Clean energy is a smart move for British exports

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Malcolm Brinded CBE FEI, President of the Energy Institute

The Government’s support for clean energy technology is right for the planet and for Britain’s future as a global trading nation, says Energy Institute President Malcolm Brinded CBE FEI.

Climate change is a threat. It threatens the delicate balance of the Earth’s ecosystems and the plants and animals that inhabit them. And according to recent polling across 38 countries it ranks alongside ISIS as the biggest threat to security.

But can a threat also be opportunity? For UK ministers seeking to marry the need to meet ambitious carbon targets with maintaining Britain’s global economic standing post Brexit, there is certainly potential.

This was the rationale behind the Smart Systems and Flexibility Plan and the Faraday Challenge announced recently by Greg Clark, “to put UK businesses in a leading position to export smart energy technology and services to the rest of the world.”

It was music to the ears of an industry that has been waiting for a fresh sense of leadership from ministers.

Brexit and the snap election have left their mark. Clean energy investment plunged in the first quarter of 2017 to around $1bn, the lowest since 2010. Three quarters of professionals surveyed for the Energy Institute’s Energy Barometer agree with the Committee on Climate Change that meeting our 2030 carbon target will prove challenging.

All eyes are therefore on the Government’s Clean Growth Plan and Industrial Strategy and, if July’s announcements were the preamble, I am encouraged. Energy professionals rank smart grids and energy storage as the most important changes needed to develop our energy system.

Ministers are right not to be caught napping. New technologies have too often been viewed with suspicion, rather than as an opportunity to build a more efficient energy system. Smart grids, storage and interconnection could save consumers up to £8bn a year by 2030.

But this isn’t just important for our domestic goals. It’s also central to maintaining the UK’s place on the world stage through applying our ingenuity to the challenges posed globally by climate change and the pressing need for improved access to energy in developing nations – where lack of affordable and reliable energy remains a major barrier to economic and social development.

The UK has already accumulated considerable exportable expertise. But we need to be cannier about commercialisation and acquiring intellectual property if we are to grab a share of huge potential global markets. It’s estimated small scale battery storage alone will be worth $250bn by 2040.

Clean energy research, innovation and early stage technology piloting are vital. If smaller British innovators are to succeed, government funding needs to flow more quickly, calculated risk-taking is needed in backing early stage innovators and the rules of the game need to be simpler and more predictable.

The prospects seem good for the Faraday Challenge, which will I hope break the mould of recent stalled government competitions.

If we get this and other initiatives right, far from a retreat from the international stage, we could see great British invented, designed, manufactured, exported and project-managed technology right at the heart of the global green technology boom.

This blog post first appeared in Politics First on 15 September 2017

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