Look after the pennies and the panels’ll look after themselves
By the end of this year Britain will have installed almost 29 Gw of renewable energy capacity. This includes a 26% increase (5.8Gw) since the same time since last year. To say that our renewable energy sector is up and running seriously understates the exponential growth these figures represent. In solely economic terms renewables employ 112,000 people and rising (by about 9% annually); prices are falling across the board; research and development is blossoming; the need for subsidy diminishing. In any context you’d think this great news. So when you include associated reductions in CO2 emissions, were there ever a win win then surely green energy qualifies.Well apparently not, if present government policy is anything to go by.
The Conservative administration we elected in May got in largely on the electorates perception that it could be trusted with the economy. When it comes down to energy policy, however, that trust appears to have been disastrously misplaced.
Those who oppose the push towards renewables are happy to characterise wind and solar, in particular, as unreliable. What happens when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine? The fact that, statistically anyway, when the wind doesn’t blow the sun tends to shine and visa versa is easily discounted. But let’s be generous and consider their alternative.
We’re reliably informed that the way to go is nuclear and (fracked?) gas. So let’s look at nuclear and the flagship installation that is Hinkley Point. Ten years from now, and at an estimated cost of £24.5 billion, Hinkley should come on line. Its planned capacity will be 3.2 Gw. A quick glance at the above figures (theirs, not mine) suggests that by that time investment in renewables could be generating around seven times that. Oh, and that’s if you reckon an average of 60% meteorologically enforced downtime.
(You’ll note I’ve not leapt to the defence of hard working families and all the taxpayers dosh that’ll be handed out. Subsidy is a term that only seems to apply to public support for renewables. Q. When is a subsidy not a subsidy? Ans. When it’s granted to nuclear power or the fossil fuel industry)
This is necessarily a pessimistic assessment. Advances in solar efficiency, storage technology and smart grid management could well brighten the renewables picture still further.
This week we’ve had to witness our masters’ undignified grovelling to illicit future investment from China. Symptomatic of their enthusiasm for this promised Anglo-Chinese special relationship is a plan to hand over great chunks of domestic infrastructural development to our totalitarian friends from Beijing. Hinkley is just the beginning, one fears.
I feel like popping in the famous Bill Clinton quote ‘It’s the economy, stupid!’ but addressing climate change demands a rewrite of ‘business as usual’ economics and a leap of imagination way beyond this government’s mind set. We can only hope that the renewables bottom line, the bit this government is supposed to be so good at, will hoist them on their own gibbet before they complete the forthcoming Osborne/Rudd hatchet job.
To paraphrase, this government is about to put your money where their doctrine is and the best way to punish them is with that doctrine, at least when it comes to energy. So start looking in the book for solar installers. They need our help and Britain’s energy future needs theirs.