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Five questions with.. Thackwray ‘Dax’ Driver, CEO, Energy Chamber
1. The Energy Conference continues to be a marquee event on the annual calendar. This year’s theme is “Maximising Value Through Collaboration”. What was the rationale behind that for this year’s event?
The word “collaboration” cropped up a lot at the Energy Conference this time last year.
Companies were making commitments to collaborate more, for example by committing to work together to promote local content and to find greater efficiency in operations through better coordination.
As always, after the conference the Energy Chamber Board and my staff threw around various ideas and we thought that, as there were many commitments being made around greater collaboration, that would make a good theme. Then by asking the question “why collaborate?” we came up with the answer “to maximise value”, hence the theme.
When we talk about collaboration we were thinking about collaboration between a lot of different types of organisations: operators collaborating, suppliers or contractors collaborating with operators or each other, companies collaborating with universities and collaboration between companies and the government and with community organisations.
With new hydrocarbon industries developing around the region, we were also thinking about collaboration between countries and this fitted well with our strategic objective to regionalise the Energy Conference.
I want to be clear that when we talk about maximising value we mean for all these players, including governments and communities. The theme proved to be very apposite and it ran as a thread in the conversations through out the event.
2. Energy companies have experienced trying times over the last three to four years. Has that had any impact on sponsorship and participation for/in the event?
When companies cut costs sponsorship, international travel and event registrations are often among the first things to go. Over the past couple of years many energy sector events around the world have been cut or significantly reduced. In Trinidad we had competition from one event organised by an outfit out of the UK. That event did not come off in 2017.
By contrast, the Energy Conference has continued to thrive.
At the time of the oil price crash in 2014 we did see a drop in the total number of participants, but we also saw an interesting shift with more companies participating, including many more international companies, but with fewer more senior executives from each company.
Total number of participants has grown each year since 2015, with a six per cent increase between 2017 and 2018. The trade show has continued to sell-out through the downturn and our main constraint has been space availability.
The trade show now attracts many people from the industry who are not attending the main conference, including many younger professionals who get a chance to meet a wide range of different companies and leaders though visiting the booths. This has allowed us to connect with a new generation of professionals in the industry.
Our sponsorship numbers have remained more or less level through the downturn. We have worked very hard to make sure that sponsors and trade show participants get great value from their investment and this is why they keep on coming back year after year.
We have a clear continuous improvement methodology with the aim of making the event better every year. Our objective is to make this the best organised energy conference anywhere.
3. Outside of the traditional forms of energy (oil and gas), renewables have grown in popularity over the last few years. Where does T&T sit in this equation, and what sort of impact do you believe this will have on our local industry going forward?
Renewable energy, energy efficiency and climate change have been topics of discussion at the Energy Conference for many years. In past years we have had keynote speakers such as renowned resource economist Jeffrey Sachs and Stephen Chu, the ex-US Secretary of State for Energy, who have discussed the global energy transition.
This year, for the first time, we were talking about the actual implementation of renewable energy projects and energy efficiency initiatives in T&T.
We have moved from theory to implementation. This important shift has been driven by three things; firstly, T&T’s commitments under the Paris Climate Agreement; secondly, the rapid fall in the costs of renewable energy deployment; and thirdly, the continuing gas shortage.
The gas shortage means that it makes excellent economic sense to divert as much gas as possible from low priced electricity generation to higher priced, and forex earning, petrochemicals and LNG. Minister Robert le Hunte outlined these issues very clearly at the conference.
4 The industrial relations climate in T&T has been the subject of much debate in recent times with many companies commenting on its impact on T&T’s competitiveness as an energy jurisdiction. What is the Chamber’s position on the current industrial relations environment?
The current industrial relations environment is very damaging to our competitiveness, our ability to attract investment and our efforts to increase local content.
We need a fundamental reform of our industrial relations legislation to create a modern, progressive legislative framework that protects both the rights of all employees and the rights of employers. This must include the right to associate (and disassociate).
One of the topics that came up repeatedly at the Energy Conference was that technology is changing how people work.
Companies need to be able to quickly adapt to changing environments and they need a modern industrial relations environment that helps them be flexible and adaptable.
The alternative is failing companies, mass retrenchments and economic decline.
5 Though it might be early to think about, what can we look forward to for Energy Conference 2019?
The 2019 Energy Conference is set for February 4 to 6 2019.
I am already thinking about how it will be better than the 2018 edition. While I can not yet confirm the theme, I can guarantee that we will be reporting back on the progress that we have made over the past year.
And I am sure we will have a lot to report.
About Dax Driver
Born in the UK, grew up in UK and Hong Kong, moved to Trinidad at age 27.
Undergraduate degree in geography, masters in Africa area studies and doctorate in environmental history of southern Africa, all from the University of London.
After working in the University of London and on various consulting and research projects in Africa and the Caribbean, I ran the Inter-American Development Bank Agricultural Sector Reform Programme here in Trinidad before taking over what was then called the South Trinidad Chamber back in 2003.
Not really a credo, but I always try to be sceptical and question everything, including my own assumptions and motivations. Ethics can be learnt through what you do. If you really want to be an ethical person you need to constantly evaluate yourself and how you act.
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