Low carbon innovation, energy services, renewable heat, new economy, sustainable transport – these were only some of the topics covered by the two-day Eco Technology Show 2014, which took place in the Brighton Centre on 26-27 June, 2014.
“This government is delivering like no other” on climate change and “we need to make green mainstream”, were some of the remarks made by Greg Barker MP, Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change, in his keynote speech which opened the seminar series of the event.
From a Government’s viewpoint, as the Minister put it, it is important to focus on a few really important things and deliver on those. He mentioned some general pointers and statistics, such as the introduction of the Climate Change act; that the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions were 25% below 1990 levels; that over 500,000 people were using the Feed in Tariff (FIT); that during the weekend before, 8% of the UK’s electricity generation had come from solar; and that £3.9 billion had been invested in the Green Investment Bank. This all sounds very impressive coming from a Minister, who is adept at public speaking. However, when you look at some of the figures more closely, you start to wonder how the UK could do better. Charles Perry, Director of Anthesis – SecondNature, who chaired the talk, pointed out that in Germany, it is not unheard of that 50% of electricity comes from solar in the summer months, while Bangladesh is installing one solar panel each minute. Furthermore, the UK’s recently published Solar Strategy was watered down from an initial target of 20 gigawatts (GW) by 2020 to 12GW by 2020. And there is no mention of the estimated £110 billion cost of the UK’s nuclear waste clean up compared to the level of financial support for renewables. What was perhaps more telling was the Minister’s visibly deep sigh when a member of the audience raised the inevitable question on fracking.
At least the audience in the Eco Technology Show wanted to see more solar and other renewables, while the Minister was adamant that fracking is needed as a short term solution to enable coal to be replaced by gas. But at what economic and environmental cost? Sadly there was no time for those questions, as the Minister had to dash off to Sweden. However, Perry did have time to point out that even Lord Browne, the Chairman of Cuadrilla, the UK’s leading shale gas company, had admitted that there are not enough resources in the UK to affect gas prices.
This debate was continued by Brighton Pavillion MP Caroline Lucas and Rob Green, member of the North West Energy Task Force on Friday. Lucas argued eloquently that test drilling in Poland had resulted in a reduction of potentially extractable amounts of gas by 90%, which reduces its potential both as a bridging technology and as a means of enabling a gas-led economic recovery as seen in the USA. She also urged the audience to look beyond fossil fuels as committing resources to their extraction detracts from the need to seek alternative pathways of energy generation and environmental stewardship in general. Rob Green countered with the argument for energy security and the necessary transition from more polluting fossil fuels such as coal. He also pointed out that the electrification of our energy consumption infrastructure, which would enable greater renewable energy penetration, is likely to take decades and that gas has a vital role to play within a diverse energy mix with increasing need for balancing out intermittent generation from renewable sources. Thankfully, the audience allowed both viewpoints to be made without interruption and the debate concluded with applauds for both speakers.
A more hands-on approach was provided by Lord Rupert Redesdale, Chief Executive of the Energy Managers Association on Thursday and Andy Lewry of BRE on Friday. Both pointed toward the importance of energy management and staff training to optimise the existing built environment and for developing low carbon supply chains.
Perhaps the answer to the issues we all face from climate change comes from aneconomythatworks.com. Oliver Dudok van Heel, Director of Aldersgate Group, presented their rather simple, yet attractive, sounding framework on how we could improve the economy. Their six pillars for a better economy were 1) jobs for everyone, 2) happiness as a basis for quality of life, 3) low carbon society, 4) zero waste, 5) equality for all and finally 6) enhancing, not just protecting, nature. These have to be considered as long term aims, using innovation, inclusive society and community as drivers, and incorporating them to all areas of society from finance, education and skills, to infrastructure, industry, cities and governance. One real-life example of innovation and low carbon society was presented by Paul Bright, CEO of Cornwall Sustainable Building Trust, who gave examples of how neighbours at social housing had empowered each other by using simple innovations to reduce energy and waste. Furthermore, as Patrick Allcorn, Head of Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) at DECC, pointed out in his presentation, 1/3 of the UK’s carbon emissions come from heat, so taking an advantage of the 7-year RHI payments for domestic and 20-year for non domestic buildings could be an attractive incentive to install renewable heat. What is interesting about the RHI is that even if only two houses club together and install a joint biomass heater for instance they will be classed as non-domestic and can get the longer-term RHI, an indication towards more support also for community-owned schemes.
