It’s time the clean tech industry reframed the debate about renewables and industrial strategy.
It’s been a month now since the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee report was published pointing the finger at (what was) Decc and the DfT for failing to keep on track with our legally binding transport and heat targets. The Twittersphere has since moved on and the headlines have faded, and we’ve reflected in the accompanying silence.
I think the actual coming of the year 2020 provides us with a refreshing opportunity to redefine the relationship of many in government to our industry. The 2020 targets have been exceedingly important to date: the renewables sector now boasts 117,000 jobs and a growth rate twice that of the overall economy. It has spurred an outstanding shift in power generation, and although so far not to expectations in heat and transport, good progress has been made around the development of renewable gases (such as biomethane), biomass heat, EV’s and decarbonising our fossil fuels used in transport.
The targets have spurred enormous investment and form the basis of our domestic carbon budgets. From our initial conversations, it looks like the new government is assuming the targets remain relevant and need to be met. We need to see much more cross-government action on this, with DfT and DCLG crucial, coupled with a robust long-term strategy for decarbonisation.
Our focus as an industry should be beyond the targets. We’re bigger than these; we have developed a range of extraordinary products to help address one of the greatest collective problems in history, and the world has committed to ditching the old way of doing business by signing the Paris climate agreement.
I can caveat this with plenty of side points. It was very welcome to get parliamentarians and the public discussing our renewables commitments and the importance of decarbonising heat and transport at the ECC Committee hearings leading up to the report. We welcomed the opportunity to input and offer oral evidence when the time was right, and the announcement largely reflected what we’ve been saying in a number of press releases, articles, and conversations over the past two years.
The renewables and clean tech industry have to reframe our debate. We must begin to look beyond targets and subsidies, to recognise how renewables address the challenges of building the much-needed new energy infrastructure at the lowest cost. How they put the consumer at the heart of the market, pulling the control and means away from the centre.
What is also clear to us, as I am sure it is to many on the streets, pubs, and even offices of Whitehall, is that beyond the media’s speculation about the government’s Brexit plans, they are still very much in development. Rival views are emerging, a snap election may be looming, and new political camps have been formed following the referendum.
We need to make one point abundantly clear: that renewables and clean tech offer an extraordinary opportunity for UK growth, productivity, and industrial development. This should be communicated by the various organisations and companies at play as a “no-brainer” win for the government.
The next big policy goal that we should strive for is clear; position renewables and clean tech securely at the heart of the industrial strategy. We need to make clear that this industry can deliver the growth and industrial “upgrade” that is needed.
To achieve this we need to melt away the government’s current apprehensions about renewables and clean technology and make sure they understand that we’re not R&D, or an experiment, or a fad. This is a global industrial shift that, to varying degrees, will impact every country under the sun.
We also see a clear opportunity for the nation’s engineers, designers, and financiers in building this connected system. We certainty see 300,000 jobs in the industry.
Watch this space as the REA takes a lead in the coming months.