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Leadership abroad leads to leadership at home

Posted By Maf Smith, 14 December 2015
Updated: 15 March 2016

Many people have already given thanks for this weekend’s Paris deal. This significant international agreement shows how countries can choose to work together for their own short and long term ends, and take action which we all know to be necessary.

Speaking after the deal to an assembled press conference, Amber Rudd was clear that in the end the thing which secured the deal was political will, and the politicians there who showed leadership and signed up to an agreement that was far from perfect, but still vital. Having said this, Amber clearly didn’t want to imply that the contribution of others wasn’t important, but she was right to point out that at the end of the day only politicians could close the deal.

An important treaty like this shows the value of that mysterious thing – political leadership. Often allusive, it’s sometimes hard to track down, but obvious when it shows itself. A lot of political leadership has been witnessed in Paris these last two weeks.

An example of such leadership in the run up to Paris was the work of Philip Hammond in the FCO, who travelled the globe stitching a deal together and who has started to build a dialogue with Republican climate sceptics. Let’s hope that he keeps this vital work up.

What we need now though is political leadership at home. The recent energy reset speech has helped steady some nerves but there remain more questions than answers about Government priorities. Ongoing concerns over energy efficiency, renewable and CCS programmes show that problems are wide ranging and the continued lack of a clear narrative causes many people to question which direction Government wants to take us in.

The Committee on Climate Change has shown that in the next decade we will need to take out twice as much carbon from our electricity system as we are set to do this decade, which is a long way from the “we’ve done enough position” some would have us believe.

Its fifth carbon budget, recently submitted to Parliament, suggests a continued growth of renewable energy in the 2020s. The CCC has seven scenarios about our path to decarbonisation. All involve a substantial increase in onshore and offshore wind generation. Their least cost pathway sets out a significant increase of wind energy between today and 2030.

In contrast to the CCC, in DECC’s own scenarios, updated alongside the recent “reset” speech, DECC proposed capping renewables at 2020 levels and instead seems to suggest we rely on additional interconnection to keep the lights on and cut carbon. Relying on the French, Dutch and Norwegians isn’t credible. And it’s not leadership.

Government now needs to make up its mind though. The Paris deal and the new Fifth Carbon Budget gives the UK a chance to set out a fresh plan and a clearer Conservative carbon narrative.

Former Energy Minister Greg Barker has written that ‘sceptic voices on the Tory backbenches are finally starting to recede into the rear view mirror of history’ and along with those sceptic views must be left behind the old arguments and false choices between growth and low carbon.

All of us want to know how Government will look to use markets to drive down costs and drive out carbon; how it wants to use better, leaner regulation to deliver innovation; and how it wants to broker private sector investment and expertise to minimise risks to the public sector and the public purse.

In the UK’s renewable industry Government has a partner willing to take on this role. We now see that with the Paris deal we know what some in Government have sometimes seemed unwilling to say - that it is committed to climate change action at home and abroad, today and tomorrow – cannot be doubted. We know that deeds will have to follow from this.

Tags:  2020  Amber Rudd  CCC  DECC  Paris 

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Wind is the Solution

Posted By Maria McCaffery, 09 December 2015
Updated: 15 March 2016
It’s great to see that the SolutionWind campaign has been generating a buzz at COP21, the United Nations climate change talks in Paris. One of the key messages of the campaign is that many of the world’s biggest companies are using wind as their primary renewable energy source. The roll-call of Chief Executives going on the record to highlight the key role of wind energy in their business model is impressive, as it includes the CEOs of the likes of Google, Ikea, Lego, Unilever and BNP Paribas, among many others.

Unilever has committed to using 40% renewable energy, including wind, by 2020, as well as working towards a 100% goal in the future. Their Chief Executive Paul Polman has been taking an assertive stance, commenting that in some parts of the world “we’re still seeing too many fossil fuel subsidies and we need government support to level the playing field”.

Amen to that – we’re advocating fair competition in which newer technologies are nurtured, planning laws are balanced so that they don’t penalise one technology while promoting another, and there’s a recognition that polluters must take financial responsibility for their emissions.

It’s good to see that Mr Polman recognises the strong business case for energy efficiency too, with his company consuming 20% less than it did in 2008 - even though it’s continuing to grow. As a result, the company has already saved an amount of energy equivalent to the quantity needed to run 40 factories – a good example of how business is doing its bit to tackle climate change.

The Chief Executive at BNP Paribas, Jean-Laurent Bonnafé, notes that the investment case for wind energy is clear: it’s a mature technology with a successful track record of introducing technological innovations, it provides a predictable revenue stream and it’s increasing economically competitive.

His last point is particularly applicable to onshore wind here in the UK, where it’s one of the most cost-effective of all our energy sources. That’s one of the reasons why we’re working so hard to ensure it has a future. We need to see onshore wind farm projects included in future CfD auction rounds, as well as measures to ensure that householders, farmers and small businesses can generate their own power using small and medium-scale wind energy, so that we can continue to demonstrate that renewables offer good value for money.

