You and the Planet: Energy


Good evening everyone, my name is Lesley Miles,
I’m The Royal Society’s chief strategy officer and I’m so pleased to welcome you all here
to tonight’s event. Thank you to all of you in the hall who’ve made it through the rain
to get here and to those of you who are watching live online. Before we get going, can I remind
you all to put your phones to silent please. Just a few housekeeping issues, we don’t have
a planned fire alarm tonight, so if you do hear an alarm please could you make your way
out through the exit signs as shown either side of the hall.
Onto tonight’s discussion, this is the second event in our you and the planet series. These
events aim to inspire a positive vision of a future where human activity protects and
enhances the health of the planet. We’re bringing together experts from across science, business
and politics to discuss how this can be achieved and how the transition to a low carbon future
can benefit as many people as possible. This series is touring around the UK and we’re
delighted to be holding our energy event here in Wales, a place with such a strong association
with the energy industry and now a hub of science and innovation for renewable technology.
We have an excellent panel joining us for tonight’s discussion and I’m really excited
to hear what they’ve got to say. Thank you to all of you here and at home who’ve submitted
questions in advance to the panel. Actually we’ve had more than 300 questions, so we can’t
get through them all. We’ve tried to group them to cover as many topics as you have shown
an interest in as possible. Your contributions and setting the questions have really helped
to frame tonight’s discussion. If you would like to tweet during the event,
please use the hashtag you and the planet. That’s all from me right now, thank you again
for joining us this evening. So please join me in welcoming to the stage our chair, Rachael
Garside and our speakers, Julia Brown, Juliet Davenport, James Durrant and Rebecca Heaton.
Thank you. Noson dda a chroeso, good even and welcome.
My name is Rachael Garside, I’m a journalist and broadcaster at BBC Wales and I’m delighted
to be hosting this event on behalf of The Royal Society. Now, Swansea’s Brangwyn Hall
is providing a very impressive backdrop for what I’m sure will be a very stimulating discussion,
particularly given the standing and expertise of our panellists. So let me formally introduce
them to you. First, to my left is Baroness Julia Brown.
Julia is an engineer, crossbench peer in the House of Lords and a fellow of The Royal Society.
She’s the vice chair of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change, chair of the Carbon Trust
and was awarded a damehood in 2012 for her services to higher education and technology.
Next to Julia is Juliet Davenport. Juliet is founder and chief executive officer of
Good Energy and has been an innovator in the areas of climate change and energy for over
20 years. She’s vice president of the Energy Institute and sits on the board of the Renewable
Energy Association and Innovate UK. We then have Professor James Durrant, who
is Sêr Cymru solar professor at the University of Swansea and professor of photochemistry
at Imperial College London. He founded the UK’s Solar Fuels Network and was the founding
deputy director of Imperial’s energy futures laboratory. He is a fellow of The Royal Society
and The Learned Society of Wales. Finally, we have Dr Rebecca Heaton. Rebecca
is head of climate change at Drax, the UK’s largest renewable energy generator, where
she has responsibility for the group’s efforts to mitigate climate change. She has a 20 year
global career, working at the interface between business, science and policy and is a member
of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change, where her duties include representing Wales.
So please join me in welcoming our panellists this evening. I’d also like to mention, for
those who are internet savvy, to join in the conversation on social media using the hashtag
you and the planet. Now to set the scene, I think it might be
useful to have a few facts and figures relating to our topic tonight of energy. Starting with
the fact that Wales is a net exporter of energy, so in other words, we produce and export more
energy than we use. Also in April this year, the Welsh Government declared a climate emergency
and the aim, they said, was to have a carbon neutral public sector in Wales by 2030.
I think it’s also worth mentioning that two sizeable energy projects for Wales have been
shelved in the last year or so. These included plans to build two new nuclear reactors on
Anglesey, so Wylfa B, that was shelved earlier this year, and the world’s first tidal power
lagoon in Swansea Bay, which was a £1.3 billion renewable energy project, was turned down
by the UK Government last year. So given that context, let’s start by asking Julia, we know
we’re facing big environmental challenges. Why is it important to talk about energy in
that context? Well if we think of energy, not just about
electricity but if we think of the energy, the electricity we use, the energy we use
to power up cars, the energy we burn in many of our homes as heating, the energy used in
industry perhaps as process heat. If we look at all of those types of energy, they contribute
80 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. So unless we address decarbonising energy,
we aren’t going to meet our net zero targets. Juliet, does that mean that we’re at some
sort of crossroads really in terms of deciding how we move forward? We might want cleaner
energy, but we don’t quite want to give up the fossil fuels either, do we?
