Renewable energy to save consumers between £25 and £100 billion

A new government report outlines the economic case for renewable energy, writes RenewableUK’s Gordon Edge.

An official report published today on the dangers of failing to invest in renewable energy represents a timely call for the Government to set clear long-term policies to boost the deployment of wind, wave and tidal power. The independent and highly authoritative study makes it clear that hard-pressed British consumers’ bills have shot up due to the UK’s dependence on imports of fossil fuels, and it therefore recommends measures to encourage investment in domestic low-carbon sources to bring the cost of electricity under control.

The official body which advises the Government on this issue, the Committee on Climate Change, says investing in low-carbon technologies between 2020 and 2030, such as wind and marine energy, will save UK consumers at least £25-£45bn over the lifetime of those projects, rising to £100bn if international gas prices continue to escalate.

The Committee says one of the best ways to stimulate investment in renewables is to set a carbon reduction target in the Energy Bill now going through Parliament, specifying a reduction to 10 per cent of 1990 levels by 2030 (from 500 grammes per kilowatt hour to 50g/kWh). MPs are due to vote on this issue in early June.

It also recommends that the Government should specify how much financial support will be available for low-carbon energy between now and 2030 – at present, the long-term vision for the power sector only goes as far as 2020. The report highlights the need to develop a specific strategy for the development of offshore wind, including ways to attract new sources of finance.

This thorough research by the most authoritative body in its field provides compelling evidence that investment in British renewables is cost-effective, whereas an unhealthy addiction to foreign fossil fuels is excruciatingly expensive, as well as being deeply irresponsible. RenewableUK’s own figures show that combined onshore and offshore wind are generating £2.5bn a year for the UK, and as such are one of the single biggest sources of investment into our economy – surely an opportunity we cannot afford to ignore. And with DECC’s own figures showing that 74 per cent of people are concerned about the UK’s reliance on imported fossil fuels, this is an issue the vast majority of the country is united on.

The Committee on Climate Change is also right to highlight the fact that the current lack of a long-term political vision is jeopardising investment in renewable energy projects – including the development of the supply chain which could create tens of thousands of jobs in wind and marine energy, with turbine factories opening around the UK.

Earlier this week the European Parliament voted in favour of setting a binding 2030 renewable energy target, to provide long-term clarity. The UK should be sending out similarly positive signals, so that we can maintain Britain’s global lead in the offshore wind, wave and tidal sectors, as well as maintaining our success in onshore wind which is the most cost effective way to generate large amounts of low carbon electricity to power our homes.

Photograph: CCC

Dr Gordon Edge is RenewableUK’s Director of Policy.

GARY WATERS
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In defence of expertise: it’s time to take the heart out of “passionate” politics

What we need is cool logic.

We are living through a bonfire of the experts. During the EU referendum campaign, Michael Gove explained that people had had enough of them. A few weeks later, his fellow Tory MPs took him at his word and chose a relative ingénue to run against Theresa May.

After declaring for Andrea Leadsom in the Tory leadership race, Michael Howard was asked whether it might be a problem that she had never held a position higher than junior minister. Howard, whose long career includes stints as home secretary and opposition leader, demurred: “I don’t think experience is hugely important.”

Even in this jaw-dropping season, that comment caused significant mandibular dislocation. I thought: the next Tory leader will become prime minister at a time of national crisis, faced with some of the UK’s most complex problems since the Second World War. If experience doesn’t matter now, it never does. What does that imply about the job?

Leadsom’s supporters contended that her 25 years in the City were just as valuable as years spent at Westminster. Let’s leave aside the disputed question of whether Leadsom was ever a senior decision-maker (rather than a glorified marketing manager) and ask if success in one field makes it more likely that a person will succeed in another.

Consider Ben Carson, who, despite never having held elected office, contested the Republican presidential nomination. He declared that Obamacare was the worst thing to happen to the United States since slavery and that Hitler may have been stopped if the German public had been armed. Yet Carson is not stupid. He is an admired neurosurgeon who pioneered a method of separating conjoined twins.

Carson is a lesson in the first rule of expertise: it does not transfer from one field to another. This is why, outside their domain, the most brilliant people can be complete dolts. Nevertheless, we – and they – often assume otherwise. People are all too ready to believe that successful generals or entrepreneurs will be good at governing, even though, more often than not, they turn out to be painfully inept.

The psychologist Ellen Langer had her subjects play a betting game. Cards were drawn at random and the players had to bet on whose card was higher. Each played against a well-dressed, self-assured “dapper” and a shabby, awkward “schnook”. The participants knew that it was a game of chance but they took more risks against the schnook. High confidence in one area (“I’m more socially adept than the schnook”) irrationally spilled over into another (“I’ll draw better cards”).

The experiment points us to another reason why we make poor judgements about competence. We place too much faith in social cues – in what we can see. As voters, we assume that because someone is good at giving a speech or taking part in a debate, they will be good at governing. But public performance is an unreliable indicator of how they would cope with running meetings, reading policy briefs and taking decisions in private. Call it the Boris principle.

This overrating of the visible extends beyond politics. Decades of evidence show that the job interview is a poor predictor of how someone will do in the job. Organisations make better decisions when they rely on objective data such as qualifications, track record and test scores. Interviewers are often swayed by qualities that can be performed.

MPs on the Commons education select committee rejected Amanda Spielman, the government’s choice for the next head of Ofsted, after her appearance before them. The committee didn’t reject her because she was deficient in accomplishments or her grasp of education policy, but because she lacked “passion”. Her answers to the committee were thoughtful and evidence-based. Yet a Labour MP told her she wasn’t sufficiently “evangelical” about school improvement; a Tory asked her to stop using the word “data” so often. Apparently, there is little point in being an expert if you cannot emote.

England’s football team is perennially berated in the media for not being passionate enough. But what it lacks is technique. Shortly before Wales played England in the European Championship, the Welsh striker Gareth Bale suggested that England’s players lacked passion. He knew exactly what he was doing. In the tunnel before kick-off, TV cameras caught the English goalkeeper Joe Hart in a vessel-busting frenzy. On the pitch, Hart allowed Bale to score from an absurdly long range because he was incapable of thinking straight.

I wish there were less passion in politics and more cool logic; less evangelism and more data. Unthinking passion has brought the Labour Party to its knees and threatens to do the same to the country. I find myself hungering for dry analyses and thirsting for bloodless lucidity. I admire, more than ever, those with obscure technical knowledge and the hard-won skills needed to make progress, rather than merely promise it.

Political leadership is not brain surgery but it is a rich and deep domain. An effective political leader needs to be an expert in policy, diplomacy, legislative process and how not to screw up an interview. That is why it’s so hard to do the job well when you have spent most of your time in boardrooms or at anti-war rallies.

If democratic politicians display contempt for expertise, including their own, they can hardly complain if those they aspire to govern decide to do without the lot of them. 

Ian Leslie is a writer, author of CURIOUS: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends On It, and writer/presenter of BBC R4's Before They Were Famous.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt