By Tim Page
According to yesterday’s Financial Times (£) last year saw something of an environmental milestone, as renewables overtook coal as the world’s largest source of installed power capacity. The FT reported that around 500,000 solar panels were installed every day of 2015, while wind turbines were erected at a pace of two every hour in countries such as China, according to the International Energy Agency.
This is clearly good news. In Paris last December, world leaders signed the most important climate deal in history and this November, in Marrakesh, the next stage of the United Nations climate change process takes place. It is essential that we keep on track to meet the Paris Agreement goal to stop global temperatures rising by more than two degrees. However, even before the Paris conference, the FT story shows that power suppliers were moving in a more environmental direction.
The TUC report ‘Powering Ahead’, which set out how the UK might match the success of two of Europe’s best green technology performers, Germany and Denmark, reported how the former Department of Energy and Climate Change expected renewables to make up about 40 per cent of energy used in UK electricity generation by 2030. This compares to Denmark’s aim to have 100 per cent renewable energy in electricity and heating by 2035. ‘Powering Ahead’ argued for a more ambitious target in the UK, calling for 50 per cent of energy to come from renewables by 2050.
The FT article is important because it underlines not just the progress being made in renewable energy sources – vital though they are – but also the industrial opportunities of investing in green technology. Germany and Denmark worked that out early on. If China didn’t cotton on immediately, it has now, as the FT article also shows. China’s massive coal use is well-documented, but when I was in China in 2013, I met the economist Hu Angang, who is based at Tsinghua University and has the ear of the Chinese Government. Misquoting Deng Xiaoping’s famous phrase, Dr Hu told me that China needs to move from being a ‘black cat’ to a ‘green cat’ (a black cat symbolising coal and oil, a green cat suggesting something more environmentally friendly).
Clearly the UK must raise its game on environmental technology. ‘Powering Ahead’ called for the full force of active government to bring new, green technologies to the former industrial heartlands of the UK, providing jobs and economic growth to regions of the UK that have seen precious little of the benefits of globalisation thus far. At a stroke, this would provide an industrial policy that develops high technology sectors, likely to be rich in export and R&D potential, as well as jobs in construction, energy and manufacturing.
Finally, a part of any green revolution must be the development of carbon capture and storage technology. Lord Deben, the Chair of the Committee on Climate Change, has argued that for the UK to meet its climate change targets in the most cost-effective manner, the government must put forward a vision for the future of CCS by the end of the year. And if China is to continue with coal fired power stations for years to come – as is Poland, closer to home – CCS could offer vital export opportunities for the UK, if we are ahead of the curve.
I wrote yesterday that the government plans to bring forward a statement on its industrial strategy to coincide with the Autumn Statement on 23 November. I hope Ministers are pondering the green potential of their strategy as that date approaches.