I think it’s safe to say that the renewable energy industry is nice. Actually, really nice. On the whole, it’s brimming with professional, dedicated optimists who see the need for a dramatic shift in the way we operate. The industry is working towards cheaper, cleaner more secure energy for all, and, crucially, is starting to make things happen.
Surprisingly enough, people actually want to join them to turn things around. Graduates are queuing at the doors of solar and wind companies ‘wanting a job with social impact’. Having worked in the industry for over half a decade, I fully understand why.
Crucially, business confidence is growing and investors now taking steps towards this new world. The UK is quickly diversifying its energy production and energy costs are being secured for all.
Hang on a second.
That’s not quite the picture is it? We’re not quite there on the last couple of points. And, frustratingly, the industry’s been here for years. Year after year of policy indecision and the nice guy’s patience is being severely tested. Graduates are still camping outside the door.
Time for the nice guys to get mean?
Despite the promising foundations of skills and growing investment, today Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey confirmed his department is again wavering on policy. It will again consult (with whom exactly?) on wind and solar support, postponing any long term commitments to UK renewables. The brakes are on. However, his department has confirmed an alliance with the Chancellor’s ‘dash for gas’ with a £500m field allowance now available for large shallow water gas fields.
Impersonating George Osbourne, FOE’s Andrew Pendleton tweeted: “I don’t care if we’re in a recession. I just don’t like those bloody job-creating, growth-promoting windmills”.
Whilst the Chancellor pulls rank and cosies up to the familiar old paradigm filled with rosy-cheeked fossil fuel friends, society wants the promise of friendly fresh-faced renewables. DECC’s own survey recently confirming the demand for clean energy, over 80% of the UK public wanting more investment in solar.
Business Green’s James Murray put it simply: “This is an affront to democracy”.
So, here we are. Rightly or wrongly, we’ve confirmation that cash is behind gas. It’s been brewing for some time, but the time is now. The battle lines have been drawn.
It’s increasingly clear that if renewables is to keep the industry buoyant with investment and skills, now is the time for the industry to stand up and go head-to-head with gas and the ‘old guard’.
But can it, and will we see the Renewables vs. Gas battle?
As I see it, the challenge is two fold.
1/ Communicate the energy truth with clarity and one voice.
2/ Roll up the sleeves, speak out and get mean.
Renewables supporters, trade bodies, green NGOs and companies have long been shouting of the long term risks of fossil fuel investment. But, whilst there’ve been smatterings of success in speaking with one voice, it’s lacking clear cohesion.
Dilution is certainly an issue, with renewables peppered with fossil fuel companies looking to survive through diversification. Would all the members of RenewableUK agree to go head-to-head with fossil fuels? No, half of them have gas and oil operations. Do they have a decision to make? Yes, if they want to move the agenda forward.
This year’s Feed-in tariff court win by Solarcentury, FOE and HomeSun was a step towards the mean end of the spectrum, it was bold and bullish. Something the wider industry could learn from. It was a last resort and it wasn’t nice. But it was the industry standing up for itself.
The issue as I see it is that optimists inherently don’t want to get mean and go to battle, let alone fight head on one of the biggest industry battles the world’s ever faced. But will the nice guys get mean?