Enbala founder Malcolm Metcalfe had the opportunity – and honor – of learning the answer to this question first hand when he met with Queen Elizabeth II earlier this month. Yep, he chatted with the Queen. At Windsor Castle. And it turns out that she shares a dream with Malcolm – the dream of a clean energy future where energy poverty no longer exists for the 1 billion people in the world who are living without electricity today and the 3.8 billion more whose energy sources are insufficient, unreliable, dangerous or prohibitively expensive.
Malcolm first met the Queen in 1999 when he was inducted as a Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order (RVO) at Buckingham Palace. The RVO is a British order of knighthood instituted by Queen Victoria in 1896 to allow her to personally thank and honor people who had helped her directly, or represented her or the monarchy across the Empire.
In Malcolm’s case, his honor was for his work on the Canadian Steering Committee of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Commonwealth Study Conference, founded by HRH Prince Philip. Established as an “extraordinary experiment” (Prince Philip’s words), the initiative provided an opportunity for a diverse group of people from across the Commonwealth to leverage their experience and work together to examine the relationship between industry and the community around it.
Malcolm participated in this experiment for many years, working with Prince Philip and many others to examine the tensions, problems and opportunities created by this dichotomy between industrial enterprise and community development.
As an organizer for the 1980 conference, he also ran the Canadian event in 1983 and then went to India, Australia and the UK many times to meet with Prince Philip and others to help drive subsequent conferences.
In 2006, when these gatherings came to a close, a comprehensive 204-page book, "Leadership in The Making." was published in Canada, celebrating 50 years since the first conference in 1956 – a book Malcolm played a big part in creating.
Since being inducted into the Royal Victorian Order, Malcolm has participated in several of the services, which are held every four years at Windsor Castle in the UK. This year’s ceremony on May 3 made headlines around the world when Queen Elizabeth named Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, a Dame Grand Cross in the Royal Victorian Order – the highest rank in the Order and the equivalent of a Knight.
Is Malcolm jealous that Kate Middleton’s knighthood was higher than his? Not even one tiny bit. In fact, Malcolm left this year’s ceremony almost as excited as when he was personally honored by the Queen 20 years ago. This is because he had the opportunity last week to converse with Queen Elizabeth about reviving Prince Phillip’s Commonwealth Conference legacy project, with a focus on the social impacts of a change to clean energy – more specifically, on how we can transform the planet without causing widespread “energy poverty.”
“The Queen’s face literally lit up when we talked about this,” Malcolm said. “The idea is to study the way to move forward to accomplish these goals and the social impacts that need to be addressed to make energy available to everyone, in even the poorest countries. Prince Philip will be 97 in a few weeks," he noted, "and she was certain that he would be extremely pleased with this plan.”
In about 2006, the Commonwealth Conferences stopped. “Prince Philip was almost 90 at the time,” Malcolm said, “and he always was key to making this all work. But his daughter Princess Anne (shown with Malcolm in the accompanying photo) has now picked up the challenge. We spent time talking to her about kicking off a new conference focused on energy, and she is just as enthused as the Queen, her mother,” Malcolm said.
In Malcolm’s opinion, Queen Elizabeth II is “one very remarkable woman,” and he shares the same opinion of Princess Anne. He is excited about the potential of the new energy-focused Commonwealth Study Conference. People experiencing energy poverty are marginalized in many ways, and Malcolm has high hopes that this new initiative can help. And since, for cost and political reasons, centralized grids are unlikely to reach the vast majority of the energy poor, decentralized, distributed energy sources like solar, wind and micro-hydro offer solutions that can deliver energy more quickly and inexpensively – while also leading to a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
The possibilities are far-reaching. And as Malcolm follows in his own footsteps to pursue this new dream, his colleagues at Enbala will be at his side doing everything we can to help him.