Criticism of the UK’s energy policy is coming from many sides. Fiona Harvey writes a good article in The Guardian about the lack of clarity damaging investment. There is a good quote by Michael Grubb, well known to many of us: “There is no evidence that privatised or nationalised energy systems are better. What really matters is the quality of the institutions that govern the energy sector, such as the energy regulator.” All countries need to ensure the quality of their institutions. What do you think? Are you satisfied with the quality in your country?
Confusing government policy biggest threat to UK clean energy, says top academic
The biggest threat to renewable energy in the UK, and the country’s energy systems, comes from a lack of clarity on the part of government, a leading academic has said.
Rob Gross, director of the centre for energy policy at Imperial College London, said on Monday: “[There is a] lack of clarity over what they want people to do. This lack of clarity is erasing investment in everything. With more clarity, you would get more investment.”
Under the “political machinations” of the previous coalition government, the amount bill-payers were expected to contribute in support for low-carbon power was made “subject to a cap”, he said, but “there is no decision on what that cap will be after 2020”, leaving energy investors in the dark.
Not just renewable energy, but gas and nuclear power were suffering, he said. The government has been unwilling to provide long-term direction, and has repeatedly made major changes to energy regulation, including reversals in renewable electricity subsidy regimes, increased support for nuclear energy, and delays to carbon capture and storage.
Under the incoming Conservative government, subsidies to onshore wind and solar have been slashed, and planning obstacles put in the way of onshore turbines.
The renewable energy industry has accused the government of deterring investors with its repeated changes to the subsidy and regulatory regimes.
Jim Watson, research director at the UK Energy Research Centre, said it was “too early to tell” what would be the biggest problem for renewables, but that it was “potentially the government”.
The new Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has called for energy systems to be brought back within government control.
However, Michael Grubb, professor of international energy and climate change policy at University College London, said: “I can see no reason to go back [to centralised government control of energy] but I do think we have outgrown the idea that competition alone solves every problem in energy.”
He said: “There is no evidence that privatised or nationalised energy systems are better. What really matters is the quality of the institutions that govern the energy sector, such as the energy regulator.”
In part, Grubb said, renewable energy in the UK had been a victim of its own success.
Government projections of how much onshore wind power and how much solar electricity would be produced have been repeatedly outdone as costs have come down and the industries have expanded. This, he said, meant the Treasury and the incoming government claimed they “had not got the budget” to provide ongoing support at the levels the technologies previously enjoyed.
Keith Bell, professor of smart grids at the University of Strathclyde, said the key to incorporating more renewable energy on the nation’s grid would be to invest in more storage capacity, and interconnectors that can “correct imbalances”, for instance by transmitting excess energy to other regions when more energy is produced than there is demand for.