A few weeks ago, the government announced its intention to reduce Feed-in-Tariffs (FiTs) by 87%. This is just one of several renewable energy policies to face the axe in the near future. There was warning of an imminent attack on renewables in May 2015, right after the general election. The government’s excuse for these cuts is that the UK has reached its renewables targets for 2020. This may have raised a few eyebrows, but it also raised a question: is there a reciprocal –but undeclared- target for fracking, which has not been reached yet; otherwise, why would this government continue lending its unfaltering support? After all, it is not every day that the Queen’s speech includes a blatant statement of support to such controversial technology. Would the Chancellor’s family ties with the fracking industry have anything to do with it?
Within days of the announcement, a petition was posted on the Parliament website. The government responded, as it is obliged to do to any petition exceeding 10,000 signatures. But it did so in the same dismissive tone that railway companies announce the cancellation of your train service just before departure-an almost triumphant voice telling you are going to be late. At a time when the UK should be catching up with emissions cuts, it chooses to defer the effort to the future. If the petition reaches 100,000 signatures, it will have to be considered for debate in Parliament. This would be an interesting sight, and perhaps an opportunity for the new Labour leader to take a clear stance on the matter.
In the meantime, inconsistent behaviour on behalf of the government sends a strong market signal against investment in renewables in the UK. The government may just as well place a warning sign on the cliffs of Dover warning investors big and small, to go elsewhere. Within days of DECC announcing their intention to cut Solar FiTs the UK dropped to the 11th place in the Ernst and Young trackng index on attractiveness for investment in renewable energy. This, on its own, is quite a feat: only two years ago, the UK ranked 4th in investment attractiveness. Politicians and business leaders alike decried this U-turn: From Boris Johnson and Al Gore to the director of the Confederation of British Industry and Northern Ireland businesses that warn that 10,000 jobs will be lost in NI alone as a consequence. Even voices from the oil and gas industry hail solar energy as the “backbone of the world’s future energy system”.
But the government’s attack on what was beginning to look like a success story for the UK has broader implications for the energy system. Pulling the plug on renewables also discourages investment in, and development of, associated technologies such as smarter electricity grids: solar panels and wind turbines support more than their manufacturers and installers. Distributed energy generation requires smarter electricity grids which can handle fluctuating energy flows efficiently-and they are seen as key in the combat to reduce emissions from energy generation.
Smarter grids require investment, usually from the energy industry. Understandably, the energy industry needs clear direction. In a survey of UK smart grid experts the main concern for investing in smarter grid technologies was not the lack of funds, but the lack of energy policy and leadership. This was reiterated more recently in the press: investors, small and big, need reassurance that they will have a return on investment. The government’s erratic behaviour does just the opposite.
On a parallel front, in the end of September, DRAX announced its declining interest in a Carbon Capture and Storage site, one of the government’s projects in support of the fossil fuel industry. It seems that DRAX can see through DECC: CO2 reduction is not a government priority anymore.
The list of repercussions and fallout could go on. When renewable energy adoption efforts need to be praised and supported, this government chooses to condemn them to death by a thousand cuts-while supporting polluting and controversial energy sources like shale oil and gas. In the meantime, our climate deteriorates, carbon emmisions keep accumulating, and Mr.Cameron’s government continues to turn a blind eye to reality.
More about Dimitrios
Dr Dimitrios Xenias is a Research Affiliate of the Sustainable Places Research Institute at Cardiff University, the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, and a member of the Social & environmental psychology research theme.
His research focuses on the social psychology of sustainable behaviours, specifically energy use and attitudes to energy systems transitions and new technologies (e.g. renewable energy, electric vehicles), travel behaviour and mode choice, and climate risks communication. He approaches these topics using quantitative and qualitative methods, in experimental and field settings. Dimtirios publishes in Policy, and Social, and Environmental Psychology journals.