In the wake of Cop26, we thought it would be useful for everyone to hear from Louise Davis, a wind farm developer and expert in all things to do with renewable energy and environmentalism. Since we met at University she’s been unwavering in her passion to help the environment, citing David Attenborough as her biggest inspiration throughout her life.
I always leave my time with Louise feeling really knowledgeable and aware of how much work there is to be done. In our podcast she discusses how we can all ‘do our bit’, and who really needs to take responsibility to make a real difference in the direction the world is heading. She talks about the misconceptions we all have when it comes to climate change. I hope she inspires you the way she does with me.
So have a listen (subscribe!!) and leave a comment - we’d love to know what you think of our chat!
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Suzie Millar 0:19
Hi, everybody, and welcome to this week's episode of Think Outside your Hive. Today's guest is Louise Davis. She is a renewable developer and also a practitioner of the Institute of Environmental Management. I've known Louise since we started university something years ago and she has always been incredibly dedicated to environmentalism, making sure that she looks after the planet, people, animals, you name it. She's so unbelievably passionate about what she does. She's extremely intelligent, and she talks about how to work as a community. I really think you'll enjoy this chat with Louis.
Hi, Louise, thank you so much for coming on to chat to us. Just for everybody else, what is it that you do?
Louise Davis 1:13
Thanks, Suzie. It's great to be on your podcast. We've been friends a long time. So I'm so delighted that you've invited me on. I work on wind farms. I've worked in renewable energy for about 14 years. And my job is to develop the wind farms, but my specialism is looking at the environmental impact of them and making sure they're in the right place, that we are designing them appropriately, that we've got all the right things in place to ensure the wildlife is protected.
Suzie Millar 1:45
How do you how do you even start something like that?
Louise Davis 1:47
First of all, you have to find the area that you're going to put your renewable energy. And so it's like the development of a wind farm for example could take up to 10 years. I've worked on onshore wind farms, but now we're working offshore. And then within that area, you're trying to understand what is in that area. What is the wildlife? What is the nature within that, and not just wildlife, but humans, and anything that could affect the environment. Then you can go and do surveys, understand the science of that, make sure you've got any mitigation in place to ensure that when you put wind farms in, they can work in harmony,
Suzie Millar 2:33
Everybody thinks that they're they can be really destructive to the environment. Is that true?
Louise Davis 2:37
Obviously I'm a little bit biassed with this and so I will try and be as objective as I can with it. So I think that if you put turbines in the wrong place, there is potential impact on for example, things like birds. If you put wind turbines in a place beside certain types of birds that fly into turbines, then that could have an impact on them, because they might not see it. Those are things that we actually understand now, because renewable energy is, you know, it's a proven technology. It's been around for decades now. So there's been lots of studies done on these things. So I think that yes, if it's poorly designed, there is a potential for that. But these days, I don't believe particularly onshore wind farms should have that issue, because we know so much about what the effects are. Now we're talking about much vaster scales of wind farms. But actually, the the effect of not putting a wind farm in or not mitigating climate change is more important, I think, than the potential effect you might have on those kind of unknown factors or things like birds offshore, because their biggest risk is climate change.
Suzie Millar 3:58
So they're already at risk.
Louise Davis 4:06
With wind farms then, obviously Scotland is a perfect place for them. And over the years, they've moved from being onshore to being offshore. Scotland has been the first for a lot of things. So we are a global leader in renewable energy and windfarms. So you'll be in huge turbines on what are floating bases on the sea - you're not having to put any huge structures on the seabed. That's beijng built right now, and that is a world first.
Suzie Millar 4:45
Okay, that's amazing. So I take it with them, now being offshore, you're having to consider the impact on sea life and everything like that? And you said something really interesting to me the other day. Can you tell our listeners?