No and I think this debate has been going on for quite a while, so obviously the evidence
on climate change has been around for about 20 years at least and we’ve been trying to
think about how we transition. But I think you’ve always got a difficulty in imagining
a future, because there are so many organisations who are linked to the present. So therefore,
trying to move from the structure and the infrastructure that we’ve already built in
a high carbon world to a low carbon world can feel very uncomfortable.
We are at that point now where, I think, Climate Change Committee basically said we mustn’t
build any more gas grid. So we continue to build the infrastructure that is based around
a high carbon world and we need to stop that now and move to a low carbon world. So I think
we are at a tipping point, mainly because there’s so much more public interest than
we’ve ever seen before. James, is it useful to have a government declaring
a climate emergency? Is that meaningful and do those targets matter?
Clearly it helps focus our minds and the governments’ minds on the urgency of a challenge. I’m quite
struck that on one level, of course, renewables – we have so far to go in order to have renewables
be the dominant power source. But I remember 15 years ago, when my son was going to his
primary school and we were so excited because there was a solar parking meter outside the
school and I took a photo and I showed it to him, this is amazing, the UK’s got solar.
Now I notice the photos behind me and of course the change of the scale is actually transformative.
Of course we have to go further, so change is happening but you’re quite right, we need
to accelerate the pace of that change and that’s what initiatives like the government
and the climate emergency, that can help drive. Rebecca, maybe just a really obvious question,
but what does being carbon neutral actually mean and how is that achieved?
When we talk about carbon neutrality as the UK as a whole, we look at all the emissions
produced by the UK and we say those should all go to zero. It could be that actually
we can’t reduce everything down. So there are some sectors like aviation which are really
hard to make completely not emitting CO2 at all. Also the agriculture sector, particularly
an issue in Wales, it’s going to be really hard to make that zero carbon. So when we
say neutral, we actually mean we might have to bury some carbon to make up for the fact
we might be releasing some carbon from other sources and then it balances out.
Julia, we’ve got a very rich history of coal mining in Wales, coal was king was the phrase
that was used here. How do we break with those traditions of the past? You’ve all talked
about this need for some sort of revolution, or certainly a change in mindset.
I think that’s also one of the reasons why governments need to be involved in this, because
I think we do need to absolutely make sure that this is what people are terming a just
transition. As old industries disappear, there are plans as to how can you retrain people
and make sure that there are jobs available for them in the new industries. For example,
one of the things we’re going to have to do is we’re going to have to insulate every home
in the UK pretty much to a much higher standard than it is today.
Because when we put in heat pumps and potentially some hydrogen heating for people to replace
whatever they may have, oil or bottled gas or grid gas or whatever, we’re going to have
to make sure before we do that those houses are really well insulated, so they use as
little of these new fuels as possible. Now that’s going to create jobs, local jobs, highly
skilled jobs everywhere in the UK. We actually need a planned transition away from the old
industries, to make sure people are prepared for the new industries. Otherwise, people
are understandably going to be very dissatisfied. When then begs the question, Juliet, is this
happening quickly enough? We’ve talked about targets and timescales, but we’ve known about
these threats for a long time now. I think before we beat ourselves up too much,
we do need to look at the transition we have achieved. So when I set up the company I run,
Good Energy, 20 years ago, we were about two per cent of renewables in the UK. Last year
33 per cent of the electricity was generated from renewables and it looks like that’s moved
to closer to 40 per cent today. So that is a massive transition over those 20 years.
