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Policy innovation

Is the key to a green economy a change in energy policy? Those involved in the industry (the government, consumers, business) often seem to be playing a game of pass-the-parcel, shifting responsibility between each other.

Consumers need to get behind policies in order to influence business, but we need the policies in the first place in order to get behind them. Our government needs to support business, which should not be expected to compromise profits at will; but ultimately the fate of our policy-pushing government lies in the hands of consumers.

Clearly we need to strike a balance and it will involve compromise. Even though technology develops at great speed, social change moves at snail’s pace.

Whether we turn our economy green will depend in large part on whether we can get people to use new technologies and whether we can get these to work in a practical context. The key to this is making innovations cheap.

In the UK, we have ambitious carbon-reduction targets. The technology for this exists, but the political and economic will does not quite. We are trailing the US in terms of collaboration between research and business but are catching up, with several government initiatives, such as the Energy Technologies Institute, attempting to promote industrial/academic co-operation.

Yet there is also dissatisfaction. Energy bills are skyrocketing. New, green-oriented policies such as the UK’s Energy Bill could put bills up in the short term, which is difficult for consumers. However, with the promotion of renewable energy, there is a solution. Although renewables will increase energy bills, they will add a relatively small amount – between £30 and £50 a year, nothing like the huge swings in gas prices.

The energy cliff is not inevitable. We can have as much energy as we want in the form of renewables – the question is just whether we can get to it in time.

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Dr.Gross is the Director,Centre for  Energy Policy and Technology, Imperial College London.