Step change required
Hinkley should spark wider thinking on energy
Under the last Labour Government, progressive incentives sparked a wave of investment in renewable technologies which now form a substantial part of our energy mix.
In 2015, however, renewable energy fiscal support became the victim of large scale Government cuts with the price of green energy to the consumer being cited as the reasoning for scything incentives, although clearly political factors were also at play.
The process of the cuts paid little attention to the type of technology and the impact it would have on both the householder and the development industry, nor did it question where the public saw their energy future and how the alternatives compared.
For businesses, the cuts to incentives combined with the hurdles of timescale and risk under the current planning regime make investment more difficult to justify.
This has been marked by a significant downturn in investment and deployment despite headlines across Europe demonstrating that countries such as Portugal are capable of running on renewable energy alone over several days.
The debate over Hinkley should mark a new start in Government thinking with public engagement at its heart. Consumers should not simply be driven by the current wholesale price but be given the complete data on future energy choices so they can contribute to Government strategy.
The issue is particularly acute in Scotland with the current moratorium on fracking and non-nuclear policy. Whilst the Scottish Government vocally backs the renewables industry, the lack of control over the financial support regime limits capability to actively promote the development of appropriate technology and support established industry.
The advances in technology and IT present the potential to support and combine renewable technologies with battery storage and to create smart grids.
In terms of solar, business rooftops alone present millions of square feet that could host solar technology, reduce pressure on grid and make property more self-sustaining. However, neither householder nor business is likely to invest unless they can see the clear financial benefit.
How and when we use power is changing and the technologies that provide the power need to adapt. Investment in that technology is critical to funding its development.
With the UK Government’s own predictions suggesting that solar and wind power are likely to be cheaper than nuclear by the time Hinkley would be completed, now is the time to be investing in this renewable strategy.
Steven Black is Director, Planning at JLL Scotland