Your Home, Your Power Station

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Ed Davey’s contribution (on the next steps to decarbonize the UK) to a new collection of essays from the Social Liberal Forum is a tour de force in strategic thinking. 

One of the great strengths of Liberal thought through the ages has been an ability to find practical, scientifically and economically-sound solutions to pressing social challenges. For an excellent example of this, from someone who has held high office, look no further than Sir Ed Davey’s essay in Four Go In Search of Big Ideas, which not only provides a wide-ranging discussion of the challenges of decarbonising the UK’s economy in line with the aims of the Paris Agreement but also presents up-to-date policy suggestions to support the deployment of cutting-edge green tech.

For the power sector, Davey suggests that “any new nuclear should be suspended until it can prove substantial cost reduction”. He is also clear both for the need to improve the incentives to supply-side innovations like renewable power with storage (the practice of equipping intermittent power sources like wind and solar PV with battery storage) and to rapidly speed up the ability of “demand-response” technologies and smart grids to respond to changes in supply and to cut overall energy demand.

In a section that reminds clean energy advocates like me of how useful it would be to have Davey back in the Council of the EU, he urges much more use to be made of interconnectors between neighbouring nations, as well as fast-tracking reforms to electricity markets to ensure, for example, that network costs are fairly shared among market participants and that barriers to new entrants like community energy groups are broken down.

One of the many interesting proposals in the chapter is Davey’s suggestion for encouraging more consumers to get involved with the energy market via a competition called “Your Home, Your Power Station”. Distributed energy couldn’t be a more liberal vision but more needs to be done to bring people onboard and this could help.

Fully decarbonising heat is still a challenge to which there is not sufficient agreement and Davey acknowledges this. The core of the debate turns on whether to go for “renewable gas” or whether to push for full electrification of heat via things like electric heat pumps. Both require significant further work and Davey suggests a £1 billion Innovation Fund for zero carbon gas to be coupled with a kickstarted programme for Carbon Capture and Storage. The UK should also aim to set up two new Hydrogen Heating Projects at village scale, so we can better understand the nature (and cost) of the retrofits needed to make current gas networks suitable for Hydrogen. When we look at how successful the Lib Dem pioneered Offshore Wind Industrial Strategy has been in attracting investment and cutting costs in the sector, this sounds wise.

Finally, there is transport and industry. Both require big investment in clean infrastructure. Electric Vehicle growth in the UK will be stunted if decisions are not made soon on how to roll-out a full EV charging network across the country. If this is done well, EVs could even be used to balance power grids. Davey suggests a new Commission on Transport Fuel Infrastructure Switch (COFIS). As noted, a comprehensive carbon capture and storage programme and a huge ramp up of energy efficiency investment are also urgently needed as a part of a Green Power Industrial Strategy and, no doubt, Davey would see a much bigger role for this than the government does in its recently published Clean Growth Strategy. 

Four Go In Search of Big Ideas is available from the SLF website for £9-50 including postage and packing. Find us at www.socialliberal.net.

 

* Edward Robinson is a member of the Liberal Democrats in Europe.

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15 Comments

  • “any new nuclear should be suspended until it can prove substantial cost reduction”
    Then that’s a green light! The price agreed for the Hinkley Point new build is cheaper than currently being paid for wind-generated electricity – once you include the cost of subsidies.

    renewable power with storage
    Do the math’s, you soon realise whilst this has its uses, it isn’t a mass market solution. Plus we still have to address the problem: total theoretical electricity from renewables is significantly less than total energy currently consumed, and that is before we include the energy overheads of batteries.

    Electric Vehicle growth in the UK will be stunted if decisions are not made soon on how to roll-out a full EV charging network across the country.
    Don’t see anything wrong in this!
    Also do the math, there is a reason why the mineral extraction companies are so upbeat about EV’s – market prices of key metals are already rising as demand is highly likely to outstrip supply.

    I think the fundamental flaw in much of the ‘green’ thinking is the assumption that we can decarbonise our energy supply etc. etc. and still maintain our current energy-dependent lifestyle.

