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.

Getty
Show Hide image

There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.