Transformation Moment

Transformation Moment – can Britain make it to the Age of Clean?


This pamphlet is a ‘Call to Arms’. It comes at a time of confused and divisive global politics, accelerating climate damage and a dangerous retreat into tribal answers to international problems. The UK’s contribution has been to add to the confusion.

Britain’s Brexit decision may or may not run its course. If so, it will almost certainly end in tears. Issues that call for a new ‘post 1945’ international consensus are being met by a pre-1939 resurgence of narrow nationalisms. These distractions and divisions obscure the bigger challenge of a world spinning towards climate crisis.

Energy policies, on their own, are no ‘magic bullet’ solution to this crisis. What they offer is a way into radically different choices that are still open to us; ones that might just limit the climate crises, allowing us to live more lightly on the only planet we have.

With or without Britain’s approval, an energy revolution is taking place. The forces that transformed telecommunications are doing the same to energy. Britain’s difficulty is that, faced with a host of transformative technologies, the government chose to throw its weight behind the past rather than the future: subsidising non-renewable rather than renewable energies; penalising ‘clean’ solutions in favour of ‘dirty’, and propping up a rigged energy market.

The most exciting issues raised within this pamphlet touch as much upon ‘democracy’ as ‘technology’.

Countries leading the race into the Age of Clean have benefitted from strong national leadership; changing energy market ground-rules and the thinking that underpins them. But the real momentum for change is coming from the grass roots; from empowered localities and included communities. People are becoming the architects of tomorrow’s solutions rather than just recipients of today’s problems.

Across the planet, towns, cities, villages and communities are emerging as critical players in the democratisation of energy. They are the key to a different energy politics; one which focusses as much on how we save and share, as on what we produce and consume.

Transformation Moment is a narrative journey, not a ‘Techies manual’. It will be overtaken by innovations within the emerging clean-technology sector. What it explores is how energy thinking is being turned on its head, where this is happening … and how Britain can join in.

Today’s global leaders are demonstrating how to live within reducing carbon budgets, how ‘clean’ and ‘smart’ can displace ‘dumb’ and ‘dirty’, and how active citizens (and localities) can drive the transition to a sustainable future.

If Britain is to become a part of this process it must fundamentally restructure its energy market –

Mandating the shift to a more interactive and decentralised Grid

Introducing a UK right of ‘local supply’

Establishing a national framework of carbon budgeting (including the reduction of grid carbon levels to 50 gCO2/kWh by 2030), and

Setting out duties to deliver annual reductions in total energy consumption

Such a change involves a wholesale re-think of tomorrow’s energy markets and the rules that govern them. Germany, California, Denmark and Sweden all understood that, to do so, a raft of policies had to be changed at the same time. Germany and California passed a dozen pieces of separate legislation in single sessions. Denmark, the real pioneer, now treats ‘whole system’ transformation as the norm. Norway, the Netherlands and (perhaps) Germany are taking ‘transport’ into the Age of Clean too.

Countries serious about the Paris Climate Agreement recognise that energy saving and energy storing become as important as (clean) energy generation. Seamlessly, the carbon footprint of food policies and waste re-use will become connected to transport, planning and air quality strategies. Carbon recycling and re-use will be as important as carbon reduction.

What can be produced, used and shared locally are already emerging as cornerstones within new national energy security thinking. Within this, the role of the State is also being re-defined; providing the legislative, regulatory and fiscal frameworks that underpin transformational change and (increasingly) taking more direct responsibility for the trans-national and intra-national balancing mechanisms that keeping the lights on still requires. But it is a politics of empowerment and engagement that is driving the change.

This is the ‘Age of Clean’. Transformation Moment sets out to explore some of the ways in which Britain might become part of it, by –

re-thinking the Grid,

making energy ‘systems’ more important than individual technologies,

putting ‘clean’ before ‘dirty’,

consuming less before producing more,

making citizens and ‘local’ the drivers of change,

putting carbon reduction duties on energy networks, and

making ‘smart’, ‘clean’ and ‘light’ the new benchmarks of sustainable economics.

Britain does not face a crisis of ‘keeping the lights on’. The challenge is just to create an energy system that is sustainable, accountable and affordable for all. This is why the ‘Age of Clean’ needs a completely different framework of energy thinking.

Transformation Moment recognises that these changes form a battleground. The conflict is not just between the polluting and non-polluting, the national and the local, or between new technologies and old. Ultimately, the most critical issues are rooted more in questions of ‘power’ – democratic power – than in ‘energy’.

Who should own, control and hold to account the energy systems that will define Britain’s future? Transformation Moment is an invitation to shape the answer.

Alan Simpson

May 2017

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