Last month, Regen celebrated 20 years since its inception during the days of the RDA. Here, CEO Merlin Hyman reflects on the changes that Regen has seen – and made happen – in that time.
Twenty years ago, a group of people in the South West of England decided there was something in this renewables thing and the sector could do with some support. And so Renewable Generation South West – or Regen SW for short – was born. Regen ‘mark 1’ was four people in a corner of the South West Regional Development Agency office, with success measured in MWs of renewables and jobs created.
Over the next few years, Regen SW grew to become a focal point for the nascent renewables sector, bringing it together to identify and address barriers and providing a voice with policymakers and press. Regen trained local planning officers and councillors in renewables, addressed grid barriers, provided practical business support to early clean energy entrepreneurs, developed the local offshore wind supply chain, ran the Green Energy Awards to celebrate success and, perhaps most ambitiously, developed a grid connected test site for wave energy 10 miles off the Cornish coast.
From the start, the first chief executive, Matthew Spencer, and the team of early Regeners (including Cheryl, Keith and Chloe) set some of the values that remain a key part of Regen today – notably a focus on high-quality work with genuine impact and an empowered and passionate team. The team ethos became very clear to me when applying for the Chief Executive role. After the usual interview with Regen’s board, I was shown into the office, sat down and grilled by each team member in turn.
In 2011, Regen faced its biggest challenge with the end of public funding. Talking to the renewables sector, it was clear that they valued the expertise Regen had developed and supported it continuing. Most important, however, was a shared commitment by a group of people (not least Johnny, Rachel and Hazel) and our board to creating a new self-sufficient organisation.
Regen ‘mark 2’ was an independent, not-for-profit national centre of energy expertise with a clear mission to accelerate the transition to net zero energy and a commitment to working on the front line. In that role we worked with Mole Valley Farmers on supporting the rural sector to go renewable, helped set up Communities for Renewables CIC to support the community energy sector to develop large-scale projects and developed analytical tools for DNOs to plan for renewables and low carbon technologies in the form of DFES.
Regen has now grown to become a team of leading strategists in the journey to net zero energy, with five clear strategic goals and more than 35 highly talented people who are passionate about the impact we can have on the energy transition and climate change – and who contribute daily to a truly unique working environment. We now work with the key players in the energy system on projects such as the Day in the Life of a net zero power system with the ESO, and use this detailed insight to help shape key policy areas, from grid connections and the Review of Energy Market Arrangements to the Welsh Government’s heat strategy. We also run the increasingly vibrant Electricity Storage Network and our ReWIRE programme to promote diversity in our sector.
The journey from fossil fuels to renewable power has not been a smooth or easy one over those 20 years. However, we have seen a remarkable transition driven by the inspiring achievements of the clean energy sector. Two decades since Regen began, we are proud of what we achieved and more passionate than ever about stepping up our work, with you, our members, partners and friends, to accelerate the transition to clean energy.