The point is the next part of the transition is going to be harder, because you’re going
to have to actually change the systems. As Julia said, you’re going to have to start
looking at how people use energy. Traditionally the way systems have always worked is they’ve
just ignored – the person on the other end of the meter didn’t really exist in most of
the engineering design minds, so we didn’t really care about what happened in people’s
homes. Actually that’s going to have to shift, so we’re going to have to care about what
happens on the other side of the meter and encourage that to try and help us be more
efficient about how we use energy over the whole system, not just on one side of it.
In terms of Wales’s standing with renewables, I remember doing an interview some years ago
now where the person said Wales should be a world leader in renewables and yet we’re
not. Why is that the case? I’d argue in some ways we are. I’ve been so
impressed with my colleagues in Swansea University with the Active Building Centre and specifically
where they’re showing that if you use some of the new technologies, the new solar PV,
the new solar thermal technologies. You can put up low cost buildings, which even – in
Swansea it’s raining today, which is not so unusual in Swansea, but they’re putting up
buildings which are energy positive, which are solar powered and which didn’t cost significantly
more than a grid connected building. That to me is exciting. It’s also empowering because
of course when you have people who have the power they use generated in their home, then
they integrate that with energy systems and battery storage and all this, then people
can feel they have some control over their energy needs and their energy supply.
We’re so entrenched though, aren’t we Rebecca, in our traditional energy production. Is the
infrastructure there to allow this huge sea change?
I think we’ve already seen a bit of a sea change with the offshore wind, so I think
we’ve shown that we can do it. Ten years ago we thought offshore wind was so expensive
it was never going to be competitive, now it’s the same price as other energy generation
techniques. So I think we’ve shown we can do it and I agree that we shouldn’t beat ourselves
up too much, but we also shouldn’t underestimate the challenge ahead, particularly for the
gas grid and how we’re going to transform heating for people, both on the gas grid and
off the gas grid, like myself. I look at how can I heat my house in a renewable way. So
there are definitely some challenges still there.
Julia, I wonder if you can give us an insight into the work of the Committee for Climate
Change and really what the priorities are that you’re discussing at the moment.
Well our priorities at the moment, every five years we have to set a new carbon budget,
which we present to the parliament in Westminster. It’s the budget that covers the whole of the
UK, but of course now Scotland and Wales also have their own climate change legislation
and set their own carbon budgets. In a way, that’s quite good because that generates a
little bit of competition and we generally find that Wales and Scotland are a bit more
ambitious than Westminster is prepared to be. But at the moment what we’re doing, we
currently have in legislation five carbon budgets that take us out to 2032 and that’s
to give industry a good long-term view of how the emissions reductions need to be being
delivered. So we’re working now on the carbon budget
that will take us out to 2037, the sixth carbon budget that will be. We’re very keen that
we publish that carbon budget and try to persuade parliament to put it into legislation before
the UK hosts the COP, the big global meeting on carbon budgets that will happen in November
next year. So we will be publishing our recommendation for the sixth carbon budget in September.
I has to ask you, is that happening fast enough then? Some of the years that you’re talking,
it’s quite a way down the line and yet we have a sense of urgency now, don’t we?
We do have indeed a sense of urgency, because there are a lot of things we need to get in
place in order to meet our new net zero commitment for 2050. So a lot of things need to be got
ready, we need a plan for how we’re going to approach the insulation of all these homes.
So whatever are our new government going to be after the next election, what sort of policies
are they going to bring in? Are they going to, for example, be looking at stamp duty
and say perhaps stamp duty would be zero on homes that had already been insulated and
have low carbon heating in them? So that would incentivise those people who are lucky enough
to own their own homes that this was a very sensible investment to make, because it would
make their house much more saleable. So governments need to be looking at getting
all these things ready. We need to be demonstrating whether, for example, heat pumps combined
with a hydrogen boiler will actually work effectively in people’s homes and whether
people like them, whether people would find that a way of heating their homes that they
can interact comfortably with and they feel safe with. So we need some demonstration probably.
We’ve got a lot of change to deliver, but some of it we need to demonstrate that that’s
the right way to go and we need to get people on board with those changes.
If we turn to some of the questions that the audience has submitted before this event,
people wanted to know if Wales was making the most of its natural renewable resources.
