“Climate change is no different to a pandemic,” says Pat O’Doherty, chief executive of Irish state-owned utility ESB.

“And we need the same kind of mobilization of governments – the same togetherness – in the response to climate change as we have seen against Covid.”

Speaking today at the Eurelectric Power Summit, O’Doherty said that during the coronavirus crisis, the power sector “has stood up and been counted”.

“That doesn’t surprise me, because one thing we do well is we deal with crisis and emergency. The pandemic has allowed us to further connect with that purpose.

“This is the second coming of electricity”

He said “what we have all learned from Covid is how governments and society have responded – we have seen no stone unturned. We should take that into the response to climate change.”

“For 100 years, electricity has been at the heart of societal well-being: it’s been an enabler of economic well-being. This is now the second coming of electricity. It places electricity right at the heart of societal transformation in saving the planet.”

O’Doherty has been a member of the Eurelectric board since 2012 and this week steps down as its president. Today he reflected on how things have changed in the energy sector during that time.

“If the last decade was about positioning the electricity sector [in decarbonisation], then this is the decade of ‘doing’. Everything is putting climate action centre-stage, and the role of electricity and electrification is also coming centre stage.

“We are going to have 50 million heat pumps and 70 million electric vehicles – we can see that shift taking place before our very eyes: we are living that change.

“That’s the opportunity that’s presenting itself to us as a sector and we will step up and grasp it.”

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He said what has happened in the last four years or so is “we have begun to see the power of electricity and its transformative role in climate action.

We have gone from decarbonizing our own industry and getting it ready [for the energy transition] to now looking at the role our industry can play in decarbonizing the wider economy.

“There isn’t a government climate action plan in Europe that doesn’t include electrification, particularly of heat and transport, at its heart.”

And his outgoing message to the European power sector is one of collaboration. He said the energy transition “is a huge societal transformation and a huge systems transformation. It brings together regulators, utilities, policymakers, academia, technology providers – all working together in a joined up way.”

“We must also put the customer centre stage – and we need to do this is a way that is inclusive. There must be inclusion so that all customers can afford to do this and everybody can afford to take part in this transition.”

The Eurelectric Power Summit continues each day this week. Click here for details and to watch: https://powersummit2021.eurelectric.org/