Juliet Davenport is the founder and Chief Executive of leading renewable energy company, Good Energy. Good Energy is at the Hay Festival this week leading the debate on climate change. You can join the conversation on twitter using the hashtag #HayGoodEnergy
I’m often asked what started me on my Good Energy journey. There’s no doubt that my physics course at university strongly influenced my career direction. It was a tough discipline, but interesting, particularly when I reached my third year and the meteorology module.
It was then that I discovered why Mr Fish was so wrong about the 1987 storms and lived to regret his claim that there was no hurricane on the way. Some of his data was right – but although the forecast on temperatures was correct, the location detail certainly wasn’t.
This really brought home to me how an apparently insignificant piece of information could make such a big difference to all of our lives.
This discovery, and the mounting evidence I witnessed pointing to the destabilising effects of CO2 emissions on our climate got me hooked … and my path was set.
What really drove me to action was my increasing frustration with the long-winded political process and the inertia I observed. Having won a studentship with the European Commission on Energy, I attended a House of Commons debate on future energy technologies. I’d been hoping for a robust discussion on things like combined heat and power technology, energy efficiency measures and renewables.
What I got was very different. It quickly became apparent that the politicians present hadn’t bothered to read the documentation that had been prepared for them by their officials. Instead, the debate rapidly descended into an argument about coal vs nuclear – and that was that. The whole session was just filled with point scoring and the participants evidently weren’t remotely interested in the opportunities presented by other technologies.
I found the whole experience hugely frustrating and frankly, depressing. It was clear that politics wasn’t going to drive change and that Parliament was definitely not the place to make decisions about our energy future. If I wanted to see change happen, I was going to have to find another route.
That’s really how Good Energy was born, almost 15 years ago.
Since then, renewables has been an energy success story, going from a fledgling outfit, holding meetings in rooms upstairs in a pub, to an international industry which rivals traditional forms of energy.
Now, renewable energy from sources like sunshine, wind and water produces almost 15% of the UK’s electricity needs. The Renewable Energy Association says the UK sector currently employs more than 110,000 people and this could grow to 400,000 by 2020.
If renewables is such an attractive solution with great growth potential, you might wonder why some of our politicians seem so wedded to fossil fuels, ‘the nuclear option’ and fracking as the way forward for our future energy needs.
Politicians usually support energy options that are most strongly linked to potential revenues for government, and how much control the government of the day can exert over it. This is not surprising: it is in the nature of the political beast to be driven in this way. This is why fracking is a popular option in some quarters – it hits both of these ‘buttons’.
But while there might be some support for it, it’s worth pointing out that we won’t see this technology in use for at least another 10 years. That’s 10 years too long to leave things as they are.
Our recent research shows that in 2012, the UK imported more the 60% of the fuel needed to make electricity, 12% up on 2011. Yet we’ve abundant sources of renewable energy from wind, sunshine and water right here – so doesn’t it make perfect sense to make use of them? If the UK focused on this home-grown resource, we could build long-term energy security and reduce our reliance on the 40+ countries we currently import fuel from!
There’s already an appetite out there. In the past two years alone, we’ve seen the installation of 2GW of solar on people’s rooftops, powering nearly one million homes.
Fluctuations in the supply of renewable electricity can easily be balanced by supply from power stations already on the national grid. The grid has been developed to ensure that it can cope with a 1000MW nuclear power station going down within a minute, so it can easily deal with a lull in the wind or a cloudy day.
As renewables become an increasingly important contributor to the UK energy’s mix, we’ll need more grid storage capacity. Already, we’re seeing significant developments in battery and storage technologies, not only for the grid, but also for ‘domestic’ applications in people’s homes. This could mean that in the not-too-distant future, people who generate their own renewable electricity, perhaps from solar panels, are able to capture and store it, ready for use when needed. This could provide a different approach to managing peak demand.
And yes, I do recognise that not everyone likes wind farms or solar panels. All forms of energy have environmental, and sometimes visual, impacts. We have to balance these and consider the long-term impacts of the energy sources we use. It’s important that renewables developments are carried out in a way that minimises local impacts and maximises socio-economic impacts.
Good Energy strives to do this at every site we develop, ensuring that communities which host renewable view them as a long term annuity for both the local economy and the local environment.
My vision for the future is really, then, quite simple: it’s for a 100% renewable Britain, where every home that can, generates and manages the energy they use, and where big energy companies become a thing of the past because they’re just not needed any more.