From Young Turk to Grey Beard, My Next Steps in Renewables


RenewableUK Deputy Chief Executive Maf Smith


I have some news. After seven years at RenewableUK and over twenty years working in renewables and sustainability, I will be leaving RenewableUK at the end January to take a year’s career break.


My wife has a tremendous opportunity to undertake research in British Columbia in support of her PhD, and we’ve have taken the decision to head over there as a family for up to a year, so that she can focus on her research while I take on the main carer role for our twins. With them just turned three, me having a chance to be with them before they’re suddenly in school and growing up fast seems too good an opportunity to miss.


20 years is a long time in the renewables industry, and the realisation that you are no longer one of the young turks but the grey beards is an odd thing to process. I’ve tracked the growth of renewables, from the early growth of onshore and offshore wind. I first started work in renewables early on in my career in Barrow in Furness, where I was running a small EU funded energy agency. We were focused on energy efficiency but had links to the growth of onshore wind in South Cumbria. One of my first projects was the development of a mobile advice van part funded by community benefit funding from National Wind Power’s (now Innogy’s) Harlock Hill wind farm. We also used funding from the Kirkby Moor wind farm to fund loft insulation in rural communities around the site, and slowly grew our work talking up the benefits of onshore wind in the local community.


Being in Barrow also put me in a good position to see the early beginnings of offshore wind. Talk began about Round One of this new thing called offshore wind, so my group began work on it, and I gathered a small business group of local employers, the Port and the local enterprise agency to look at opportunities. I remember being told by one senior local business figure the industry would never amount to anything. I’m glad that we have been able to prove people like him wrong many times over.


The day before the Round One announcement I rashly stood in-front of 200 business people and councillors from across Cumbria at a meeting in Barrow Town Hall and predicted an offshore wind farm off the coast of Barrow. I was banking on their being a lease in Morecambe Bay which I could point to. The next day though out came the Barrow wind farm, and people started to pay attention. Pretty soon I was meeting regularly with a small team from Warwick Energy and helping local coordination. That led me to arrange visits for local politicians and businesses over to Blyth to meet with people like David Still and head out on a primitive CTV catamaran to bob around beneath the two 2MW turbines. I remember thinking it seemed a long way from shore.


Soon after experience I took the plunge fully into the reewables sector and headed to Glasgow to run Scottish Renewables, and spearheading industry action to grow renewables, and in particular onshore wind in Scotland. Renewables then were equivalent of 12% of Scottish demand, and most of that was from hydro power. I was there at just the right time as the first member of staff and in the five years I was there quadrupled the memberhip to 200 organisations, and had fun (and a lot of late nights) launching the successful Scottish Green Energy Awards. Today, thanks to cross industry efforts and groups like Scottish Renewables Scotland is a net exporter of renewable power to the rest of GB.


After time in the Scottish and UK Governments working on things like the landmark Scottish Climate Change Bill and then Electricity Market Reform I washed up on the shores of RenewableUK, and in my time there have led our policy, operational, membership and commercial work. Its been a fantastic experience, working alongside a group of seriously committed people to deliver change on behalf of a membership that is proud of its track record of delivery. We have of course, a world leading offshore wind sector, but more to do to ensure that innovative technologies like tidal and floating offshore wind have a clear growth path, and obviously still a gap in action to restore onshore wind a clear role in delivering net zero. As well as the work to advance renewables, I’m particularly proud of my leadership role in helping stabilise RenewableUK’s finances after too long a period of running a deficit, and turning it into a strong trade body with members at the heart of all we do.


It has been fantastic working on the UK’s energy transition alongside so many talented people and committed organisations. It will be interesting to spend time in a part of the world which has a lot of renewable power (mostly hydro), but still some of the highest per capita emissions in the world and where climate change is a partisan issue. I wonder what I’ll learn and what UK experience I can use.


For now others will need to continue this work, but after a short break I’m planning to be back in the UK. I’ll be looking for work of course so do keep in touch. The plan is to grow a small consultancy business for myself, offering my advice and expertise to businesses wanting to understand the renewable sector, both here and abroad, while my wife and I continue to juggle being parents of growing twins, and plan new adventures. Of course – if you’ve any immediate ideas for interesting projects to work on in Canada or the US Pacific coastline, then let me know.

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