Communities and cities were also Friday’s hot topics in the Big Debate Area. Scott Cain from Future Cities Catapult speculated about the type of innovation necessary to channel the $10tn that are expected to be invested globally in cities in the next 10-15 years into sustainable solutions. Joined-up thinking, inclusivity and the potential of big data to address these challenges were high up on his agenda. The more specific community energy challenge in the UK was debated by Will Cottrell of Brighton Energy Co-op, Christoph Harwood, director of Marksman Consulting, Robert Rabinowitz, Chief Executive of PURE Leapfrog and Caroline Lucas. Their focus lay on the 3GW of community energy by 2020 proposed in DECC’s Community Energy Strategy. Harwood assumed it would require £3bn of investment, which seems unlikely to be sourced by communities by themselves. He argued that local authorities should take on development and construction risk although there are issues surrounding feed-in tariffs as local authorities are not eligible. Rabinowitz places great hopes on crowd funding and the Internet of Things to avoid the need to deal with banks and utilities. Both argued in favour of developing partnerships with commercial developers for up-scaling. Large companies have the capacity to win contracts by tender and smaller, local companies may benefit from this arrangement by being subcontracted. Community groups in combination with larger companies and subcontracted small companies also have the capacity to address smaller scale energy efficiency potentials.
Sussex Energy Saving Programme is an example where this is being put into practice. Together with Carillion, West Sussex County Council (WSCC) aims to install over £60m of renewable energy and energy efficiency measures through a local supply chain in the coming years. The partnership started off as a Green Deal project but it is still in the process of being developed. Carillion was chosen over British Gas because of their local approach, encouraging local job creation for local residents, training providers and providing sustainable solution for local businesses. It also focuses on providing support for improved health outcomes. Carillion was encouraged to sign a partnership with WSCC by the community drive, the £66m available for investment, the focus on innovation and the commitment towards regeneration and localisation. For certain measures Carillion’s overhead are too large and in order to reduce transaction costs, Carillion employs smaller, local businesses with smaller overheads, which are more appropriate for smaller projects. In these cases, Carillion hopes to act as a facilitator between WSCC and small businesses.
The local authority scale was also the topic of the presentation delivered by Peter Feehan partner at Pinsent Masons. Peterborough City Council set up an energy service company (ESCO) which aims to provide its customers with a dual fuel tariff that will save households £150 a year. As a result of the spending review the council started looking at various income streams and it concluded that energy was an obvious area to target as income can be generated by renewables, consumption can be reduced by implementing energy efficiency measures and regeneration can be promoted by saving money for the council as a whole. The starting point was DECC’s fuel switching initiative and it evolved and scaled up into an ESCO. Thanks to a joint venture with Honeywell the council is on track for saving over £150,000 a year on fuel bills and the council together with Pinsent Masons are now collaborating with 10 other local authorities that are keen to diffuse this model.
And what did we as researchers at the Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand take away from this event? The Government, local authorities and NGOs still have a long way to go in terms of mobilising people, even though the entrance lobby gave the impression of eco-overconfidence in the personalised mobility sector with the BMW i8 electric supercar and other sustainable mobility solutions for those with sufficient spare change on display. The Eco Technology Show was free to attend but it did not seem as busy as it could have been on the Thursday and most people attending the seminar sessions seemed to be those already converted to or working on the green agenda. Thanks to hot topics such as fracking, interest picked up somewhat on Friday but Minister Barker’s mission of making “green the mainstream” still has some way to go. On the other hand, the quality of speakers was exceptional and the range of local and national businesses innovating sustainable technologies impressive. It remains to be seen how all these glimmers of hope can be joined up on the pathway towards a truly sustainable economy.