Why we let the cameras in

Some 18 months ago we were approached by the BBC to see if we would be interested in being the subject of a documentary about the energy industry.  

Energy companies are rarely out of the headlines – and usually for negative reasons. Yet I’m all too aware that people in SSE do amazing things every day to keep the lights on and ensure that our customers are as satisfied as we can make them. This is the side of SSE people rarely get to see; and is why we took the decision to let the cameras in. 

At the start of the project one of the documentary makers told me he pretty much had no idea how power gets to his home. He said: “I just flick a switch and everything works. I know it’s a lot more complicated behind the scenes but I’ve got no idea how it all happens, and I think the public would be very interested in it too.”

I agreed with him. Energy companies don’t win many popularity contests but we do play a crucial role building critical infrastructure and ensuring customers are happy. We provide an essential service to people so we have a duty to be open and help people understand us better. 

These films are a part of that commitment to be transparent but above all they tell the SSE story through the company’s employees; quite simply the best ambassadors we could possible have. 

The series of documentaries is called Power to the People. It was filmed over 12 months and take viewers to a number of power stations, windfarms, call and control centres that they would never usually get to see. The first film looks at our Ferrybridge C coal fired power station and Greater Gabbard offshore wind farm. It gives an idea of the challenges we face producing electricity in an ever changing world.

The second film explores the completion of the Beauly-Denny project, including the construction of the last tower and the relief felt by the team on a job well done. It also  takes the viewers inside our renewable operations – including maintaining our turbines, responding to National Grid’s calls for power and even tagging the salmon that pass through our hydro stations. 

And in the final film the documentary makers wanted to concentrate on the work we do for our customers, both our retail customers who take their supply from SSE but also our customers within SSE’s power distribution areas. 

What you will see is an observational, ‘fly on the wall’ documentary. What you won’t see is perfection. And I’m okay with that. The films hold a mirror up to us all and I hope they will stimulate plenty of constructive debate.  

Everyone involved in energy knows they work in a complex and difficult environment, so we have a duty to help the public understand us better. I hope everyone will look out for the films when they start on Tuesday 17 November at 9pm on BBC4. I’ll be taking a keen interest in your reaction. 

The three Power to the People films will be shown on Tuesday nights at 9pm on BBC4:

  • ‘Keeping the lights on’ – 17 November
  • ‘It's not easy being green’ – 24 November 
  • ‘The customer is always right’ – 1 December

About the author

Alistair Phillips-Davies Chief Executive

Alistair became Chief Executive of SSE on 1 July 2013. He has a degree in Natural Sciences and is a qualified Chartered Accountant. He has worked in the energy industry since 1997, when he joined Southern Electric. He was appointed to the Board of SSE as Energy Supply Director in 2002 and was appointed Deputy Chief Executive in 2012. As Chief Executive, he leads the Executive Committee and the rest of the SSE team in the day-to-day running and operations of SSE and is responsible for implementing the strategy and policy set by the Board.

Read more articles by Alistair Phillips-Davies