Published on October 4th, 2013 |
by Jack Cowell
The revolution that will come too late: Britain’s energy business and its inevitable decline
The IPCC report released a few days ago has proven to be serious journalistic fodder. Summaries abound in newspapers and online magazines; rightly so given that the report supposedly concludes that it is probably us after all. The most notable related story however is undoubtedly the Chancellor’s reaction to the environmental furor the report has sparked, stating that he does not wish the UK to be at the forefront of tackling climate change, that to take such a stance would risk Britain pricing itself out of energy markets. This would risk losing Britain’s competitive edge in the hunt for global business. This is both poor reasoning and poor long-term economics.
The main point I wish to make is that the Chancellor seems to equate putting the UK at the forefront of the drive for a carbon free economy as some kind of altruistic act of folly. Rather, making the UK economy a renewable powerhouse will bring enormous economic and financial rewards, in many more ways than simply shaving a few pounds off the electricity bill of the average home. It is not altruistic human nature that compels action on climate change. Rather the trajectory of financial markets demands investment in clean energy technology as a prerequisite for progression.
In this writer’s opinion, the introduction of carbon credits or a scheme of that nature on a huge scale is a matter of when rather than if. This is not a unique opinion; the idea that global warming will only be abated through the financial markets is an influential one. In this writer’s opinion it is equally an inevitability that such a credit system would expand to include the consumption of any carbon based energy; a system whereby energy prices would be forced up exponentially until suppliers cleaned up their act. Were Britain to invest heavily in clean energy now, renewing the bulk of our energy infrastructure and basing it around zero-carbon power sources, then the incentives for high-value companies to base their production in the UK where they would not have to buy any “energy vouchers” for use of carbon based energy. Furthermore, the companies based in England, the new green energy paradigm, would have claim to using the brand “carbon neutral”. This is bound to become a moral necessity, just as companies who use excessive sweatshop labour face rabid campaigning now.
Perhaps more importantly, and a little more realistically, the Chancellor is overlooking the importance of building good links with a future giant industry sector (and it will be enormous) while it is still blossoming. It is exactly here that we should be ahead of our friends in Europe, which he is so eager to avoid. Having low corporation tax will not be enough to attract the industrial and technological giants of tomorrow who specialise in green technology and renewable energy. They must be integrated into the UK economy at a significant level, and provided with a continuing stream of well-educated, well-trained young people to continue research and development, production and sales. Britain does not have this as it stands. We have already lost the competitive edge in the pharmaceutical industry, as Germany and other competitors churn out vast swathes of chemists and biologists; let us not make this same mistake with a burgeoning sector. However the setting up of a suitable education system to such an industry will only happen by involving the companies in the development of the nation; industry leaders will attract the brightest students, Universities nearby will naturally try to attract this talent by tailoring courses. These companies will naturally wish to invest in these courses, in time making them world leaders in that field. This has happened with almost any high-tech industry in the past; all that changes is location. This could be the beginning of an industrial rebirth for the North, where it is badly needed, but one less messy and short-lived.
Who knows? If we continue to invest heavily in grapheme (which we certainly should), then the superconductor industry which could blossom as a result could in time lead to a new export for England; clean, cheap, efficient energy with no carbon footprint. The idea of some kind of green and pleasant Saudi Arabia may seem far-flung, but that is exactly the point. The possibilities are breathtaking. The Chancellor should take this into account before he too easily squanders Britain’s chance to be great again.