An 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions isn’t a problem for the future – it’s a problem for now. Richard Smith, National Grid’s Head of Energy Strategy and Policy, explains why positive and informed debates like the recent one at the Hay Festival are the right way to find a sustainable energy solution.
Meeting of the minds
"We were expecting a lively debate – and we weren’t disappointed."
Richard Smith - National Grid’s Head of Energy Strategy and Policy
The UK is aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050
Source: 2008 Climate Change Act
“The recent energy challenge was the second time I’d attended such an event at the Hay Festival on behalf of National Grid. Such discussions are organised with audience participation very much in mind. Experts like myself and David MacKay from DECC were there to listen to the public’s opinions, test their ideas and explain the sometimes harsh realities behind achieving the necessary decarbonisation targets by 2050.
“The talk was just as interesting second time round. Normally we debate these kind of questions with industry experts and stakeholders who are familiar with the technicalities of the problem. In this instance though, the audience brings with them their own perceptions and ideas – as members of the public, as people who have paid to be there, and as intelligent thinkers with a passion for ideas, whether it’s in the fields of literature, art, philosophy or science.
“So we were expecting a lively debate – and we weren’t disappointed. The session covered two main areas, demand and supply, and we touched on everything from how you can reduce demand in your kitchen to broader scale solutions like renewables, nuclear power and the electrification of heat.
“The pattern of the debate was telling. The audience immediately started with commonplace solutions like the type of devices people use in their homes. By the end though, the debate had gravitated to more profound issues, like how we all need to think more deeply about our attitudes and behaviours towards energy use, and how much we’re prepared to sacrifice as a society if we are to meet the energy challenge.
“It was good to see the audience grasp the complexities of the issue. Nevertheless, we need to be mindful that those at Hay were not representative of the whole population – and that there is clearly still a lot of work to do in communicating to the general public at large. At the same time, the event gave us an indication of not just the scale of the problem but also the ways in which we can solve it.
“Ultimately, the answer lies in open and informed debate between the Government, industry and public. As we prepare to publish National Grid’s 2014 Energy Scenarios, and the task confronting us is once more brought sharply into focus, the event at Hay is a timely reminder that education and collaboration are the best ways to help us make the right decisions in this time of energy uncertainty.”