Our History


The following pieces were written by former Council members to mark BIEE’s 30th anniversary in 2014.


The BIEE traces its origin to the 1st Annual International Conference of the IAEE in Washington DC in 1979. On that occasion, the UK Government representatives were Jane Carter, Eric Price and John Barber, all UK Department of Energy leading a group of some 20 delegates from the UK. In 1980 the decision was taken by David Howell, Secretary-of-State for Energy on recommendations approved by his Permanent Under-Secretary, Sir Donald Maitland to establish an independent company with charitable status and to secure sponsorship from the leading British energy companies. It was formally established as a company limited by guarantee in 1984, becoming a registered charity in 1985, and has been governed by its Council of voluntary officers elected by the members since then.

A full annual BIEE programme of lectures, seminars, and workshops has been held since the early 1980′s. Annual Conferences have been mainly hosted by the Universities of London, Cambridge, Oxford and Warwick. Until 2013 , the Annual General Meeting was held each October in the premises of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, where the BIEE permanent secretariat was first located. Today, most meetings are held online or in facilities provided by BIEE Council member organisations.

In 1980, 1982 and 1984, the BIEE hosted the 2nd, 4th and 6th Annual International Conferences of the IAEE in Churchill College, Cambridge, UK. They provided a convenient venue for significant exchanges between the US Administration led by James Sawhill and Professor Mory Adelman of MIT and the UK Government (Norman Lamont, Nigel Lawson or David Howell) on one side with OAPEC led by Secretary-General Ali Attiga and others on behalf of OPEC on the other. These were the first such meetings since the fall of the Shah in 1979 and second oil-price hike of 1979-80. Other major plenary speakers included the Chairmen of BP and Shell, Ravendra Pachauri, Dale Jorgensen, Alirio Parra, Peter Odell, Michael Telson, John Mitchell, Phil Verleger, Fereidun Fesheraki and Sir William Hawthorne (Master of Churchill College, Cambridge). All the above contributed their papers and remarks to International Energy Options, published by OGH Cambridge, Mass and Graham and Trotman, London in early 1981. A follow-up hardback International Energy Markets was published in 1985.

By 1985, the annual BIEE pamphlet Energy Economics in Britain had evolved into a 425-page hardback under that title published by G & T, London and comprising a major statement on UK energy policy by Nigel Lawson, Chancellor of the Exchequer, commissioned papers by Professors Gerald Manners, Robert Deam, Alexander Kemp and Colin Robinson and 12 papers by other prominent BIEE members. The final 40 pages of the book were devoted to a landmark history of energy economics in Britain spanning the period from Roman times to the present and written by Eric Price, Chief Economist and Under-Secretary at the UK Department of Energy. This final authoritative piece is still quoted widely in the current historical literature of the UK as well as in more general works on the global history of energy, industry and international trade.

Paul Tempest, BIEE Vice President 2001-2009

Research Conferences

My interaction with the BIEE goes right back to the early days when the 2nd international meeting of the IAEE was held in my college, Churchill, Cambridge. I was working in the World Bank from 1981-83 but arrived back for the 6th IAEE conference, also held at Churchill College, whose master, Sir William Hawthorne, had succeeded the first master, Sir John Cockroft, both important figures in the energy world. Cockroft famously split the atom, and played a leadership role in the commercial development of nuclear power. It was at his insistence that Windscale be fitted with stack filters that prevented the nuclear disaster causing a worse radiological leak. Hawthorne worked on the early development of jet engines, the precursor to modern Combined Cycle Gas Turbines, and was active on many energy committees, and founding chair in 1974 of the Advisory Council on Energy Conservation.

My interest in energy economics was sparked by an invitation to work with Joe Stiglitz in Stanford in 1976, when the topic of the day was theory of exhaustible resources (Heal and Dasgupta were visiting at the same time), and evaluating risky energy investments (we were supported by EPRI on that topic). I also worked on credible oil import policies (slightly before Kydland and Prescott published their seminal article on policy credibility) but such are the lags in publication that it was not until 1981 that I succeeded in publishing ‘Oil Prices, Cartels and the Problem of Dynamic Inconsistency’ in the Economic Journal. From 1981-83 I worked in the World Bank, primarily on energy related matters (an Energy Assessment mission to Papua New Guinea and then on transport fuel taxation) before returning to Cambridge.

I was lucky to be a speaker at the first BIEE conference in Warwick in December 1995 and to be invited to sum up the second conference, also in Warwick in 1997, both under the impressive leadership of Peter Davies, Gordon MacKerron and Peter Pearson. The first two conferences produced substantial books, although the BIEE now follows academic pressures to encourage its presenters to publish in article format. The first conference reflected on “The UK energy experience – a model or a warning?” while the second conference widened out to international energy experience. Looking back at those first two conferences the tensions between the enthusiasm for leaving energy policy to the market and the irresistible urge of politicians to intervene in such strategic sectors was evident then and remains so now. In the 1990s the UK energy privatization experience was stimulating the European Commission and the World Bank to spread the message that unbundling could unleash competitive forces for efficiency and that incentive regulation could move natural monopolies away from the deadening hand of the state. Nevertheless, market power was an issue in electricity markets, as was the already recognised need to properly price or otherwise address environmental issues. My summing up then contrasted the emphasis in the previous two decades on energy security, the macro consequences of high oil prices, and resource exhaustion with rising concerns over global warming and pollution, and the recognition that politicians are never happy unless they have reasons for intervention – the incoming 1997 Labour Government duly imposed a windfall tax and ordered a review of utility regulation, replacing the old and simple direction of efficiency with new and confusing obligations.

