‘Keeping Britain’s competitive edge: solving the energy trilemma’. This is the challenging starting point for debate at three energy round-table events National Grid is joining in Bristol, Stoke and Glasgow.
Regional External Affairs Manager Steve Knight-Gregson attended the Bristol discussion for National Grid, where some common themes emerged. Here, he offers his initial thoughts…
One of the things that struck me most during the recent energy debate in Bristol was the sheer variety of perspectives put forward in the room, from the multi-billion-pound new nuclear build project at Hinkley Point C to grass roots, community-based renewable energy initiatives.
In many ways, this diversity encapsulates the complexity of the energy challenge we face in the UK. How do we secure supplies for the future, do so in an affordable way and at the same time de-carbonise the country’s energy infrastructure? In essence, this is what the so-called energy ‘trilemma’ is all about.
Voicing shared concerns
The round-table events, organised and chaired by The Guardian newspaper under the banner of ‘The Big Energy Debate’, provided an interesting snapshot of opinion, with the discussion ranging from the short-term nature of political decision-making to the barriers preventing businesses investing in energy efficiency measures.
There were certainly some common threads to the debate. The need for politicians to take a longer term view and to separate energy policy from short-term electioneering was a familiar message, and one which participants supported almost unanimously. The prospect of a General Election in 2015 will only reinforce the political nature of the narrative on energy. There was also a sense that a clear energy policy and ‘a plan’ that everyone recognises and can sign up to, were fundamental in securing investor confidence.
The debate also reflected on the role of the media and the belief that intense media scrutiny of subsidies for renewable energy does not offer a balanced picture of the energy landscape. Other delegates highlighted the fact that the wider narrative is focused heavily on electricity, without enough consideration given to heat from an energy consumption perspective.
There was talk, too, of how best to incentivise business to invest in energy-saving measures, when for example, many businesses operate out of rented premises and there are so many competing demands for where money should be spent. A very specific point perhaps, but one that reflects the reality for thousands of people.
It was also interesting to hear about specific regional approaches to energy issues. In Bristol, for example, we heard about the enormous potential that exists in the South West for renewable energy with the Severn tidal lagoon concepts, wind, biomass and solar projects.
Communicating the energy challenge
Reflecting on the conversations afterwards, there were lots of positives, not least the consensus on some of the key hurdles to be overcome. At the same time, it was also clear that the people involved in this series of debates were well informed on the subject matter.
That’s not in any way to undermine the value of the events – they were extremely worthwhile – but the bigger challenge is how to build awareness of energy issues among the general public.
This communication challenge is one that we have recognised for some time within National Grid, and in recent years we’ve led a number of initiatives designed to take the message on energy to a wider audience.
We launched our ‘Powering Britain’s Future’ campaign with the goal of starting a nationwide conversation about energy issues. Through the campaign we brought together representatives from government, consumer and environmental groups to kick-start a frank discussion on some of the key questions facing the UK. Where will infrastructure be built? Why is it important for security of supply? Why are we making such large investments in renewable energy while the country is going through tough economic times and fuel poverty is rising?
Three clear themes emerged: communicating the energy challenge more clearly; the need to rebuild trust in the energy industry; and meaningful engagement of local communities. Since then we have also launched this Connecting website to open up this conversation even more widely.
In my role, I meet a wide range of stakeholders and it can be startling how little awareness there is about where our energy comes from and the choices we have to make as a society. Invigorating this debate, increasing understanding and raising public acceptance of the need for action are all vital ingredients and at National Grid we are committed to facilitating this dialogue.
In short, the more awareness we can generate about energy issues nationwide, the better our chances of achieving the ultimate goal: solving the energy ‘trilemma’.