Louise Davis 4:57
It's what we call the ecosystem approach. So instead of doing what we'd normally do for environmental impact assessment, where you would have separate chapters on things, you'd have chapters on things like marine mammals, on the larger fish, on the effects on commercial fisheries. What we're doing now is looking at it as a wider ecosystem approach, where if you affect one thing, then it affects something else. And in doing that, you have to look at this kind of web, this chain of the kind of domino effect on the environment. So with regards to the smaller fish - boats for example, are one of the biggest issues in Scotland for offshore wind. And that is because we host some of the largest populations or key bird species in the world. And if you take, for example some very small fish, sandeels etc - sandeels, are fished as a commercial species as well, not just by Scotland, but by other countries. People have a perception that the wind farms will be a big threat to those or species. But actually, the existing threat is not only just climate change, but the fact that the fish stocks are completely over fished. And that needs to stop, because some of the birds are basically starving. That's what the stakeholders have told us about that. So what we can do as part of our development of the wind farms is to understand areas where we can go and look at it almost as like a habitat management area. So you're creating conditions for those fish to thrive so that the birds can feed on them.
Okay, so you're protecting the area from being fished, and you're actually trying to protect them on a sort of a wider scale. is it likely that they would be killed by the turbine moving around?
This is a very complicated issue. And it's one in my work that I think I talked about almost every day. And a project I work on at the moment, we've got about five leading ornithologists working on that with us. The models that we use are fairly rudimentary, I would say you're taking a very huge area, for example, one project I'm working on is 10 times the size of Glasgow City. You're taking that huge area, and you're putting into quite a rudimentary model. It's not been changed for quite a long time. It's not only about one bird, but lots of birds, and lots of different types of birds, as well. It's not an exact science.
Suzie Millar 8:03
But are you finding then that birds are smarter than we think they are? Finding different routes like we would if we got stuck in traffic.
Louise Davis 8:59
So there are a few main things that affect birds. 1) collision and 2) displacement. And those two things are what we make the model on. Often the predictions in the models are not actually what happens and quite often for some birds, for many birds, you're right, they're a lot smarter than what we think. I mean, geese is a very good example of that.
Suzie Millar 10:16
Okay, that's really interesting. What would be the other option?
Louise Davis 10:22
People ask this all the time to me, and I go, Well, it's not only about what the options are, it's about the readiness of it, the commercial readiness. So wind farms are one of the best ways to do that. And that's not just shown by, you know, private companies wanting to do that, that's shown by, you know, reports made by scientists around the world saying that renewable energy is the way forward with this, and right now, offshore rent is the best technology we have for that. Now in Scotland, we are a global leader in that and we do have demonstrator projects, but the scale of those projects is not enough right now. We shouldn't give up on them. And offshore wind is the thing that can do that.
Suzie Millar 11:17
And I just wanted to be clear that you are not your background is not in business, your background in environmentalism, biology.
Louise Davis 11:25
So my first degree was in biology and conservation. I first started out my career, being a little bit obsessed about bats and researching bats. Then I became an ecologist, and I think that linked quite nicely into wind farms, because bats can also have interactions with wind farms and very little was known about that when I first started out, but we know an awful lot more about that now. But when I did my master's, it became very important that we weren't thinking just about one species or one animal, because that wasn't for me going to solve some of the bigger problems in the world. What we really need to start thinking about more was the entire ecosystem and climate change was the biggest thing facing us and has been for, you know, our lifetime. This is not a new issue. It just happens to be gathering pace right now. So for me, it then became about what are some of the solutions to that. And in my master's, that's when I majored in environmental impact assessment, and then moved into wind farms. So yeah, I think renewable development is a slightly different, because I can't tell you where to build a house, that's not the sort of developer I am. It's very specialised. So yeah, so half my career has been kind of research science. Now, half my career is using that experience and applying it to developing renewable energy projects.
Suzie Millar 13:11
I think it's important to know that because I think, you know, you could say that you would be very pro wind farms, because you work for wind farms, without any actual knowledge of the science behind them. But you have both. What's the biggest misconception about climate change?
