The Challenge of Implementing Energy Policy Driven by Climate Change
Historically energy policy was hinged on security of supply and lowest energy cost over the longer term. Leaving aside the use of nuclear energy fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas were the pillar energy sources. Only when the oil crisis hit in 1970 did governements look to renewables as an alternative to soaring oil prices. This interest in and drive for renewable energy varied considerably until the turn of the century as different oil crises occurred and resultant oil prices rose and fell. All that was to change when the effects of climate change were better understood through the work of the IPCC (Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change). As a result climate change has now rightly been placed front and central to energy policy within the current three pillars of “security, sustainability and competitiveness”; this is clearly evident here with the Government’s White Paper ‘Ireland’s Transition to a Low Carbon Energy Future 2015-2030’. But global thinking has already moved on from this to a carbon-free economy. Globally we need put the issue of climate change and its impact on our planet fairly and squarely to bed, supported by the quantum of science and irrefutable evidence, and where the doubts and soundings of the nay-sayers are adequately addressed.
The Impossible has become Inevitable.
The impossible has become inevitable. A carbon-free, nuclear-free energy economy is our future. The world faces a series of interconnected crises – climate change caused by carbon-based energies like oil, coal and methane gas, a shrinking supply of fossil fuels and the long-term environmental damage from nuclear energy production. A paradigm shift is needed to achieve this, encompassing every aspect of living from buildings, transport, industry, food production, energy production and consumption. With energy policy headed in this new direction there is a need for increased emphasis on policy implementation strategies. Getting buy-in to and implementation of energy policy are the challenge. Should climate change and its attendant issues be included as a subject in all our schools where climate change, environment, sustainability and energy topics are embedded in our schools curricula? Should there be far greater emphasis on understanding and addressing the concerns of communities particularly in relation to energy projects and developments? Have we learned lessons from the handling of the Corrib gas coming ashore? There is a tendency to establish enquiries only when things have gone wrong – would it be more productive to hold enquiries when things have worked well so that we can learn from them and model future projects and strategies on them? Surely there are positive examples around we can learn from.
Relevance and Immediacy
Gaining acceptance or buy-in is related to relevance and immediacy; evidence of this is where communication and transport technologies have been embraced. Ten years ago we had hardly heard of WhatsApp, Skype, Twitter and Facebook. Even if we are opposed to something out of legitimate concerns but on closer consideration find that there are relevant and immediate benefits to us which outweigh those concerns then opposition may be replaced with active support. An example of this is the widespread opposition to mobile phone masts we saw several years ago; this all but disappeared when people saw the value and relevance in having mobile phones with a good mobile telephone signal; the rapid penetration of mobile phone ownership considerably added to allaying people’s fears. Where people have concerns regarding an issue, and where the benefits are of a more generic nature several years down the road then it can be hugely difficult for people to see past the immediate problem – opposition to the proposed second north-south transmission line and opposition to building wind turbines in some areas could be seen as falling under this heading; while there are legitimate concerns people who are opposing these projects will have difficulty seeing either relevance or immediacy in the benefits arising. Of course cost will always be a key factor in embracing or rejecting a new regime. But we must search for ways to bring the benefits more relevant and more immediate to people rather than the more generic benefits to the population in the years ahead.
The International Energy Agency has stated that the future of human prosperity depends on how successfully we tackle the two central energy challenges facing us namely a) securing the supply of reliable and affordable energy and b) effecting a rapid transformation to a low-carbon, efficient and environmentally benign system of energy supply. What is needed is nothing short of an energy revolution. Politians, industrialists, academics, utilities, service providers, innovators, technology developers and most importantly energy consumers globally all play a critical role in successfully meeting these challenges and ensuring our continue survival on this unique planet.
About Peter Duffy:
Peter Duffy graduated in 1969 in engineering from UCD and joined ESB, working in power stations for the following 17 years. Afterwards he was training manager in ESB, and then moved to regulation for Power Generation where he was involved in the preparatory work ahead of deregulation of the electricity industry. In 1999 he left ESB and formed Enercomm International, working on consultancy assignments both in Ireland and overseas including Israel, Croatia, Russia, Serbia and Kosovo where he was energy strategy advisor to the new Government in Pristina. He was a member of the Grid DS3 Advisory Council until recently. He now concentrates on projects that are linked to system services, intermittent generation and climate change issues and climate change issues. He is a Director of several companies including Parsons Solomon Energy in China.