I do have to confess a personal interest here. I’m working with a green energy business (www.greenlivingenergy.co.uk); I’ve had solar panels on my roof for over a decade; and I believe that the future lies in local micro-generation of power, with the big centralised generators acting as a back-up and filler-in of gaps in the system.
If you go to any of the ‘Green’ exhibitions at Earls Court and elsewhere, you’ll be amazed at the array of products already out there – and the inventive variety of what’s on the horizon. Still, usage of these products is tiny in the grand scheme of things, and I’ve been trying to figure out why.
It seems to me the problem is three-fold:
1. Most architects, builders and plumbers barely have a clue how these things work, and are therefore wary about getting involved in their installation.
2. Understanding the cost versus pay-back equation by consumers is also minimal. (Never mind the ‘save the planet’ arguments: most people act in their own narrow interests).
3. Government’s natural instincts are towards a centralised command and control system, and there is little imagination about or taste for radical alternatives.
As with most revolutions (see North Africa/ the Middle East), the green agenda will be driven by the educated man in the street with vision and drive, not the conservative (small ‘c’) political establishment. If green technology can do all the things I am led to believe it can, it will catch on because the bright middle classes will cotton on and act as early adopters, and there will be a slow knowledge transfer down the line. As usual, the urban poor will be the last to feel any benefit.
The obstacles to a green revolution were brought home to me most graphically at a seminar on carbon reduction I attended recently. It was an update on government policy and the ongoing (and anticipated) changes to it. No offence to the speaker, who was clearly a master of his subject, but for me the talk might as well have been in Urdu (which, for the absence of all doubt, I don’t speak – not even “Two beers, please.”)
It was a master class in how bureaucracy can (and will, given half a chance) complicate incentives and controls to the point of strangulation, so that the core objectives are drowned in a sea of regulation and red tape.
The obvious answer to the business carbon reduction initiative is simply to adopt the German model, and tax business on its over-use of energy. In other words, give them direct incentives to reduce use, while filling government coffers from those who don’t. With minimal bureaucracy. Simples.
And for domestic supply, offer low-interest loans to invest in the technology, with financial models that are effectively self-financing until the full pay-back kicks in.
However, because our political system is tied to 5-year periods, it’s hard to get any real long-term vision – especially any that involves radical change. But recent events in Japan have underlined (if any underlining were needed) how high-risk the current nuclear-dependent energy policy is.There is a real opportunity literally to change the habits of a lifetime, by investing in green technology to take us off the nuclear/oil/gas/coal merry-go-round and make us less dependent on overseas supplies of these shrinking and increasingly expensive resources.
Unfortunately the command and control instincts of our conservative masters mean they’d rather leave their mark by some new foreign policy intervention (Libya this time) than to put in place the kind of investment in local power generation – solar, photo-voltaic, heat pumps, bio-mass, wind, wave – that might just indicate to the next generations that we’re not intent on trashing the planet in our selfish short-term interests.
Sure there are incentives in place to encourage people to install green technology, but you get the impression that it’s just tinkering round the edges, rather than really grasping the nettle and going for broke (the subject of Tim Smit’s diatribe in my last missive). Already they’re ‘re-thinking’ the existing policy because business was showing some initiative by investing in massive solar farms that would have netted them millions over the coming decades.
And what’s wrong with that? You’d have thought a Conservative government (egged on by the green instincts of the LibDems) would have had more entrepreneurial instincts, and it would certainly be a preferable alternative to being held to ransom by the current energy behemoths.
This was brought into even sharper focus a few days ago, when I saw a programme which described how we get 20% of our gas through a pipeline from Norway – and there are all of 40 years supply left, apparently. I wondered why the Norwegian government didn’t want to keep it all for themselves, but it was then explained that Norway generates the vast majority of its energy requirements through hydro-electric plants. Is Norway so very different from us? Especially the northern end of our island. Why can’t we emulate the Norwegians and take carbon out of the equation altogether?
Sorry to be banging on about green issues for the second successive month: I’ve been sitting recuperating from a hernia operation and obviously have too much time on my hands. I’ll be back to proper business issues next month.
PS There are now 8 chapters (out of 11) of my book of business memoirs (The Unprincipled) now published on the blog: www.hilltopconsultancy.co.uk/blog
I’m holding off the final three, while a couple of potential publishers decide whether it’s a go-er.
David Croydon: 01844 238692 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org