Louise Davis 13:36
I don't know if it's a misconception as much as a confusion. I think there's a general massive confusion and helplessness around what people think they should be doing. Right? For me, there's two ways that I split this in my head. And I really think that 80% of it is about the really big things. And the big things are what governments and large companies need to do to enable this to happen. And the 20% is about what people like you and I would be doing at home. So I think people should feel a little bit less guilty, you know. I don't get everything exactly right, but actually, we should be thinking much more strategically about, what kind of things am I going to buy? What kind of companies am I going to support? Because actually, that is where the big differences are going to be made in the world. And also thinking a lot more further afield about the impact, not just in our own doorstep. If we were to buy something from China, or somewhere like that, we need to understand that actually, we might look good as a country with our emissions neing low, but we are not then counting the emissions that China is making to produce items for us. So I think that for me, that message and that misconception is the biggest. In Scotland we are doing wellbwith decarbonisation, and Scotland's not a big deal in this in the global sense - we're not the big emitters, China, India, US etc. So you have to think really carefully about where you're buying stuff from, I think, to really drive what companies succeed in the world, for our benefit and for the world's benefit.
Suzie Millar 15:25
That's really interesting. When you're online shopping actually looking and seeing - is this from a company that is doing good for the world, and not even necessarily a company but country. What are the basic things that people can be doing at home? Because I think people are, obviously, you know, driving a diesel car, and they feel guilty about that, or they're not paying for green electric, and they're feeling guilty about that, is there anything that you would say to just the average person, these are the sort of main things that you should be thinking about, and if you can do these, then you're, you're contributing massively to that 20%,
Louise Davis 16:04
I think in Scotland we've been hugely successful in sort of decarbonizing our electricity, because our renewables are massive. So, you know, our electricity consumption by renewables or generation is like nearly 100%. Right? So as a country, we're doing amazingly well. What is more challenging is heating, because a lot of our heating comes from gas and other sources, not necessarily electricity. So you know, people can make choices about electricity, or energy supplier that they're using, and look at their credentials and and what they're supporting. Electric cars is a more expensive and tricky one, because we're not saying to people here, just go buy an electric car, because let's face it, not everyone can do that. And I think actually, the pandemic has shown that people can work a lot more remotely and that's obviously been hugely beneficial for reducing emissions from vehicles until we get to a point of parity where people can actually buy and afford an electric vehicles. So I think that's another thing. And then I suppose thirdly, purchasing things going back to that point about, you know, do you need to buy something new? Or can you reuse things? Something you've got, does it need to go into the bin at all? That should really be the last thing anyone thinks about whether it's food or anything in your house. It should always be, you know, what can I do with this thing? Can it go to charity? Where else can I make something from something new? And so I think that that's something for me, that waste mentality that we have, because it's quite hard to get out of that mentality in a developed country, like what we live in, where people want new things all the time. We have to get much better at circular thinking. This is not going to go away, this thing is going to go into landfill. It can be there for hundreds, sometimes 1000s of years. So that's what we need to stop happening.
So what are the things that you would like to see happen then for that 80%?
What we need to do a lot better, is take onboard the effects of climate change on developing countries, on countries that will have the biggest effects of climate change because of our consumption patterns. That's the reality of it. So places like Africa, and India and other places that will be severely affected by climate change, we need to question ourselves, again, about what we are driving in terms of consumption. And that's not very transparent to people. If we buy those products, we're obviously supporting that, so for me, there has been a lot more transparency around what they're doing, and that supply chain. Not just saying, Hey, we've got a great carbon model here, you're net zero, you might be net zero in your country, but actually, you get a lot of your supplies from another country and they should be accounting for that, because then it'd be a lot more distorted. It would be much clearer that we are the effect. And they unfortunately, are the receivers of the worst effects of climate change because of that. So that's currently in negotiation right now. That's a very contentious issue, how much developed countries should be paying for the effects on developing countries? And, you know, I feel that's where we're going with things. We've gotten the likes of indigenous people saying we partake over 80% of the natural environment in the world, but they're a minority people, and they're not represented. And that's where we're getting to know that understanding of what is going on out there in the world. Because if we click something on Amazon, and it gets delivered to our door the next day, where does that come from? And that's not very well accounted for, from a climate change point of view at the moment.
