It’s high time we talked about our future. Forget about border control or the free market, they offer no insight. If we want this tumultuous, divisive year to mean something, we need to think bigger, bolder and shape our decisions around our vision. Let’s talk about an end to the draconian sweatshop conditions, imposed by the likes of Sports Direct, who have exploited free movement of labour to keep profits high and wages low. Immigration control is a quick fix and a distraction. They will always find a way to exploit and profit. What if instead we did away with these common low-skilled low-wage jobs, altogether. What if we put our faith in British industry again, but instead of labourers going down into the stuffy pits, lining their lungs with coal dust, they were breathing the cool, crisp air on the surface on a wind farm. I am talking about creating a thriving, prosperous renewable energy industry.
This is not the far-fetched pipe-dream that current discourse would have you believe. We have the infrastructure. We have the technology. I bet you didn’t know this but the UK is quickly becoming a world leader in renewable energy. Being an island nation we are brimming with natural capital in form of wind, wave and solar and we are at forefront of developing and implementing these technologies. We are consistently breaking our own records in wind energy generation. Over the whole of May this year, solar power produced more energy than coal.
Solar power in particular has become cheap enough that it is now viable for some to install panels and run their home entirely self-sufficiently, as well as sell the surplus. Also on the rise are community energy projects, where renewable energy production in the area is owned and maintained by the local community. The only people these communities answer to are themselves. This also supported by independent energy companies such as OVO and Ecotricity, who invest their profits back into the industry and keep their prices fair. This is precisely what it means for power, control and prosperity to lie at the heart of our communities.
Despite these outstanding figures, our government is keeping their distance from our proud, green credentials. Last year, they cut subsidies to solar power, putting a huge amount of pressure on the emerging industry and leading to significant job losses. But, at the same time, they increased subsidies for fossil fuels and nuclear power—most likely to pave the way for foreign investment and protect the big six energy companies.
Indeed, the ever-lower costs of locally-owned renewable energy technology is plunging the big six energy companies into an existential crisis.
make no mistake, gas is a carbon-emitting fossil fuel which has no place in a zero-carbon future.
However, because the big energy, nuclear and fossil fuel companies still dominate the market they are able to actively stifle investments into renewable energy. They argue that the future of green energy lies in a mixture of gas, nuclear and renewables—this is the view point adopted by the current government. It is an intentionally misguiding and dangerous line of thinking, not least because it encourages investors away from renewables. The argument goes that gas is climate-friendly because it releases less carbon dioxide than conventional fossil fuels. But make no mistake, gas is a carbon-emitting fossil fuel which has no place in a zero-carbon future. Not to mention that risky fracking methods have the potential to unleash large levels of methane into the atmosphere, a far more damaging greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. And it should be obvious that nuclear is no friend to the environment.
There is another common myth being peddled to keep nuclear and gas in the market, that renewables are unreliable and cannot provide base load electricity. It is true that renewable sources fluctuate, but this does not make them unreliable. Wind and cloud cover are easily forecasted and we can store excess energy. Furthermore, with wide-spread, diverse, renewable energy sources, we wouldn’t even notice if any one area had a low output.
Nuclear, gas and renewables are getting to the point that they can no longer coexist.
However, our national grid infrastructure poses a significant challenge to this too (and, by the way, it is not so national anymore). The current system is designed with non-renewable, inflexible energies in mind. The fact is nuclear power and gas burning plants take days to fire up and shut down so they operate 24/7. In times of low demand, when they generate a surplus of electricity—the base load—the practice is to simply switch off renewables. In essence, we squander the potential of our renewable energies as zero-carbon energy sources simply because conventional fuels aren’t flexible enough. This system is so biased against renewables that often it’s too costly to get them connected or they’re cut off altogether. On the other hand, if we had a flexible or “smart” grid, we could activate renewables as and when we need them. Under this system, renewables could easily provide this base-load and could render redundant these high-cost, un-environmental gas and nuclear sources.
Nuclear, gas and renewables are getting to the point that they can no longer coexist. The more we prevent investments into the emerging renewable energy industry, the more power we put in the hands of faceless, unaccountable multinational companies. We hurtle towards climate change and suppress our potential as the world leaders for these innovations of the future.
British businesses and entrepreneurs have showed us that there is another way to prosper. They have laid the groundwork to propel our country into the 21st century, to show the world what a zero carbon future looks like: decentralised power, local communities at the heart, thriving small and medium size businesses. This is truly what it means to take back control. Let’s build on this momentum. The renewable energy revolution has already begun. Let’s make it dominate.
Header Image: Samir Luther, Creative Commons