histpage3Since it was created in 1923, when visionary Daniel Dunlop brought together 40 countries to discuss the problems facing the global energy industry, the World Energy Council has been non-governmental and non-commercial. Founded in the aftermath of war, it has withstood many changes, from geopolitical and economic upheavals to a complete shift in the way people understand and use energy. It has had to adapt to a changing world without ever straying from the initial concept of an organisation that is impartial, objective and realistic in its analyses and in its agendas for action in order to promote sustainable energy for all.

Today, the World Energy Council has almost 100 national member committees, and its member list includes governments, businesses and expert organisations. The World Energy Congress, held over 20 times since the World Energy Council’s founding, is recognised as the world’s premier energy gathering. As we move forward through the 21st century, the World Energy Council continues to grow and expand, building on its long and stable history as one of the key players on the global energy scene.


Daniel Dunlop

Shortly after World War I, Scotsman Daniel Dunlop, a visionary working in the British electricity industry, decided to bring together leading energy experts for a World Power Conference to discuss current and emerging energy issues.

Creation and the pre-war years (1923-1939)

In 1923, he began working with countries around the globe to establish national committees that would stimulate attendance and prepare for technical participation at such a conference.

The First World Power Conference was held the next year in London and attracted 1,700 delegates from 40 countries. The meeting was so successful that those attending decided to establish a permanent organization to continue the dialogue begun at the conference. On July 11, 1924, the World Power Conference was formally established. National Member Committees formed the core of the organization and an International Executive Council (IEC) was established to act as the governing body. Daniel Dunlop was appointed Chairman.

In 1928, Charles Gray became Secretary of the IEC, as well as Secretary of the British National Committee. He was to hold that position for nearly 40 years, until 1965, when Eric Ruttley took over the post. The title and role of the position evolved over the years into what is today the position of World Energy Council Secretary General.

Soon after, in 1929, the World Power Conference produced its first publication: “Power Resources of the World – Potential and Developed”, the precursor to the Council’s triennial “Survey of Energy Resources”. Written by Hugh Quigley, the publication was seen as a way to resolve the debate surrounding the extent of world energy resources. Now, the triennial publication is seen as the most authoritative source of energy data in the world.

The World Power Conferences were held every three years, as they still are today. The Berlin 1930 Conference had a particularly notable set of speakers: Albert Einstein lectured there on “The Space, Field and Ether Problem in Physics” and Sir Arthur Eddington – a distinguished astrophysicist who first explained Einstein’s theory of relativity in English and led the first expedition to confirm it – gave a keynote address.

Unfortunately, in 1935, Daniel Dunlop passed away after successfully seeing through the inception of the World Power Conference, and was succeeded as Chairman by Sir Harold Hartley.

At the Berlin Congress in 1930, the third “World Power Conference”, both Einstein and Eddington gave speeches. In his address, Eddington said that, in the future, “subatomic energy would provide the plain diet for engines previously pampered with delicacies like coal and oil”.

Post-war WEC (1945-1968)

The war disrupted the WPC’s work on both a global and national level, but its resilience was demonstrated in the first post-war conference, which took place in 1947 – just two years after the war had ended. The WPC now had to see through another set of post-war rebuilding projects, but also deal with the emergence of ‘atomic energy’ demonstrated by the power of the atomic bomb.

Sir Harold Hartley, a distinguished Oxford scientist, was elected as President of the World Power Conference in 1950, and was succeeded as the then Chairman of the IEC by Sir Vincent de Ferranti, the Chairman of Ferranti Ltd. The Congress where these elections took place was also the first to discuss natural gas and atomic energy as potential energy resources, due to concerns over security of oil supply.

In 1965, Charles Grey died and was succeeded to the post of IEC Secretary by Eric Ruttley, an Assistant Chief Representative to the Iraq Petroleum Company, who would serve in this post for many years. In 1968, at the Conference in Moscow, the organisation’s name was changed to the World Energy Conference. The new title provided a more accurate description of the organisation’s focus on the entire spectrum of energy. Shortly thereafter, the annual meeting of the World Energy Conference (WEC) became known as the ‘Congress’ to differentiate the annual event from the parent organisation.

First World Power Confernece

‘Energy Olympics’, the nickname for the World Energy Congress, was first referred to at the 1980 Munich Congress by the Mayor of Munich. He was talking about the competition amongst nations for energy resources, and the fact that success or failure was, by many national regimes, seen in terms of national survival – similar to athletes at the Olympic Games.

