25/06/2019: The week that was (w/c 17 June)

The sector continues to ruminate on the PM’s historic commitment to legislate for a net zero target for 2050, as an opinion poll reported in the Independent showed that 70% of respondents wanted to see faster action. The implementing order for the change should be passed early this week.

Important research from UKERC published last week based on data from a survey of 130 UK energy researchers and stakeholders found that achieving net zero by 2050 will trigger “rapid and unprecedented” changes across society. It called for increased ambition around large-scale renewables, but also forecast rapid, unprecedented changes across the economy as a whole, noting much of it is likely to be disruptive. Director Jim Watson commenting on the report spoke of the need for policies that “deliberately disrupt established markets and business models in some sectors”, which certainly raised a nod of agreement from me.

The BEIS Select Committee also heard calls from environmentalists for the government to be more ambitious in achieving the net zero target and the Energy Systems Catapult recommended implementation of sectoral carbon standards. Meanwhile six parliamentary Commons committees announced plans to hold a citizens’ assembly on combatting climate change and achieving the pathway to net zero carbon emissions.

The change in mood across key stakeholders over the past month is unmistakeable, and very encouraging.

The UK also announced a joint bid with Italy to host COP26 in November 2020, the most significant gathering of governments around climate change since they met in Paris in 2015. The bid would see the UK host the COP, while the pre-COP event would take place in Italy. Not sure, though, when we know the outcome.

On the consumer side, Business Secretary Greg Clark said he had agreed to a request from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to bring forward new powers for the competition regulator to tackle businesses that break consumer law and exploit consumer loyalty, aligning its approach with the way it enforces competition law. The move follows the super-compliant by Citizen’s Advice in September 2018 and the CMA’s recent review of the so-called “loyalty penalty” in the mobile phone, broadband, cash savings, mortgages and insurance markets, which estimated a £4bn annual cost to consumers. These powers as signalled would be potentially draconian, up to 10% of worldwide turnover but without going to court, but we won’t know the details until we see the promised white paper, which is due shortly. Consumer lobbyists understandably welcomed the move.

Less good for consumers Ofgem acknowledged on Wednesday that the industry is experiencing “technical constraints” with the smart meter roll-out, and that the 2020 deadline will not be met as installations fall to their lowest level for some time as first generation smart meters no longer count towards the target. But the factors leading to the latest delay have been very evident for a while: availability of meters is an important factor; network coverage is not available in all areas; a pre-payment solution is not yet available to be deployed at scale; and some suppliers don’t have meters that meet the technical specification in all regions. Its all a bit of a mess, and its less to do with the technical; constraints than poor programme management and policy myopia.

Thursday was Clean Air Day, which coincided with National Grid ESO announcing that GB is to source more power from zero carbon sources than fossil fuels in 2019 – the first time since the industrial revolution. BEIS also heralds a new GB record for the number of coal-free generating hours in a year. This will soon become the norm. Such systemic shifts are, of course, a “good thing” but the real impacts at the local level will be driven at the local level, especially around vehicle emissions.

On the electric vehicle (EV) front, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan set out ambitious new plans on Monday to expand London’s EV charging network last week, including the launch of an infrastructure taskforce. It was the first of a number of developments in the EV space, which also saw Engie acquire ChargePoint Services.

The week ended with the launch of the now annual Community Energy Fortnight, and the publication of Community Energy England’s third state of the market report. This is a rather sobering commentary on the community sector following recent policy changes. There is a raft of events planned over the coming days, and we are seeing a steady flow-through of reports on local initiatives.

Building on this should be greatly enabled by the government’s relaunch of the Rural Communities Energy Fund (RCEF), with a further £10mn of funding; new community projects are invited to apply for feasibility grants of up to £40,000 for green initiatives. Viable proposals will also be considered for further grants of up to £100,000 for business development and planning applications.

Down your way

We have continued to keep abreast of regional energy developments, and I attended two very interesting events organised by the New Anglia LEP. The first was on supporting innovation, the other was on steps to deliver the clean growth challenge set out in October 2017 by the government, and what a Local Industrial Strategy might look like to deliver this. The aim is to publish a bespoke local strategy in November.

The RCEF relaunch is timely, and we have several ideas around potential projects. We will be discussing these with potential stakeholders over the coming weeks. So I’m hoping we can mobilise at least a couple. Let me know if we can help you if you have a project with potential in East Anglia..

We will be holding our own community energy fortnight event on 3 July, which will be the launch of the Greater Norwich Smart Energy Community project. The local press will be present and we will be providing details of the three sites that have new solar installations on them and explain what we propose to do with our initial batch of five storage batteries as we move towards scoping a viable “virtual power plant”.

From small acorns doth oak trees grow!