By far the most asked question was about the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon. Juliet, I know you
can tell us a bit more about this, but also you need to explain that you have a vested
interest. Yes, we love Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon so much
we invested, so we are an investor in Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon. We have some of the biggest
tides in the world in this country, particularly in this part of the country. Swansea Bay was
meant to be basically a technology breakthrough project, which would prove the capability
of the technology itself. So they were using the barrage parts and the actual turbine,
because the turbines go both way. They were also going to prove the economics and the
fundability of these projects. So that was why they were going to start in
Swansea with the project. Essentially it was part of different governments’ political manifestos,
so we’ve seen it positively embraced by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives and
the Labour Party, but actually it’s never come through. I think that really has let
Wales down, because it’s been a central government decision about a long-term contract to promote
the project here. I did have a sense as a journalist that there
was a lot of public support for the project and people were genuinely disappointed and
saw it as a missed opportunity when it was turned down. Is that it for the Swansea Bay
Tidal Lagoon now? What is it in politics today? It’s very different.
We’re about to go into an election. I think climate change will be debated as part of
this election for probably the first time. I think we are beginning to see commitments
by different parties about what they might do. We’ve seen quite a lot of commitments
on energy efficiency already starting to come through from Jeremy Corbyn. We’ve seen commitments
on Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon from the Labour Party as well. We’ve seen the pulling back
from fracking from Boris, so I think we will continue to see some of this debate come through.
Actually I think it’s great, because I don’t think we’ve had enough public debate about
climate and energy technology in this country. I think politicians have shied away from it
before and I think we need to have it. James, do you think we need to be more positive
about renewables? Because it’s almost as though we see it as a duty, as a target that has
to be met. If we look at things like green job creation, there should be good news there,
shouldn’t there? I think there is, both globally and in Wales.
So there’s more money now being invested in solar and wind than in fossil fuels and nuclear
globally. If money is going there, you could argue it’s not going fast enough and we’ve
got to change and we have to transition faster. But money is flowing and Wales has expertise
in renewables, huge expertise in renewables. I come from London a lot of the time and what’s
striking here is the level of industry which you have in South Wales which can manufacture.
So our ability, for example, to manufacturer solar powered buildings, our ability to imagine
that we can manufacture new technologies at scale in South Wales means that you could
imagine Wales being an exporter, not just of energy but of energy technologies. We have
leadership in some of those technologies. Rebecca, does that suggest that we’re not
doing the best to exploit what we have here in Wales? If we look at other things, like
people asked about hydroelectric and wind power, are there opportunities there too?
Definitely. I think hydro, we have exhausted most of the economic hydro at the moment.
So unless there’s a breakthrough innovation, I can’t see there being a lot more hydro.
We actually have a good track record in hydro. There’s certainly a lot more opportunity for
offshore wind and also onshore wind, but obviously onshore wind comes with quite a lot of political
issues. It’s really important to build your windfarms onshore with your community, so
I see a real role for community energy there to really give people in the communities value
from having these windfarms on their doorsteps. Don’t forget solar in South Wales, because
I know everybody feels that it – we actually built a solar park just north of Swansea in
a place called Brynwhilach, which is performing at pretty much the average of all the solar
parks we operate in the UK. So solar is a real opportunity here in South Wales as well.
Isn’t it about accessibility though, Julia? People might say they want to do more, but
they don’t know where to start. We’ve talked about big scale projects and government policy,
but what about individuals? There’s a lot we can do as individuals. We
can all certainly – well those of us who have lofts, can go up into our lofts and actually
look at the thickness of our insulation, because there are still many, many houses in the UK
that don’t even have the thickness of loft insulation that is now recommended. We can
think about are we heating rooms that we’re not actually using. There are now more and
more clever devices that will help you to control the energy you use in your home. I’m
sure that Juliet’s company is launching products of this sort that will help us to cut quite
dramatically the energy we use in our homes and things.
Actually one of the things we could all do – and I’m sure many people here have gardens,
one that I’m very passionate about. Globally, one of the biggest stores of carbon globally
is in peatlands, yet we’re still cutting peat to put it into garden compost. We need to
be restoring our peatlands in the UK and we absolutely shouldn’t be using peat in gardening.
So please, next time you go to the garden centre read the compost bags and buy peat-free.
