Another year, another RenewableUK conference. This one felt different though, a bit quieter perhaps?
It’s hard to say definitively, as an attendee, whether numbers are up or down. Instead, you can only go on intangible indicators such as the lack of familiar faces, the shorter registration queues, or the fact that it was just that little bit quicker to grab a coffee.
Either way, it’s an indication of the evolution of the market. The myriad of debates surrounding UK energy policy seems opaque enough to industry insiders, let alone the man in the street, and mixed messages from policy makers seem designed to keep everybody guessing.
The proximity of the European offshore wind energy event may also have been a factor. Certainly in the UK, there have been hints that offshore wind carries the biggest favour for renewable energy policy, so perhaps some of the regular attendees are keeping their powder dry for Frankfurt in a couple of weeks.
So, against this backdrop, step forward Secretary of State for Energy, Ed Davey MP, to deliver the conference’s keynote political address.
Davey, to be fair to the man, did the best he could.
Faced with an audience that will always want firmer commitments, he reiterated the industry success stories seen so far – Greater Gabbard, London Array and the forthcoming Pen y Cymoedd onshore project – confirmed an extra, although some would say paltry, £2.5million in funding for wind energy technology, and, seemingly for the first time, announced Government plans aiming for 39GW of offshore wind by 2030.
Little mention was made of the statements from the Prime Minister that he would seek to roll back ‘green levies’ – something that is continuing to cause industry concern.
What he did do though, was to put the ball back in the industry’s court. Costs had to continue to fall, he said, in order for the Government to continue to support the sector.
The logical extension to this, however, means that ultimately, the supply chain will have to be squeezed, research and development will be slowed and the industry will provide less efficient technology.
None of this was really addressed by Labour MP Julie Elliott, who spoke on the second day of the conference. Her speech sought to explain how Labour’s commitment to freeze consumer energy prices wouldn’t affect clean energy investment, but in reality little more seems any clearer.
It won’t be achieved overnight, but increasingly, it seems apparent that the wind energy industry needs to crack the consumer and end user argument – across all spheres from planning to pricing. It’s only then that governments and policymakers will move away from pandering to the loudest, but politically motivated, voices and placing unrealistic restrictions on the sector.
That’s why Vestas is to be applauded for its latest pan-European campaign to set the record straight.
Consumers need to understand that it is not the cost of clean energy installation that is increasing their bills, but rather the high costs of buying imported energy on the open markets.
Once this is recognised as common truth, politicians can have no justification in continuing to hold the sector back – especially when it has so much to deliver.
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