now?
I worked for National Grid in the mobile phone industry 20 years ago. Sometimes it’s okay to leave a business to progress and come back in at a higher level, and that’s what I did. When I rejoined National Grid where I am now, I brought in outside experience and knowledge.
I had also picked up an MBA in Energy during my time in the wind industry in Norway, the most energy literate country in the world. I also studied disruptive innovation and entrepreneurialism at UC Berkley in California, which I also brought to the role.
EDs: What drew you towards emobility?
I used to be a complete petrolhead driving turbocharged cars, going to track days and rally events. My wife even worked for Bernie Ecclestone the boss of Formula 1. As I progressed in the wind industry and learned more about the environment and our impact upon it, I realised that my private passion was inconsistent with what I was doing and I felt uncomfortable with that.
I had an epiphany when Nissan were offering four-day test drives in the LEAF. At that point I was commuting into central London on the train, spending about £30 every day. On those four days, I did my commute in and out for less than £2 on electricity. I realised it was quick, quiet, cleaner and I could charge it at home. The savings I could make in train tickets would pay for the car and then some.
When National Grid approached me a little while later, I knew I could speak to people’s love of cars. Plus, communicate that what we use to commute – on average, 12,000 miles every year – needs to be cleaner because one of the dirtiest things we do as a country is moving people and goods. This needs three industrial sectors – energy, transport and digital – to collaborate for success.
EDs: What does your current job entail?
National Grid are the “critical enabler” on the journey to net zero. With the energy generation market changing, it’s going from burning stuff to being clean. This is one end, at the other, you’ve got the distribution system and consumption. If we want the cleanest power to enable us to have clean transport, we need the primary power to be green.
As an organisation, we can use our power and scale for good. They’ve been good at responding to mature markets but emobility isn’t mature. We need to help the emobility market mature more quickly so we are then able to respond.
When we ask individual charging companies what they’re trying to do, we start seeing market failures in the answers they give us. My role is sharing this knowledge of these market failures with Government and OFGEM (our regulator) and advising them on how they can evolve policy to help deliver.
EDs: Are there any major advances in emobility that you’re expecting to take shape in 2022?
We will see a significant scale-up in sales of electric vehicles. In November 2021, nearly one in five cars (20%) sold were electric and in December 2021 nearly one in four cars (25%) sold were electric. We will also see a scale-up in the deployment of charging and that’s a mosaic of charging including home, workplace, destination, rapid, ultra-rapid and en-route chargers.
The heavier stuff is also really starting to advance in 2022. Trucks, HGVs, coaches and buses. If we’re going to be putting in the infrastructure to charge more electric cars, you might as well do the same for HGVs. Do it right and do it once for all road users.
EDs: What about over the next five years?
We will start going from “early adopters” of electric vehicles to “early majority” as the market begins to mature. People who are less engaged on the sustainability side will just want, and be able to get, a good affordable electric car.
As this happens, we’ll see more people who get an electric car becoming more engaged consumers, thinking more about how and when they consume energy and how dirty that is.
We’ll start seeing people become more conscious about their choices, not only about charging their car, but this knowledge will also bleed into how they heat/power their homes. Ultimately, then I think we’re going to see more people switching to clean tariffs and more apps becoming available to help people navigate these choices.
EDs: What is the National Grid doing to facilitate the transition to EV?
We’re working quickly to try and get 40GW of offshore wind connected by 2030 to help ‘clean’ our grid. This year we’ll also see the government’s Project Rapid delivery body announced. They will be making grid applications to make more future-proof connections along the strategic road network. We’re also engaging with the aviation and ports industries to help them transition towards electric vehicles.
EDs: What electric vehicle do you drive?
I’ve recently finished a lease on a Tesla Model S and now we’ve just taken delivery of a Mercedes EQC, a beautifully built car.
EDs: What would be your dream electric car to drive?
I have a 21-year old Land Rover Defender and I am deeply in love with the idea of converting it into a fully electric car in the coming years. At the moment, the cost is fairly prohibitive but I firmly believe that the prices of batteries will come down and there might even be a bolt-in kit out there on the market.