Suzie Millar 20:41
Just let me get this right in my head, what you're saying is that developing countries where we would buy a lot of products from... the way that things are measured right now, the developing countries carbon output is measured, they measure it within their own country. So we are buying from those countries and what you're saying is, we should be taking that into our own country's carbon output, rather than having it be their carbon output, because actually, it was us that wanted to buy it in the first place. Is that what you're saying?
Louise Davis 21:20
Yeah, I kind of put it in a very simplistic way. It's called carbon accounting. So right now, if I buy a doll from China, the emissions or the carbon intensity for that doll to be produced in China, a lot of that is in China's accounting budget for carbon. But actually, we are the consumer. When you start doing that, then it becomes a lot more clear what the drivers are, you know, it can't just be placed on a developing country to take the flack for all of that.
Suzie Millar 22:13
Yeah. And the argument they have as developing countries is that they're still developing, so they don't have the infrastructure or the finance or any of that stuff in place to be able to, to start all of these renewable projects, whereas the developed world does have that.
Louise Davis 22:29
Suzie Millar 22:36
I imagine it's quite a stressful job developing a wind farms. So who, who's in your hive? Who inspires you? Who keeps you going? Could be fictional could be real.
Louise Davis 22:46
Like David Attenborough is the reason I do what I do right now. You know, he inspired me to be a vegetarian, to study ecology, to really think about the effect of humans on the world. And when he did his Cop26 speech recently, it totally reignited my passion for what I was doing. And the reason I was doing it, and I thought, here is a man, nearly a century old, who is still up there, being so passionate about doing better in the world. And you know, and I want to do that, too. So I think that if a 95 year old man can get up there and talk to the nation, I think I can surely do this. And I suppose the second thing is, you know, I have a seven year old son, and when I see him, I think that we have a huge obligation, our generation, any older generation, to make sure that we leave the world in a place that they can live in. And that's a very, very simple way of putting it but it's not untrue, that some parts of the world could become uninhabitable because of some of the things that our generation are not addressing. So for me, that's, you know, that's my gives me my energy, my drive to do what I do.
Suzie Millar 24:01
And do you think we could do it? Do you think we can get to net zero or better?
Louise Davis 24:06
So I think that we've got all the tools, we've got all of the the people power on the ground to want to do this. I think it is down to the hands of governments and big companies, not only pledging things because it caught we have to remember that, you know, it's great. Everyone comes together and makes pledges. But what we can see from the Paris Agreement 2015 is that a lot of pledges were made, but the policy that implements them was poor in some cases. So that's what we really need to focus on. We've got a pledge. Everyone's agreed on that. But actually, how is it that that country is going to do that? Because ultimately if we don't have a plan, then it cannot be borne out. I think that it's going to be very challenging to get to target, but we need to get it as close to that as what we can. And the only way to do that is to have a plan. Right? But I'm an eternal optimist. And that's what keeps me going.
Suzie Millar 25:15
How do you repollinate? Now, this is a bit of a silly question for you, because clearly your entire purpose is to rebuild, to repopulate the world and regenerate the world. But is there anything else that you can think of? What do you do for you, I suppose?
Louise Davis 25:37
So in my job, I do things that are quite massive on scale. So when I'm talking about decarbonisation at the scale I'm talking about, a wind farm that would, you know, provide Scotland's electricity twice over. So that's quite difficult to get your head round sometimes, then I go, What am I doing in a community sense that involves humans as well, because it isn't just about these big global things. It's about people's environment, and how you live and how we can make that better, that drives me and the community to understand their own environment. We've also we bought 500 trees, and we planted them all. And my son Aaron is involved in that as well. And that's really important to me that he gets some kind of good feeling from giving back to the world as well. So I think those things, being in nature and being outside restore me. And that's why we have to restore the environment as well, to make sure that we can get that reciprocal relationship.
