Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Do we need wind turbines and solar parks? Or should we just use less energy?

A frequent reason quoted for refusing or dismissing any new wind turbine applications, is that if we reduced demand for energy, then there would be no need to build any and we could carry on as we are. Is this a rational claim?

Firstly, there is still a growing need to produce electricity. Our current grid generation is based on fossil fuels, that are finite and becoming increasingly costly to source in the quantities required. So even in a basic economic sense, maintaining our vulnerability to foreign fuel markets that are becoming more and more competitive, is not sensible. What we need is a mix of sources, with a preference for local generation, to improve energy security.

Secondly, reducing demand is thought to be easier and faster than changing how we generate energy. The new Green Deal and ECO funding policy is designed to transform the energy efficiency industry in the UK. Our poor housing state, increasing fuel poverty and spiralling energy bills make these new mechanisms more and more vital. The reduction in costs for consumers and businesses can be a massive incentive and once a few pioneers in a street make the investment (e.g. external wall insulation), others will follow. Delay and media speculation has damaged the industry, but the drivers are growing and it will be only a matter of time until the step change takes hold.
The technologies involved in energy efficiency improvements take days or weeks to install, compared to months, and more likely years, for low carbon energy generation, so it's not a case of one or the other - both need to be tackled. We can't rely on either to deliver the savings required.

We should attempt to ensure is that the energy generation that does occur locally is directly benefiting the community. The best way to provide that is through local ownership - which is what TRESOC amongst the National Trust, Cooperatives UK, forum for the future, and many others, is campaigning for, in the Community energy manifesto. We have been making our voices heard at the heart of government and the signs and sounds from ministers are encouraging. Hopefully a community energy revolution is appearing as a viable alternative to the current stale condition.