By Gordon King BSc FRICS, of DMH Baird Lumsden:
At the start of the 20th century, the company which became known first as Anglo-Persian Oil then British Petroleum was in deep financial trouble. Its hugely expensive concessions were not producing and the capitalist genius behind the venture, William Knox D’Arcy, felt that he was pouring his fortune into the desert sands.
The British Government was equally worried. It desperately needed a secure supply of oil for its rapidly expanding warship fleets, so it fell back on a tried and tested solution – and called in the Scots.
They arrived in the shape of the Glasgow-based Burmah Oil Company, which had cut its exploration teeth successfully in what is now Myanmar. With its expertise on board, the Persian consortium hit its first gusher, and a new age of energy was born.
In our own time, this may seem simply a story of imperial derring-do, but there are three key elements to it which are relevant to our current situation in Scotland.
First, the Scots of Burmah Oil achieved the almost alchemical transformation of potential, or latent, energy into actual, or kinetic, energy. Second, they were not alone in being pioneers who changed the world. Thirdly, a remarkable new energy environment is under way in this country at this moment.
Potential energy is the latent energy in an object at rest and kinetic energy is the energy expressed by an object in motion. The hard-headed drillers of the Persian oilfields were able to set their revolution in motion because they were blessed with that particular mindset which sees solutions instead of problems.
Some say it is an engineering mindset: the idea that, if it can be imagined, it can be done. But seeing the world in this way is not a preserve of the spannermen, as they self-deprecatingly refer to themselves.
It is hard-wired into a particular type of Scot, be they scientists, traders, philosophers, industrialists or technological ground-breakers.
Scotland has always punched above its weight in this most competitive arena of human endeavour and, perhaps because we have throughout history been a small nation far from the centres of power, we have always had to try harder.
Whatever the reason, there is a quite remarkable list of people from this damp little country who have identified the potential in a given situation and put into motion changes which are not only transformative but life-enhancing.
To take just a few, look at James Watt, Adam Smith, James Hall Naysmith, John Loudon Macadam, Lord Kelvin, Sir Alexander Fleming, John Boyd Dunlop, James Clerk Maxwell, and Alexander Graham Bell.
Is it a particularly Scottish trait? That is arguable, but our own small corner of endeavour, DM Hall, is one of the few wholly Scottish firms in its sector and the past 20 years have seen a classic example of potential energy being galvanised into forward motion.
The energy in our case has been unlocked from the skill sets, talent and dedication of our people and developed into portfolios of new products which have propelled the firm onto a fast-moving trajectory.
And we have contributed to the wider energy of the country – for instance, in the green power revolution, with DM Hall contributing towards writing the RICS guidance on renewable energy options and leases.
Renewable energy is another example of how determination and vision can harness the natural bounty of the sun, the wind and the waves. Ever since hardy teams of pioneers built the first Highland hydro dams, Scotland has excelled in solar, geothermal, hydroelectric and hydrokinetic energy.
Targets which may have seemed ambitious when they were announced have been met and triumphantly exceeded. Last year, Scotland generated 9,831,320 MWh of wind energy, enough to power 182% of all 4.47 million Scottish homes, or nearly 100% percent of homes from Harris to Harrogate.
Scotland’s wind energy revolution is clearly continuing to power ahead. Up and down the country, we are all benefitting from cleaner energy, and so is the climate.
However, as we continue to languish in our current Covid-19 lockdown, it may seem that the dynamism of the country has been extinguished. But what we have to remember is that energy is never lost, it is simply transferred or stored.
And when the lid is finally lifted and the country determinedly heads back to work, all that latent energy which has been contained at home will be back in harness and we will soon be steaming ahead again.
Gordon King, BSc FRICS, is a consultant and former senior partner in the Edinburgh office of DMH Baird Lumsden and is a rural valuer who for many years sat on the RICS Rural Professional Group in Edinburgh and, latterly, in London. Today he sits on the RICS UK Valuation Professional Group, which also sits in London.