Suzie Millar 26:47
Yeah, I love that. I absolutely love that. What's been your biggest mistake, or failure or learning experience?
Louise Davis 26:55
That just came to head for me recently, where, you know, at my job, I was in a management position. And managing people and pursuing a technical job as well, at same time. And, you know, as much as I love my team and working with people, you know, for me, there's always been this assumption that to progress, that you go into these large management positions where you're managing lots of people, it's not about technical excellence, and, or any of that kind of stuff. And I think that I wrongly, assumed that that was my only path. And when I went into that, and I dabbled with that for two years, I thought, you know, this is not my passion. I happen to be okay at it. But this is not going to get me up in the morning, and get me fired and ready to go. How do we solve this problem? And how do I work with the right people to solve this problem? To make this project work? Because I'm all about delivery. I'm all about doing things. That's who I am. So I think that this took me quite a long time to get to a point and the courage to say that's not me. And surprisingly, had a very good reception to that, because, presumably, other people thought, Well, yeah, fine. And I think that because I'm quite passionate about mentoring people, and people understanding that there is not one linear path. It's got to also be about you and what you're bringing to a job. And the job can be moulded around that to create what you need to get out of that for whatever it is you're working on.
Suzie Millar 28:46
And having that bravery, I guess, and vulnerability to be able to say, this isn't working for me and I need to do something else. I certainly feel in my company that if someone comes to you and says, I don't want to do this, but I want to do something else, I'd rather that than them stay in a job that they really aren't enjoying, and whether they're good to it or not, if they're not enjoying it...
Louise Davis 29:13
Yeah, that's got to be everything. Because when a job's really difficult, and exhausting, and sometimes you're thinking this is worthwhile, but difficult. The passion is what's going to get you through. Doing that, and also understanding that you're applying yourself to the best of your skill set and ability and not diluting that with things that don't suit you.
Suzie Millar 29:38
Yeah, absolutely. Every time I speak to you, I am inspired beyond measure. You've certainly kept me going for the past 20 years of friendship. I don't think my passion for environmental issues would be there if I hadn't had you as a little inspiration. So thank you so much for coming along and chatting to everybody else and hopefully, people have learned some amazing things from you today.
Thank you, Suzie, it's been a complete joy. And you're an inspiration of mine as well, now that you're in your third career. How many things can one person fit in their life? It's just incredible.
Wow, that was a lot of information in a short period of time about climate change, wind farms, etc. I think that there's a few things that we should learn from this. The three things that we can do as an individual. First would be purchasing - do we really need to do it? Is there a better place to buy something from instead of this vast consumerism that we're seeing at the moment? Can we recycle what we have? Can we donate it somewhere so that it stops it from going in the bin? The second one would be transport do you need to drive? So you might have a diesel car and you feel guilty about that? But do you actually need to drive to nursery down the road? Or do you need to drive to the supermarket? Can you walk, can you cycle. And then thirdly, when you're looking at the gas that's coming into your home, are you using a company that is doing things that are also environmentally responsible? So gas, obviously in itself is not that great for the environment, but is the company as a whole putting a lot more money into other areas of renewables that would prevent climate change. I hadn't realised that the developing world were taking on a lot of the carbon allocation that maybe we should be taking on because we're actually the ones that are buying from the developing world. I thought that was a really interesting point. And then finally, I love this idea of the ecosystem approach, so instead of looking at things in individual ways, like what happens to these birds or what happens to these fish, you're looking at it as a whole so recognising that well this bird is affected by this smaller bird which is affected by this fish was affected by this smaller fish and looking at absolutely everything as a whole instead of dividing them up into into different areas. And I thought that was really, really interesting and seems to be smart. So if you enjoyed this episode of Think Outside your Hive, please rate us review us and subscribe to us to help spread the word. You can also check us out on the podcast section of our website, Scottishbeecompany.co.uk and follow us on our socials at Think Outside Your Hive!