Energy in Progress or Regress? 

17th March 2022

Energy in Progress or Regress?  

The significant moment for OUR World Energy Community

By Dr Angela Wilkinson, Secretary General & CEO, World Energy Council 


a formal meeting or series of meetings for discussion between delegates, especially those from a particular sphere of activity. 


a talk, especially an informal one, between two or more people, in which news and ideas are exchanged. 


“A week is a long time in the world of politics,” the “energy industry is slow and full of inertia,” and we are all “running out of time” right? I believe “now” is a significant moment to talk about energy.  

Today is St Patrick’s Day and my best friend's birthday – a double celebration in my family. I greatly appreciate being at home. I was due to be in Moscow as part of the preparations for the 25th World Energy Congress and would like to thank everyone for their messages and continued support. The decision about the infeasibility of the St Petersburg Congress is a terrible blow.  

Why we need to talk about energy is perhaps obvious. My colleague and the Council’s Chief Insights Officer outlines why in an article posted earlier.  

It is vital to keep moving forward together as we talk about energy crises (plural) and shocks (plural). Where, who and how we talk about energy with each other matters as much as what we talk about. 

The World Energy Congress is, and has always been about a better quality, community-wide strategic conversation on the role of energy in making progress.

The prospect of an increasingly bi-polar world energy systems is not something we want to happen, and it raises BIG questions for many international organisations and each of us across the world energy community: 

  • Can/how can fundamentally different energy systems coexist peacefully? 
  • What does it take to be visibly neutral and construct shared knowledge and understanding for the common good of everyone, everywhere? 
  • What are the implications for net zero energy strategies of a new energy security context?  

This is a strategic moment in energy, and for energy as a new impulse in the future of humanity.  

And as we respond as THE world energy community, the need to convene a new and different kind of World Energy Congress is a pressing and urgent concern for all our members. 

It takes a persistent community and human effort to change the world energy system 

When I took on the role of Secretary General in 2019 it was to support our pragmatic world energy community in helping to build a new and better world energy system.  

Our humanising energy vision and action imperative recognises that securing energy for humanity is best achieved by involving more people and diverse communities in managing the energy trilemma.  

Progressing more energy for sustainable development and climate change management requires us to Think Global, Act Local. Rather than relying on the next big thing in energy being a global technology moon-shot, we must focus on lots and lots of smaller place-based steps by communities across the world.  

Even as the first World Power Conference convened in London in 1924, with a conspicuous consumption of champagne and turtle soup, the shared hope was that formation of a ‘gentleman’s club for energy’ could facilitate sharing of technological know-how and, in turn, help the world to avoid war over new and scarce energy resources.  

In those days, burning coal was needed to save forests. Oil production saved whales from extinction. Windmills were a thing of the past. And as for solar power, well only mad dogs and English men went out in the midday sun! 

I imagine the buzz of conversations had over dinner and a palpable sense of excitement cutting thorough the haze of cigar smoke - the prospect of an electrification revolution which would deliver cheaper, cleaner, and more convenient energy for all.  

These conversations about energy would help save my grandmother from the backbreaking 18 hours of domestic work her mother laboured at every day. They would trigger co-operations that would motivate my grandfather to risk his life as part of the North Atlantic convoys carrying oil in the Second World War. They would inspire new innovations that have enabled billions of people to experience the freedom of driving and to realise their dreams to fly.  

We need to convene the world’s builders and doers in generative conversations to deliver new pathways  

In later years, our community-wide conversations – at Congress and World Energy Week – have evolved as more geographies, Presidents, Nobel Laureates, and Civil Rights leaders joined the world energy community table. 

The persistence and sustained alignment of the world energy community in progressing its practical and enduring mission - to enable better energy for all - marks it as different to a technical conference or scientific meeting.  

By 1978, the world energy community had been championing innovation in renewable energy for nearly 25 years. Congress shaped a new agenda of energy for sustainable development and launched the developments of the energy trilemma framework for managing global energy transition.  

[See the table at the bottom of this piece for details of World Energy Congresses – 1924 – present] 

Through these decades, Congress has provided an opportunity to showcase the increasing diversity in new solutions and enabled new ‘aha’ moments when breakthrough ideas were aired and transplanted in the fertile soil of collaborative community action. 

Importantly, Congresses have been about generative conversations that take initial ideas all the way to practical delivery. It has upheld its purpose, not to study the future for the energy industry but to co-create new and better solutions which benefit all in society. It is how we have earned the title of “how to” community rather than “should do” community. 

There are so many commercial energy conferences these days. Surely one less talk shop is a good thing? Who needs to hear another corporate sell or participate in another panel ‘tell’ session? Who isn’t mentally playing energy transition blah blah bingo with their friends as they watch carefully curated performances online? 

The World Energy Congress has been a ‘jewel in the crown’ in convening the world energy community network since 1924. The Congress has always created an open and safe space for diverse energy interests to come together and forge alignment on progressing modern energy for the benefit of all.  

In the face of urgent and globally connected energy issues - including security, affordability, sustainable development, and climate change management - open, inclusive, and generative problem-solving forums have become few and far between. The promotion of narrow, quick fix solutions and flip-flop policy dynamics are on the rise and, in turn, further polarised energy discussions.  

The World Energy Congress is our opportunity to gather – live and in person – such that we can build on our culture of the community and quality of conversations to cultivate long term solutions and sustained action learning.  

Creating better quality conversation to bridge growing global divides   

More energy for sustainable development and climate change management is needed now to secure the future of humanity.  

Today’s energy conversations are fragmented, polarised and at risk of becoming more conflicted and less productive.  

  • Energy is not all good or bad, nor all about climate change 
  • Energy is a bigger and more fundamental story of humanity - past, present, and future 
  • Congress has always provided an inspiration for the bigger story of energy 

We believe it takes a permanent, pragmatic, and progressive community, a safe and honest space for conversations, and the capability of a deeply local and globally networked organisation with built in scale to turn moments of strategic conversation into step-change impact. 

Its why we have been building a new kind of Congress: one which provides the immersive, interactive, and catalytic leadership experiences needed to move forward in today’s energy landscape. A convening of the world energy community in a safe, open environment that facilitates not just ideas but practical delivery. A space for co-creating the future of energy.  

Action learning speaks louder than words, but let’s maintain the value of convening our community in ground-breaking, strategic conversations as moment of impact for accelerating change. Humanity wants and needs more energy to progress faster and further than ever before, and we need to talk about energy to move together. Humanising energy is a new conversation which involves more people and diverse communities in cocreating a better energy future for all.  

We need to Congress to progress and avoid regress! 

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