    Interestingly, Brexit provides (another) opportunity to make major structural changes in our economy and society. However, like previous opportunities, I fully expect the politicians to give it a miss and desperately try and prove the science and math’s wrong.

  • According to Ed Davey “any new nuclear should be suspended until it can prove substantial cost reduction”. Is this the same Ed Davey who negotiated and signed the Hinckley Point contract ?

    According to the Public Accounts Committee, ‘The UK government should rethink the economic case for new nuclear power stations after making “grave strategic errors” in the Hinkley Point project.

    In a report published on Wednesday, the Commons public accounts committee accused the government of neglecting consumer interests and failing to push for a better deal with the French and Chinese investors who are building the £20bn nuclear plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset.

    The committee said consumers had been “dealt a bad hand” by the government’s agreement to lock UK households into buying expensive electricity from Hinkley for 35 years. “Its blinkered determination to agree the Hinkley deal, regardless of changing circumstances, means that for years to come energy consumers will face costs running to many times the original estimate,” Financial Times, 17 November, 2017.

  • 10% reduction in personal GHG emissions? Become a vegan.

  • William Fowler 12th Apr '18 - 9:08am

    One interesting thing re solar power, which is technically possible as it is done in parts of USA and Canada, is to fit Smart Meters, in conjunction with solar panels, that run backwards so that the grid acts as a “battery” for the consumer. So power generated in the day is credited directly to the consumer for use in the night, ditto excess power generated in the summer can be used in the winter. With falling solar panel prices and this simplification of the process no other incentives should be needed. Low energy users could probably avoid any electric bills if they use a provider like Ebico who do not have standing charges.

    I am willing to take bets, though, that the current Smart Meters being fitted in the UK will not run backwards, given the usual larceny involved in the energy industry.

  • Where does energy saving come in? Where for example are the suggestions for zero energy houses? How about looking at transport. No matter what fuel we use is there any possibility of it being sustainable? Simple ideas like abandoning London as a capital need exploring, and in fact abandoning the idea of a capital city. We are all poisoning each other. How long do we have?

  • @William – Firstly, the grid doesn’t act like a battery, even though some may perceive it in that way.

    The key difference between the UK system and the US system is the way things do and don’t get accounted for.
    In the US system there is no need for the Utility to maintain any billing records, they simply read the meter, if you’ve used more than the last reading, you owe them, if you’ve used less then you get a credit. All that needs to be recorded is the standard periodic bills, thus as far as the Utility is concerned, during certain periods it’s operating costs are higher so a reduced tax bill.
    In the UK system, all energy consumed and generated is recorded and payments are made (money moves between bank accounts) which require additional accounting records, which don’t change a Utility’s cost base in the same – off-book, cost hiding, tax-saving – way.

    As for the current Smart Meters, the expectation is growing that all those installed and being fitted today, will need to be replaced due to a number of technical limitations that will prevent them from delivering the supposed benefits and that is before we start on the growing number of security vulnerabilities…

  • Peter Hirst 12th Apr '18 - 7:36pm

    One important innovation is to provide solar panels on all new builds with built in exporting to the grid as that is cheaper than retrofitting and would allow estate agents to do our work for us by emphasising the cost advantages.

  • Laurence Cox 12th Apr '18 - 10:06pm

    @Peter Hirst

    That means that you also have to orient all new houses approximately East-West, so one side of the roof is south-facing.

  • William Fowler 13th Apr '18 - 9:08am

    “@William – Firstly, the grid doesn’t act like a battery, even though some may perceive it in that way.”

    That is why I put battery in inverted commas. USA and Canadian consumers definitely do get the benefit I describe from meters running backwards (probably one in a thousand households have the really old meters in the UK that do run backwards, most were mechanically modified to stop that happening due to meter fiddlers) and even in a worst case scenario where the UK industry has fiddled things so it is impossible you can still fit export meters and apply that reading fully against the actual smart meter as everything will be sent to the utility co automatically via SIM/4G, other incentives removed. Just simpler to do it the way I described.

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