Prompted by questions on our Facebook site (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ebico-Ltd/112467313920) from Emily, I’ve been blogging recently about why, thus far, it has been left to big corporations to deliver on the UK’s commitment to moving to carbon-free electricity generation. So, is there a role for small social enterprises such as Ebico in all this and, if so, what?
The home energy market is about to enter a period of its most significant change since the privatisations of the late 1980s. The Government, with all-party support, is introducing ‘The Green Deal’, to promote a radical increase in the take-up of home energy efficiency measures, the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), to encourage us all to source the heat from our homes from renewable resources, and has already introduced the Feed in Tariff (FiT) to support home-based renewable electricity generation. The Government has also mandated the roll-out of smart meters to every home in the land by 2019. All these changes will affect consumers directly. However, we will also all be affected by other changes that Government are proposing to make so as to ‘decarbonise’ (horrible word, sorry) our national electricity infrastructure.
They are proposing, effectively, to offer free insurance against low electricity prices to the developers of nuclear power stations and offshore wind farms. That’s ‘free’ to the developers, of course, as the cost of this will ultimately be paid by all consumers. The Government are also proposing to put an extra tax on the gas and coal that power stations burn to generate electricity. This will have the effect of putting-up the price of the electricity these power stations generate meaning the price consumers pay rises but also meaning that developers of offshore wind and nuclear power stations will be able to charge more for the electricity they generate – because the going rate for electricity will be higher – so making it more likely that they will commit the billions of Pounds needed to construct these expensive plant.
My concern with all this is that the three main British parties (the SNP are committed to 100% renewable electricity in Scotland), are intent on massive changes to the UK’s national energy infrastructure with the price for these changes being paid by the consumer. Despite this, scant regard is being paid as to how to enable consumers to take control of how much energy they use or where it comes from – and I won’t even start on the effects on fuel poverty as I have already done so at length here and here.
I appreciate that the Green Deal, RHI and FiT are all supposed to empower consumers to that end, but I see very little room in the proposals for local initiatives and innovative social business plans. Indeed, as soon as it looked as if some community-scale projects might emerge from the FiT scheme, the Government got spooked and restricted the attractive FiT rates to solar photovoltaic (PV) developments of less than 50kW (less than the amount of PV panels that could readily be put on a secondary school’s buildings).
Despite what may well be governments’ best Green intentions, you can’t get consumers to fork-out large lumps of their own cash on improving the energy efficiency of their home and installing green microgeneration technology just by setting-up loans and incentive schemes and sitting back and waiting for the rush – because there won’t be one. Most householders don’t come with a Discounted Cash-flow spreadsheet in their head, ready to analyse a loan/incentive scheme and open their cheque-books when some household hurdle payback rate is met. Education, information and psychological factors such as peer-reinforcement are just as important, in my view, to consumer decision-making as Pound signs. And this takes me back to my ‘Small is Beautiful’ theme. I believe that local initiatives, run by local people, within a local context and working with local priorities (as in ‘act local, think global’) should play a vital role in delivering against our national priorities of sustainability and poverty reduction in household energy. So Ebico’s priorities, if you’re still with me Emily, must be to figure-out ways of supporting initiatives, of whatever scale fits best, to tackle fuel poverty in sustainable ways.
How we do this, we’re not completely sure yet – although we have had a few ideas. Perhaps you have too. Why not let us know?