Green Energy : Stuck in the Sidings

If you can imagine the engine for new, renewable and sustainable Energy systems as a train which should by now be thundering down the tracks, get this : it left the depot only to get stuck in the sidings.

Enough of the locomotive metaphors, already. On to the analysis. Here’s an excerpt from Catherine Mitchell’s fine book “The Political Economy of Sustainable Energy” (2008, 2010) :-

“Breaking Free of the Band of Iron : Over the last few years, in response to climate change, the UK Government has produced a range of policies to stimulate the development of sustainable energy technologies. These policies have been founded on market-based prescriptions coupled, where there are obvious market failures, with regulatory mechanisms. Together, these policies seek to use competitive pressures to drive specific areas of technology ahead. The overall approach is based on a set of principles and assumptions about how regulation and markets can, or should, work together and reflect the character of the underlying political-economic paradigm, which has been labelled the Regulatory State Paradigm (RSP). Put simply, this paradigm suggests that Governments should provide a regulatory framework which ‘steers’ towards a defined general direction and then leaves it to the market to select the means to reach that end, although with some regulatory limitations…this approach is unlikely to be sufficient given the need to radically redirect the economy in order to respond to the threat of climate change. There is a danger of ideological ‘lock in’…the current political paradigm is like a band of iron holding together a certain framework…constrains certain actions or policies…until this ‘band of iron’ is broken, the UK can only do so much and no more in its quest to move to sustainable development…This is because, fundamentally, the current political-economic paradigm involves processes of change that are too incremental and slow; because it has a linear, technological view of innovation which is unable to stimulate the appropriate system innovation; because it does not find it easy to recognize the non-linear, economically irrational behaviour of humans and consumption…and because the current privatized and regulated world of the energy sector has ultimate responsibility to private interests rather than deliver the social good…The UK has gone down the route of least-cost policies based on competitive and market policies. In theory, this should lead to the cheapest tonne of carbon or the cheapest renewable energy technology to be developed. It has benefited the large, now privatized but ex-monopoly companies…while it has not promoted new entrants…a section of Government which looks backwards to state intervention in big supply projects…This view would see climate change as a technology issue, not a system issue; nothing really has to change in the energy system, there simply has to be more nuclear power…Support for nuclear power is a step back to ‘club’ politics but at the same time a continuation of the view that large companies are really the key to getting us through the difficulties of climate change…While the fundamental costs and revenues related to the rules and incentives of markets and [electricity] networks regulated by Ofgem remain similar, even if Ofgem’s duties are altered, the band of iron will remain intact…Only when there is a direct decision to break that band will the costs and revenues of the actors in the energy system alter, thereby enabling new ways of doing things…the RSP has never taken renewable energy seriously, because it simply doesn’t fit as a set of technologies to that paradigm…Only the Government, through its determination and legislation, can provide confidence throughout the energy system and thereby stimulate the necessary investment and participation from all quarters…”

Now, it’s true that the UK Government is involved in a major planning shake-up, through the National Planning Statements :-

http://infrastructure.independent.gov.uk/?page_id=354

It’s still got Nuclear Power in there, unhelpfully. Catherine Mitchell points out, “the practical outcome of a commitment by a Government to a technology, for example nuclear power, might have a deleterious effect on the development of other technologies. In this situation, therefore, Governments cannot ‘leave’ it to technology and fuel blind markets and networks but do have to make a choice about what kind of energy future they want. In other words, they cannot follow the ‘everything is useful’ policy of combating climate change, because to do so will undermine other technologies. Thus, not only does sustainable development require enormous amounts of innovation, it also requires the ‘right’ type of innovation…”

But apart from falling for the top 200 mining companies’ of the world favourite energy technology (Nuclear), the UK Government might be on the right track with the NPS. Apart from the Carbon Capture and Storage projects. And just where is the promotion of Combined Heat and Power ?

But anyway, at least the UK Government have recognised that they have to be hands-on, finally, although they could use a bit of steer towards a fully renewable vision of truly self-sustaining energy systems.

So, here’s Ed Miliband popping up and making energy policy a General Election issue :-

http://www.businessgreen.com/business-green/news/2259026/miliband-challenges-cameron

“Miliband challenges Cameron to spell out renewable energy strategy : Energy and climate change secretary argues conflicting signals from Conservatives over renewables policy is “creating uncertainty for industry” : BusinessGreen.com staff, BusinessGreen, 05 Mar 2010 : Energy and climate change secretary Ed Miliband today threw down the gauntlet to Conservative leader David Cameron, challenging him to clarify his party’s position on key climate change policies. In a precursor to the central role environmental issues are likely to play at the forthcoming election, Miliband issued an open letter to Cameron calling on him to spell out his party’s stance on the UK’s renewable energy strategy, and invited interested parties to add their signatures to the online document. In the letter Miliband accuses the Conservatives of failing to publicly commit to the target agreed by the government to generate 15 per cent of the UK’s energy from renewable sources by 2020, adding that the absence of a full commitment was “creating uncertainty for industry and reducing the prospects for future energy investment”. He also argues that the Tories have a “weak record on wind power”, citing the fact that Conservative councils have turned down 60 per cent of applications for new wind farms. “Nothing in your Party’s documents or in your public declarations indicates that you at a national level are doing anything to challenge the resistance by Tory councillors to clean energy projects, nor have you agreed with us that a systematic mapping of the renewable resource in the UK would enable all communities to be able to sensitively and appropriately site wind projects to contribute to our national target,” Miliband states. In addition, the letter claims Conservative opposition to the Infrastructure Planning Commission would make it even harder for wind energy developers to gain planning consent, warning that Tory planning policies are “a recipe for delay which would threaten our energy security and our climate change objectives”…”

Before anybody starts calling me partisan, I’d like to point out that since New Labour came to power in 1997, their energy policies have not exactly been rosy – Catherine Mitchell cites a number of areas with recurring, intractable problems.

However, I do fear that, if the UK gets a Conservative Government, all we will hear about are “touchstone” issues – as in “light blue touch paper and retire” – as in fireworks, brands, torches – divisive things such as the European Question, taxes, immigration, family cohesion, private education, privatised health services, privatised social services, and in particular, Climate Change scepticism. The Tory Party is still highly fragmented on this key issue, and I can’t see any progress being made if they take power.

Can David Cameron assure the Nation that he understands the need for a truly new and sustainable Energy system ? Does he understand how to direct the heavyweight players to get the right results ? Can he unite his fragmented Party on the subject of Global Warming ? Has he an appreciation of how the large Energy companies must be dragged over the hurdle to a new phase of infrastructure building and investment in Renewables ?

If I can’t hear a comprehensive strategy for Energy from the Conservatives, I sincerely hope they don’t get to lead the Country.

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