Adapting to a changing world (1968-1989)

In 1978, a special World Energy Council Conservation Commission published a seminal report, World Energy: Looking Ahead to 2020, which was a comprehensive examination of the global energy scene, bringing together market economy countries, centrally planned economies and developing countries. Using international study groups to bring together information, the report looked at the prospects for energy conservation and looked ahead to the likely energy trends. This report was widely read and formed a starting point for many of the Council’s future reports, studies, and activities.

At the 1986 Congress, held in Cannes, France, a new feature, the Technical Exhibition, consisting mainly of energy supply equipment, was introduced. The Exhibition met with such a high degree of success that it became a regular part of following Congresses.

Also at the Cannes Congress, Eric Ruttley resigned as Secretary General of the World Energy Council after steering the organisation through two decades of extraordinary changes. He was succeeded by Ian Lindsay, who came to the World Energy Council with over 30 years’ experience in the oil industry. Over the next decade, Lindsay was to continue Ruttley’s success in increasing the Council’s membership, authority, and influence.

In 1989, the World Energy Council published another landmark report, Global Energy Perspectives 2000-2020. This report was an important consensus based on two global energy scenarios, one moderate and one more conservative. The report gained worldwide attention and was used by many policymakers and decision-makers as they considered the future.

At the 1989 Montreal Congress, based on the success of the Global Energy Perspectives report, the World Energy Council decided to undertake an ambitious new study, Energy for Tomorrow’s World: Realities, Real Options, The Agenda for Achievement. The new study would serve as the main focus and underpinning for the 1992 Congress in Madrid. A special Commission Board convened a small team of high-level energy specialists lent by five Member Committees to draft the study report. After much effort, the report was finally published in 1993.

Recent history (1989-Present)

In the three years leading up to the 1992 Madrid Congress, the World Energy Council voted to take its activities to the next level, offering more services and support in return for an increased membership fee. The more robust financial picture enabled the World Energy Council to support expanded programmes and services for its membership, which had swelled to nearly 100 countries. A special World Energy Council Foundation was also set up to help fund the work of the Council, with 24 Member Committees and several outside organisations contributing nearly £1.2 million. The organisation also changed its name to the World Energy Council, and the International Executive Council was renamed the Executive Assembly.

In December, 1997, World Energy Council Secretary General Ian Lindsay became seriously ill and died unexpectedly the following spring. He was deeply mourned. His 12-year tenure of service and his significant contribution to the Council’s growth and its increasing importance on the world energy scene were recognized during the first session of the Executive Assembly at the Houston Congress, 1998. Gerald Doucet, President and CEO of the Canadian Gas Association, was later selected as the World Energy Council’s new Secretary General.

Also at the Houston Congress, the World Energy Council’s Global Energy Information System (GEIS), an internet-based, value-added information service, was introduced. GEIS has become a significant benefit of Council membership and an important interactive communication tool for members as well as a way to publicise the Council and its work to the world at large.

In 2000, the World Energy Council published another landmark report, Energy for Tomorrow’s World – Acting Now!, which re-examined the premises and conclusions of the 1993 Energy for Tomorrow’s World. Nearly 20,000 copies of the report were distributed to World Energy Council members, energy leaders, government officials, and the media.

In 2001, a major step forward was taken when the World Energy Council was incorporated as a charity limited by guarantee under UK law. Mr Doucet led the Council for ten years, during which his strong and visionary leadership, fresh ideas, exuberant enthusiasm and deep commitment resulted in a number of significant and notable changes in the organization, increasing its visibility at the global level and building its reputation as the voice of the energy industry. Sadly, in October, 2008, Gerald Doucet passed away after a short illness. A search was immediately undertaken for his successor, who was named early in 2009 as Dr Christoph Frei, formerly of the World Economic Forum.

Looking to the future

Under Christoph Frei’s leadership, the World Energy Council operates in a far more complex world than its founders could have imagined, one where the environment; geopolitics; economics and trade; water security; and technological development must all be considered in any energy policy decision. This demonstrates how much the world, and particularly the energy sector, has changed since 1924: when the World Energy Council was first conceived, the word ‘sustainable’ did not even exist.

The current energy system, as we know it, is unsustainable. Thus, the global energy sector as a whole must in the future aim towards something that is sustainable – something that balances the three issues of the energy “trilemma”. Balancing the three dimensions and finding ways to conciliate the environmental, the social and the supply agenda is something that is very meaningful both for the Council and for Frei, and something that must be done.

In the future, the World Energy Council needs to use its network of members, its objective and realistic view, its collective knowledge and its influence to be a catalyst for change in global energy policy, to help the world towards a sustainable energy future.