There are many other great examples. Lego has invested £288m in an offshore wind farm and has a long-term goal of producing more renewable energy than the power it uses. Google powers 35% of its operations through long term Power Purchase Agreements mostly from wind energy. The company says these are attractive because they’re cost-competitive and offer long-term visibility in terms of pricing – and predictability is a valuable commodity.

For these successful companies, wind makes good business sense, so they’re making substantial, long-term investments in onshore and offshore wind energy.

I’ve noticed that Unilever’s Paul Polman has been particularly pro-active yet again in the last few days, praising the British Government for committing £5.8bn to a climate resilience fund to help the poorest nations most affected by global warming, as well as sticking to its policy of providing 0.7% of GDP for development aid.

He’s also right to continue to hammer away on other important issues. He told the BBC that “there are also some areas where I would expect the UK obviously to be a little bit more progressive, for example the risk of reducing the subsidies for wind or solar would send the wrong signal at this point in time."

When business leaders are lining up to argue the robust economic case for providing political backing for wind energy, all parties would do well to listen. COP21 has provided an ideal forum for the debate to be aired on the world stage. If we are to tackle climate change effectively, wind is a big part of the solution.

Tags:  2020  COP21  Lego  SolutionWind  UN  Unilever 

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Scotland's forward-thinking message on renewables

Posted By Maf Smith, 04 December 2015
Updated: 15 March 2016
Last night, Scottish Renewables hosted its 14th Scottish Green Energy Awards in Edinburgh. I need to confess I’ve always had a soft spot for the event, having been there right at the start and being one of a small team who established and grew the awards in the early 2000s.

Today the Awards are a major enterprise in their own right, and it’s remarkable to see their scale. That shows you how far we have come, and how important Scotland is to the renewable industry. Renewables can now provide a quarter of UK power needs. In Scotland they provide 50%. That’s a major achievement delivered over the last 15 or so years, and tracked faithfully by this awards dinner.

Now I spend most of my time outside of Scotland what I value about the Awards is how well they remind you of the positive differences being made. As one of the judges for the Awards themselves, I’ve been part of the discussions about shortlisted projects, and who should be the winner we select. It’s a real privilege, because it brings you back to what we are here for: making a positive difference to people’s lives and our environment.

Let’s take just a few examples from last night’s winners. First how about Beinn Ghrideag wind farm? It’s the UK’s largest community owned wind farm, and the Point and Sandwick community in the Western Isles worked for 10 years on their project. The scheme has been generating since September, and has already earmarked £700,000 of funding to a local hospice, energy efficiency, young people and arts and culture. It’s a great example of how renewable energy can help secure the economic future of such communities.

Or Green Marine and Leask Marine; two companies jointly given the Award for Best Supplier. Both companies are based in Orkney and have grown to serve the hugely important wave and tidal sector now present around those islands. There is a huge pride in these family firms building a future from our industry, and developing world class expertise at the same time.

Or Sgurr Energy, one of Scotland’s most successful renewable energy companies. Sgurr was started by Ian Irvine and Steve McDonald back in 2002, and they won the Best New Business back at the 2004 Awards. Now they have won for Export Achievement. As an employer with over 250 staff working around the globe, it wasn’t surprising that Ian Irvine wasn’t there to collect the award, being away in China hard at work.

My personal favourite award was the Judges Award which went to Highlands and Islands Enterprise. HIE are 50 years old this year so it was an appropriate time to celebrate all that they do for our industry. As an enterprise body they show the very best of the public sector; always wanting to push things on, find ways to tackle problems and make a difference to communities and businesses across northern Scotland. At RenewableUK we see many great examples of work by local enterprise partnerships and other agencies, but HIE remains something special. If the UK Government could drink from the HIE water cooler for just one day, imagine the difference it could make.

I write this because HIE has shown that partnership matters. Industry and public bodies working together with a common purpose to bring economic, social and environmental benefits. For HIE, renewable energy is an obvious choice as an economic opportunity given the fantastic resource there. But many seem oblivious to what renewable energy has helped us achieve.

Perhaps I can end with a simple example to illustrate how Scotland gets it, whereas others seem clueless. Today the GMB’s Chief Paul Kenny was in The Sun bemoaning wind energy and saying that “nuclear and gas are the only shows in town”. His figures don’t stack up by the way, but what he doesn’t seem to get is that there is employment to be had from development of gas, nuclear and renewables. His Scottish colleagues seem to get this however. At the same time as Paul was complaining loudly in The Sun, his Scottish colleagues were arguing that fabrication jobs for a new generation of floating offshore wind farms should come to Scottish yards. So Scottish union reps are doing their bit to fight for new jobs in Scotland. Their colleagues in their London offices are doing their bit to chase these jobs away.

Put like that it's simple isn’t it. Renewables are an opportunity. Anyone looking to pass that up would do well to put their name down for a place at next year’s Scottish Green Energy Awards and see first-hand how this is an opportunity already delivering and making many people proud.

Tags:  Green Energy Awards  Scottish Renewables 

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