How can you tell if political leaders are serious about decarbonization? If you see policy discussions like this:
“UK energy policy today seeks to deliver solutions to the so-called energy ‘trilemma’ — the need for a system that is secure and affordable as well as low carbon… One thing remains certain — the scale of the engineering challenge remains massive and the need for whole-systems thinking remains critical… all the easiest actions have already been taken”
The captioned report was submitted October 2015 by the UK Royal Academy of Engineering: “A critical time for UK energy policy”, subtitled “what must be done now to deliver the UK’s future energy system”. I can’t comment on the extent to which this message was digested by the UK leadership. But I take the fact of the commissioning and publication of the report as a positive sign. I’ve seen nothing approaching this quality from any other government (if I could read Mandarin perhaps I would have seen such discussions in China).
Reading this report made me simultaneously hopeful and depressed. Hopeful because there is such clear thinking going on in the UK. Depressed because this is so extraordinarily rare. Instead I typically see intense media coverage of the latest ramblings of professor 100% Mark Z. Jacobson, nicely deconstructed by Blair here. Let’s close on the optimistic view that in Berlin, Paris and Washington there are intense daily conversations that sound like this fragment from the Executive Summary (red = my emphasis):
The following actions by government are needed as a matter of urgency:
- Undertake local or regional whole-system, large-scale pilot projects to establish real-world examples of how the future system will work. These must move beyond current single technology demonstrations and incorporate all aspects of the energy system along with consumer behaviour and nancial mechanisms.
- Drive forward new capacity in the three main low carbon electricity generating technologies — nuclear, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and o shore wind.
- Develop policies to accelerate demand reduction, especially in the domestic heat sector, and the introduction of ‘smarter’ demand management1.
- Clarify and stabilise market mechanisms and incentives in order to give industry the con dence to invest.
In undertaking these actions, government must build on partnerships with all industry stakeholders and communicate clearly and honestly with the public the likely consequences of the necessary evolution of the energy system. Each of these points is expanded on below.
It is also worth noting that, in developing energy policy, the whole system must always be considered. Electricity, heat and transport, although quite different in their characteristics, are all part of the UK’s energy system and are equally important, with complex interactions between them: targets will only be met by addressing all aspects of the system.