A renewable heat consultation and the renewable heat expertise of the Energy Research Establishment

When I started Genersys I used to do many presentations of solar thermal to a wide range of audiences. My last slide has a simple slogan “We need an energy policy, not an electricity policy”, because then, only four or so years ago, energy, climate change and emission discussion, legislation and policy centred wholly on electricity. That demonstrated a lack of common sense; heating produces 47% of the United Kingdom’s carbon dioxide emissions and renewable heat technologies are both more cost effective and more mature than renewable energy technologies.

I questioned Ministers about their approach but they seemed to be entranced with renewable electricity, ignoring the simple and less expensive option of solar panels. Of course, things could not stay like that for ever, although they have stayed like that for far longer than necessary. The European Union, understanding renewable heat better than the United Kingdom, has created a set of policies that now make it impossible for the Government to meet it emission reduction targets and its renewable energy targets without there being a very large uptake of thermal solar technology.

Old habits, however, die hard. The Government will have yet another consultation (will the planet give them time that all these consultations require) to consider renewable heat and the Energy Research Establishment is publicising its ideas about renewable heat.

I should pause to explain the makeup of the Energy Research Establishment. It is supposed to be a high level research, development and deployment body for renewables. Its board comprises government appointees and members of government appointed bodies, like the Carbon Trust and Ofgem, as well as the usual fossil fuel experts, like Shell, Eo.n, the National grid, engineers and academics. Certainly the energy companies have a vested financial interest in keeping things much as they are, so that they can continue to sell energy, instead of people generating their own.

The total experience, knowledge and understanding of thermal solar technology by this collection of the great and the good is not very impressive. Nevertheless they are being described as “energy experts” who will generate “new ideas” for the “greening” of Britain’s heat.

I have no doubt, on the other hand, that many of the Energy Research Establishment are experts in carbon dioxide emissions. Their employers create many emissions. I cannot see, however, why we are looking to electricity experts for ways of providing renewable heat.

Every expert favours his or her own area of expertise. If you have a medical problem a surgeon will favour surgery, a physician will favour drugs, and an alternative therapist will favour alternative therapies and so forth.

It comes as no surprise that to “green” the UK’s heat this body will turn to the old familiar technologies – combined heat and power, nuclear and biomass. They will probably miss the blindingly obvious solution to greening a significant part of the UK’s heat requirement with thermal solar panels. We shall see.



3 Responses

  1. Robert, Politicians do not always do the right thing, actualy hardly ever! the list of companies merged to form regional electricity distribution companies is very long. A typical company may have absorbed about a hundred local electricty supply schemes and companies. Its like the work of Stalin. Then look what happens after that in the later 20th century privatisation and consequent merger and further merger have eradicated competition and prices per KWH have risen again and again above and beyond inflation. I think that the communist style nationisation and subsequent ultra capitalist privatisation were both wrong. Capitalism and Communism seem to work very well together in negative ways. May I suggest that you abstain from involvement with this Quango the Energy Research Establishment I think you are doing quite well to explain the issues and solutions of Renewable Energy & sustainability without it.


  2. Robert, well said about the level of skills within the department. It is sadly normal within the Govt with too many self appointed experts who have read a couple of articles in the Daily Mail and now consider themselves qualified.

    Having worked in the IT department within the FCO, I can confirm that consultancy appointments such as you describe are based more on who knows who rather than who knows what!

    Prior to that (excluding 5 years in the oil industry) I was employed at Harwell which not only dealt with the Govt approach to Nuclear energy but also technology in general, then there was a pool of highly skilled impartial experts who generally were also very intelligent, the scientific civil service seems to have been largely dismantled, its all consultants now!

    As to the RHI, to add to any incompetence of the Govt associated with this scheme, you will be aware of the 10 month funding gap between the £400 low carbon buildings plan grant running out and RHI. The risk being that too many people will delay purchase till April 2011, seriously damaging the industry.

    With regard to to experts

    • I get worried when paid government consultants telephone Genersys to ask advice (for free) for something they are paid to advise on. I get even more worried when they don’t telephone because they end up giiving the wrong advice!

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