Clean Energy Ministerial and the Future of Renewable Energy

With just over two weeks past since the Clean Energy Ministerial, in London, which I was fortunate enough to attend and having time to reflect on its achievements or not depending on your view; it appears that for most of us in the renewable energy and energy efficiency sector, not much has really changed.

Life is still really hectic balancing project deliverables, government consultations, new and current business ventures and uncertainty about what is really going to happen with the economy and energy over the short, medium and long term.

The rhetoric and aspirations of governments around the world appear to be very much on the same wavelength – that energy efficiency and resource  efficiency is vital if we are to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and tackle climate change.

Unfortunately, at the same time as discussing the uptake of renewable energy and working on energy efficiency, there seems to be a fixation on supporting fossil fuels’ continued dominance, through the likes of CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) and Gas Fracking.

Now I appreciate that I, like everyone else, do not want the lights to go out, nor do I want to stop using  my new found love of more technology (writing this on my new iPad, 20,000m in the air). However, when investments in technologies of the above require 30+ years operation to make them even remotely viable and the environmental impacts for the long term are unclear, surely we have to question if we are going in the right direction?

If the same vigour and public money was put into decentralising energy (e.g. District CHP from a combination of appropriate renewable energy sources), as was put into new ways of having centralized energy, perhaps the need for so many power stations would be reduced through the savings in grid losses and perhaps the centralized grid electricity from the likes of Nuclear and new build CCGTs could be reduced.

Add to this the utilisation of local resources (energy from waste (EfW), biomass, solar, heat pumps and wind) at the source of generation and we may have a more holistic approach (admittedly we would need to ensure that the EfW plant was very efficient and best in class for emissions reductions).

However, to make this happen we have to stop talking up headline grabbing big ideas and concentrate on getting the basics right first and spending the money wisely.  The UK’s Secretary of State, Ed Davey did provide me with a de jeva vu moment when he mentioned the idea of Saharan Desert PV arrays connected to a super grid, during the reception at the CEM over a glass of wine; wasn’t that one of Malcolm Wick’s ideas (Energy Minister 3 or 4 ago) or did Mr Wicks inherit the idea from Ministers past?  When will the Super Grid be available? And what about the energy losses in the system? They could be incredibly high and is energy from the Sahara really going to provide security of supply in the UK?

Michael Liebreich of Bloomberg New Energy Finance makes a lot of sense with his analysis of the issues for energy and energy efficiency in many respects and I particularly liked his tweet “The herd is thundering and at the moment it is thundering fairly unthinkingly towards shale gas”.  Michael sits on the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki moon’s new ‘Sustainable Energy for All’ Steering Committee, which has three key objectives. 1) Ensure universal access to modern energy services, 2) Double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency and 3) Double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix

With such aspirations, I do hope that common sense prevails when addressing the issues, because it appears that leaving energy in the hands of politicians who have to invariably consider their re-election prospects, is potentially going to just slow or stall the process, even if the intentions are honest.

Will the CEM 4 in India provide more exciting outcomes?  Who knows, I would definitely like to be there to help the process along.

I do hope you like my first blog.  I will try and keep you informed of the trials, tribulations and adventures going forward!


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