As we continue our series looking at the women in the energy industry, Katharine Clench, National Grid ESO’s Regional Development Programme Strategy Manager, talks big challenges and what sparked her interest in energy.
What’s your current role at National Grid ESO and what does your job involve?
I’ve recently started a new role within the Networks team at the ESO as Regional Development Programme Strategy Manager.
Regional Development Programmes (RDPs) are projects or studies that look at the complex interactions between distribution and transmission networks in areas with large amounts of distributed energy resources.
RDPs are important because they create efficiencies across the whole electricity system and reduce costs for consumers. They’re designed to look at the whole electricity system and assess the options to resolve specific network needs.
My role involves working across various teams within the ESO, and externally with transmission operators (TOs), distribution network operators (DNOs) and service providers, to enable RDPs to progress.
We’ve committed to undertaking more RDP projects in our RIIO-2 Business Plan and to developing a roadmap, in collaboration with stakeholders, that sets out how RDP functionality will be rolled out more broadly. This is my focus for the next two years.
What first interested you in being part of the energy industry and how did you join?
I first heard of National Grid through a friend whose dad worked there. That sparked an interest in the sector and, over time, I saw the important role that National Grid played in society in terms of keeping our energy flowing.
I took a business degree at Warwick University and joined the graduate programme at National Grid in 2004.
I’ve been in the industry a while now but it’s always been hugely interesting, fast-paced and constantly changing. Now, with decarbonisation targets to meet, it feels like the industry must rise to the challenge where whole system approaches are essential to making a successful transition.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
The way that we’ll meet Net Zero is by coming together across the industry. The philosophy behind RDPs is ‘design by doing’ so our remit, and our aim, is to work with third parties to determine how each project needs to move forward to meet a specific system need.
For me, this is incredibly rewarding. I get to work with talented people from a fascinating mix of companies and collaborate to make RDP projects a success for customers and consumers.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your job?
Taking different approaches, particularly when processes have become embedded, can bring its challenges as people don’t always like change. You have to work through the practicalities of new ways of working.
This involves things like challenging how we determine policy decisions, understanding if codes are fit for purpose to facilitate processes, or whether commercial agreements can be used between parties.
There’s a lot of complexity. We need to understand how other parties do things today and how our respective processes need to work together.
How do you bring your previous experience from outside the sector to your current role?
Apart from a short stint at Sainsbury’s, I’ve been in the energy industry my whole career. But my roles have been varied and I have had a few across the ESO, many of which are relevant to my new role.
Working on the ESO RIIO-2 business plan submission, it was great to hear first-hand how our stakeholders wanted us to evolve to meet the Net Zero challenge.
One of the reasons I’ve stayed in the sector is the diversity within National Grid. You can move roles every few years, get a whole new set of skills, and be doing something completely different – all within the same organisation.
Now that COVID restrictions are being eased, what are you looking forward to post-pandemic?
Seeing people again. Despite the technology being brilliant, lockdown has made me appreciate the value of getting together even more. To stand around a board sharing ideas, bumping into people you didn’t plan to meet – I’m looking forward to it all. It’s harder to maintain your network when we’re all working at home. And the diversion of those non-work conversations, you need those as part of your working week too.
Notes to editors
About Energy Networks Association
Energy Networks Association (ENA) is the industry body representing the companies which operate the electricity wires, gas pipes and energy system in the UK and Ireland.
ENA helps its members meet the challenge of delivering electricity and gas to communities across the UK and Ireland safely, sustainably and reliably.
Its members include every major electricity and gas network operator in the UK and Ireland, independent operators, National Grid ESO which operates the electricity system in Great Britain and National Grid Gas which operates the gas system in Great Britain. Its affiliate membership also includes companies with an interest in energy, including Heathrow Airport and Network Rail.
What are energy network operators?
Energy network operators manage and maintain the wires, pipes and other infrastructure which delivers electricity and gas to your home, business and community. They are private companies which are regulated by Ofgem and employ around 45,000 people in the UK and Ireland. They are represented by their industry body, Energy Networks Association (that's us).
Energy supplier or network operator? Energy network operators are entirely separate to your energy supplier, which is the company that bills you for using electricity and gas. Energy suppliers and generators are represented by Energy UK.