Given I spend a large part of my life talking to people and attending energy conferences I find debate often focuses on technology and the “hard science”. Technology takes time and steady progress but there seems little obstacle to man’s ingenuity and technical wizardry.
To my mind the difficulties are much greater on the “soft side”: building the right policy environment, frameworks that allow changing business models and attract finance. These enablers are critical to allow technology to flourish and much, much harder to get right.
I often compare renewables to the mobile phone industry. Digital mobile phones were initially driven by the European Government led consortium Groupe Spécial Mobile, to develop a phone that could meet the European ideal of working seamlessly across borders. This was achieved with interconnection roaming agreements widely liked by mobile operators because they made money from visiting customers. Yet in energy we are unable to work across borders, a developer in Spain cannot sell his energy to a Polish utility/cement factory. We are not interconnected.
There is no European supergrid and little plans for interconnection into one market. Attempts are afoot to connect the North Sea offshore wind farms and build from there into a Supergrid and then potentially connect into North African solar fields. A connected grid would greatly help reduce the costs for everyone, there would less need to build peak power units, wind and solar intermittency issues would disappear with the connection to more pumped hydro units in Norway, Alps and the Pyrennees, resources would flow to least cost solutions and it would be a true platform for further innovation and give Europe a robust, secure platform for global competition.
We need to free energy from being protected as a “natural” monopoly or strategic asset and allow companies to compete and supply clean energy based on competition. We need a reforming European Commission that is not protecting the interests of the centralised energy industry but allowing new, next generation renewable asset owners to supply a customers demand dynamically. This is the key leadership role for supra national body, like the European Commission/Parliament/Council of Europe. This critical, robust energy infrastructure would provide Europe with both security and drive its economy to compete in a 21st Century World.
Beyond Europe these forces need to be unleashed to provide Sustainable Energy for All and enable the developing economies to play technology leapfrog to access a next generation decentralised energy supply. In telephony the majority of Africans listened to their first album on CD and made their first telephone call on mobile networks. They leapt over gramophone records and copper wire fixed telephone networks and likewise they can leap over a centralised coal + transmission system to biomass/waste power, solar/wind farms, microgrids and storage systems.
#KeyTakeaway Brave visionary political leadership is required to open markets unfettered by the vested interests and tight political election cycles