The 1999 BIEE conference was by now firmly fixed in British energy economists’ calendars, and moved to its new home in the delightful setting of St John’s College Oxford with a regular biennial September two-day format. It has retained one of its most appealing features of creating a collegiate atmosphere which allows the British energy community to refresh contacts while welcoming newcomers, it is small enough to be engaging and large enough to be stimulating. Over time my impression is that it has become more academic with less government (particularly civil servant) involvement. That partly reflects the shift of emphasis from oil towards gas, electricity and the environment. One of the appealing features of earlier conferences was the remarkable candor (under the Chatham House rule) of some policy participants in what was really going on – something to strive for in all energy conferences.

These days we are increasingly judged by impact, and naturally the BIEE and its members are no exception. The problem with impact is that it takes time before it becomes apparent, it is often the result of the gradual accumulation of many inputs, and of course no politician would ever admit to being influenced by an academic argument. Yet that impact is there – after trying everything else, sometimes the government makes sensible decisions (or at least admits implicitly that they got it wrong last time round and will have another try, as with Electricity Market Reform and nuclear power). Civil servants and regulators are becoming somewhat better at recognizing the value of studying the experience of other countries, and the BIEE and IAEE provide an excellent platform for providing international evidence. Looking back at the early conferences the international experience of unbundling and liberalizing was high on the agenda, as was the role of markets, risk and market power mitigation in different institutional structures, notably central Europe as it emerged from state socialism. We were then dismantling the electricity Pool, and we are now trying to reestablish some of its virtues, such as a single balancing price, and the quest for liquidity to price contracts for difference. We were then looking at the first energy directives, now we are on the third package with some prospect of completing the tasks described then, although not necessarily with the eventual market design, which remains a work in progress. Capacity markets, nodal pricing, central dispatch and other aspects of the US standard market design remain to be adopted.

David Newbery Honorary Academic Vice President

Women in Energy

The BIEE is an organisation very close to my heart. I have been attending BIEE events since the early 1990s. In my view, it is the only organisation in Britain which brings together such a wide range of energy actors – whether from business, Government, academia and so on;  with such a diversity of ages – from students through to eminent, retired people;  in such a range of informal settings in a non-profit manner. Thus, BIEE allows young people to be able to meet well-known energy people, who usually only attend expensive commercial meetings.  The mixing of such a diverse set of people and the attendant distribution of knowledge is a wonderful defining characteristic of the BIEE. It is because of this that I have stayed involved, and will continue to do so.  In 30 years the BIEE has had two female Chairs,  of which I was one. The following article, written for my IGov blog, reflects on an aspect of the energy industry that has not kept up with the times.

A recent Ernst and Young report has shown that only 4% of executive board members of the top 100 utility companies is female. Not only does the sector have minimal women, but it is also primarily older and white in character – with 60% of its management over 40. The report argues that this is worrying in terms of diversity of thinking given that the current big kit, centralised energy model is in the middle of fundamental disruptive change and needs new and innovative thinking and practices.

The E&Y report focuses on business but there are similar problems across the energy public policy interface, whether in Government, civil service, the Regulator, NGOs, academia and so on. The outright daily sexism of energy in the 1980’s and 1990’s – which I endured – has been replaced with a much less obvious version – but it is still very powerfully there.

Look at any ‘mainstream’ energy conference and the routinely male speakers. There are numerous as-well qualified women around but they are often not chosen. One example of the mind-set of energy which has to be overcome is illuminated by an International Women’s Day Conference I organised in 2012. It was not marketed as a women’s conference. The only difference between it and the numerous, other, very well-attended conferences I have organised was that 100% of the speakers were women. Although the topic of the day was very relevant; the women top-notch and  interesting; very few men attended. This despite the fact that women routinely attend meetings where all the speakers are men, or where some of the male speakers have less merit than themselves.

Gender issues are complex – as is energy. With apologies for the simplicity of the sweeping statement, on the whole, industries with money are dominated by men. ‘Successful’ women tend to manage to make it first in sectors where the pay or societal kudos is less. I have always thought that Brenda Boardman and I were only able to get into energy academia in the way we did back in the late 1980’s / early 1990’s because we worked on renewable energy and energy efficiency respectively – something which was very uninteresting and unimportant to the general energy world at the time.  Nor is it a coincidence that she ran, and I run, a group with many women members.

Some countries and some energy industry structures are better than others. For example, if the industry structure is made up of a few large companies, in a centralised system (as it is in GB) then there is less opportunity for new entrants of any description. More devolved, decentralised political systems – such as the US system with 50 States or the German system with Lander – again provides more opportunities because there are more jobs to be filled. Googling ‘women in energy’ does bring up many support groups, but interestingly the first page of links are all in the US or Canada.

Read full article

Professor Catherine Mitchell, Chair 2009

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