Decisions that we make over the coming decade will do much to realize the energy that the Welsh people can draw upon in 2050, so I welcome this week’s IWA conference to consider Wales’ energy supply, security and resilience by 2050 that far into the future. It is a proper recognition of the timescale of the investments that need to be made.
This week on Click on Wales
This week on Click on Wales we’ve be asking what type of energy policy we want for Wales.
This comes alongside the IWA’s energy summit held this week in Cardiff. To catchup on the debate follow the hashtag #energywales.
Having spent much of 2008/10 working on the UK National Energy Planning Policy Statements, and much of 2011/14 helping deliver the local energy potential of a number of local authorities in England and Wales I hope the following observations can help Wales make the most of its opportunities.
One of the hardest challenges is to ensure enough time is spent thinking through the situation that we will be dealing with, but that’s essential – we are making investment decisions to serve us for 30 or 40 years, and the world will have changed.
Time is needed to consider what I would call ‘the whole system’ to allow a vision of the future to emerge. The ‘whole system’ has to include an understanding of the users and uses of energy (i.e. the nature of the economy, what sort of jobs will be done in 2030, 2040 and beyond); the system of managing demand and supply, and of course reducing unnecessary demand; the ways in which energy use interacts with resource use and waste management; and the many potential sources of energy and technologies we can deploy.
Taking a ‘whole system’ view is important, doing that with as many contributors as possible can make the difference between a hard and not so hard journey to implementation.
While the energy voices are perhaps obvious, they can also bring something of a vested interest in a certain type of solution. Any consideration must include those who will use the energy. While that would obviously include business and homeowners it is increasingly obvious that communities can and do form an important part of the future ‘energy system’ and should be properly heard.
Consideration should be given to the principles that should govern our approach. That could focus on reducing our affect on the climate; it could focus on jobs and developing the Welsh economy; it could focus on energy self-sufficiency. All are valid drivers of what we could or should do, the challenge is to consider them equally and collectively for as long as possible to maximize those solutions that have a positive effect on them all, before considering less optimal solutions.
With an emerging view of our ‘energy purpose’ and a growing consensus from the many and varied parties who are involved, we should then consider what public bodies in Wales can already do. I agree with the debate that says Wales should have more energy planning powers. I would, though, go further and say that Wales, the Welsh government (nationally and locally) can already do much more on energy if they choose to make it an objective of government – from exhortation and making the case, to ensuring that all discretionary activity, in business development, on skills, on inward investment, are directed at delivering Wales’ energy ambitions.
In doing so Wales can and should build on the learning and experience of other places. A debate that is restricted to Welsh voices will miss out on the learning of the core cities of England, of nations such as Iceland and New Zealand; and would risk us making some of their mistakes (when of course we should learn what we can from them and make our own, new mistakes).
Finally there is the whole question of what technology and what energy source. For me these things should always be considered early as part of the ‘whole system’ view BUT decided on later in the conversation when there is a shared view of the purposes and needs our energy system is going to address.
Too many energy conversations are dominated about which kit. That neglects the point of energy – to help us live and work, to build communities and our economy, to make our way in the world.
It is also true that too many energy conversations are about electricity. Energy for heating and transport are easily as important to our future, to our communities and to our success in the world, be that economically or in showing climate leadership, so we should ensure we think about their use, generation and supply at least as hard as we do about electricity.
So, in summary, first take a step back and to try and take a whole system view; second, involve as many contributors as possible; third, consider what public bodies in Wales can already do; fourth, build on the learning and experience of others; and then decide which technology and policies will help deliver what we want in the way that we want it.