Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Renewable energy – a medal winning opportunity

Yesterday we notched up more gold medals in the Olympics than we have had in 104 years with the promise of more to come.  Whether this will be a one-off performance for Team GB is yet to be seen but our stellar showing in the medal table this year is no quirk of fate. There has been national programme to identify young talent and help athletes to achieve.  Resources have been strategically focused to ensure that those with potential have every chance to perform at the highest level.   And clearly it has paid off.  In terms of gold medals per head of population, among countries with populations above 10 million, we lead the world!
Could the Olympics offer inspiration to other projects on a national scale?  The government recently published their proposals for the most far-reaching reforms of the UK energy markets since the privatisation of the energy sector in the early 1990s.  The Energy Market Reform Bill is due to come to Parliament towards the end of 2012.  The Committee on Climate Change is clear on what must be achieved.  We need to substantially decarbonise our power sector by 2030.  They suggest that this implies carbon emissions from the power sector of no more than 50 gCO2/kWh.  The good news is that WWF, working with academic institutions in the UK, have published a report titled Positive Energy  that demonstrates that this ambition is feasible and affordable without needing to resort to building new nuclear power stations.  Their report shows that with the right policies and infrastructure in place we could easily meet 60% or more of the UK energy demand from renewable sources by 2030 without risk of the lights going out.

The bad news is that the Department of Energy and Climate Change are clearly lacking that quality of ambition that has led Team GB to such a success.  They seem wedded to expensive investment in nuclear power above investment in green jobs in the renewable sector where potentially Britain could lead the world.  Consequently a number of international companies have become nervous about investment in the UK renewable sector and indeed some have axed plans for such investment.  The Treasury is keenly involved.  With both eyes firmly on the Treasury coffers, George Osborne seeks a new dash for gas.  (See the current 38Degrees action directed to Nick Clegg). Gas does have an important role to play in the short term but the Department of Energy and Climate Change want to give new gas-fired powered stations a licence to pollute the atmosphere at unsustainable levels until 2045.  2045 is well beyond the timescale required for decarbonisation of the power sector.  The Committee on Climate Change has written to the Secretary of State warning that this lack of ambition implies emissions not of 50 gCO2/kWh but 200 gCO2/kWh in 2030. This is inconsistent with the Government’s carbon budgets and therefore its stated commitment that the UK will play its due part in helping to avert catastrophic global warming.
The General Secretaries of the Baptist Union, Methodist Church, United Reformed Church and Quaker Peace and Social Witness have also written to Ed Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.  Last week we received a response and will put this on line shortly (sign up to our newsletter for further updates).  We are asking for a clear decarbonisation target to be included in the forthcoming Energy Market Reform Bill and for the government to unequivocally state its commitment to and level of ambition for renewables.  There will be a strong world market for these technologies in years to come.  With just half the ambition demonstrated by Team GB, the Department of Energy and Climate Change could enable the UK become a world leader in renewable energy technology.   But the draft Bill offers no clear strategy or certainty for investors.  Without this Britain will find itself well down the rankings in the medal table for renewable technology and action on climate change.