I spent most of my time in the Taylor Lab pouring over lines of code and creating spatial maps of bioenergy distribution across the UK under different environmental conditions. But the aspect of my work that I found most interesting was the political element. I was determined that my work wouldn’t just sit on a shelf gathering dust and could be used to inform policy. I wanted to know what role bioenergy could play in the new low carbon economy. Eventually this question led me to joining the National Non-Food Crops Centre in York where I was Science and Technology Officer.
During my time at NNFCC I explored some of the critical issues affecting the energy market and authored a number of government-funded research reports for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, on topics such as the barriers to deployment of bioenergy crops in the UK. I was also lucky enough to be asked to write for a number of award winning magazines, such as The Ecologist, Chemistry World and Business Green. This allowed me to explore another aspect of research that often gets overlooked, namely how to communicate complex ideas and present them in a way that is accessible and can deliver real impact.
After NNFCC, I joined the UK Energy Research Centre in London which gave me the opportunity to flex my policy muscles further still. I started my career at UKERC as Communications Officer and eventually became Policy Engagement Manager; coordinating responses and contributing to government and parliamentary consultations, writing policy briefings and bulletins, organising events and participating in All Party Parliamentary Groups and Committees. It’s a thrilling experience to visit parliament and be involved in the discussions that shape policy.
But I missed research and was keen to make a mark for myself, this led to me joining The Consumers’ Association, Which?, as Senior Policy Adviser. Here I led the associations policy research on decarbonisation and energy generation; completing a number of major projects, including work on the experience of district heating consumers and an investigation into wholesale energy costs. My time at Which? also gave me insight into the importance of consumers not just as actors in the energy market but as powerful voices in the political debate.
Joining government seemed like a natural progression and when I was offered the opportunity to join the Office for Nuclear Development at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, I leapt at the chance. Having been on the other side of the political debate, I hadn’t previously appreciated the challenges facing government and the trade-offs which are often required. It makes government a challenging but exciting place to work.
Author: Matthew Aylott