That’s a real contribution you can make tomorrow. It’s about informed choices, isn’t it? James,
one of the questions that was asked was why can’t we stop burning fossil fuels tomorrow?
We’ve already got an idea how we can decarbonise electrical power and we’re moving towards
that. We’re not moving fast enough, but we are moving towards that. The hard things are
how are we going to decarbonise heating and transport and that’s technically more challenging.
Of course we can move towards electric cars, we can move towards heat pumps. I’m personally
very excited about can we move towards sustainable fuels. So is it possible to use sunlight and
wind to drive, making hydrogen from water, making hydrocarbon fuels from CO2, reducing
nitrogen to ammonia. Those are things which would be transformative in terms of our ability
to decarbonise the complete energy sector, but those are technically and scientifically
challenging. We can do it, but we can’t do it yet at a cost which is viable.
This leads on nicely to another question that was asked. These potentially sticking plaster
measures, so the other examples given burning biomass for energy projection, electric cars
was another example. So Rebecca, the question is, is that preventing the larger shifts that
are required to meet these targets that we’re talking about?
I think it’s all supporting us along that journey. I think we’re trying to find our
way as we go along. So just talking about biomass, obviously I work for the world’s
largest biomass generator. If we weren’t burning biomass we would be burning coal now,
so it’s really helped us to get off coal and to stop those emissions. Is it the right thing
longer term? What’s the best use for that biomass? I think we have to work that out
as we go along. I think there’s been quite a change recently
in terms of scientific understanding, so what we thought we might have done two years ago
we might feel differently about now. Because we’ve got global scientists on the intergovernmental
panel on climate change saying we really need biomass, because we need to grow trees, burn
biomass, generate electricity and capture the carbon and put it under the ground, because
we aren’t going to meet our commitments otherwise. So I think that shows how we’re still learning
some of these routes as we go on and I think we have to have really open minds about technologies
and really have a really wide portfolio of options.
Yet your company is building a gas power station just up the road here, it’s Abergelli, is
that right? It is indeed, yes.
So why the decision to do that then, if you’re trying to go down the line of biomass?
Well we’re more about renewables, so we’ve got a broad portfolio of renewables of which
biomass is one. We feel absolutely wind and solar are where the UK will be getting the
majority of its power, we think probably about 85 per cent of its power. But then there’s
this 15 per cent of the time when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining and
what do you do? Long term we obviously can’t be burning gas in the UK, but in the short
term, whilst this transition is happening, we see a need for really fast gas plants.
The thing about this gas plant we want to build in Abergelli is really supportive of
wind and solar, because when the wind drops and the sun stops shining we can switch it
on really quickly, just for a brief period of time, then we can switch it off again when
the sun comes out. It’s that sort of backup power, as it’s called, which we think the
grid needs, certainly for the next 10 or 15 years. So it’s small amounts of fossil that
really support this broader decarbonisation. But isn’t that the issue, James, with renewables,
is that it is an intermittent supply, isn’t it? That is its weakness, in a sense.
It’s a challenge. Batteries are part of that challenge because you can store power for
short terms of batteries. But I personally think that there are other opportunities to
store energy, the most obvious one is to make hydrogen. If you’ve got excess electricity
you make hydrogen, you can then use the hydrogen as a store and either burn it or put it in
a fuel cell to generate electricity back again when the sun goes down or the wind stops blowing.
But of course it’s also about understanding the system and as we move, for example, to
more electric cars, then we’re starting to significantly increase the amount of storage
we have in the UK. If we can get the system right, then we can handle quite a lot of that
intermittency. In which case, it’s a bit ironic that there
were figures out just at the weekend showing that Wales had the lowest number of electric
chargepoints per head of population for the whole of the UK.
I’m afraid so, yes. Which isn’t – that’s not a great incentive
then, is it? Because if you get stuck – anybody who’s travelled north to south, as many of
us have… If you go towards Fishguard you can get a
bit stuck. That’s about policy, part of it could be driven
– the Welsh Government could drive that stronger. Also just looking at opportunities for organisations
to start installing in different areas. So I think we’ll see it come, but you need governments
to support the initial parts to get things moving.
But it’s those gaps, isn’t it, Julia, that mean it’s not a joined up approach? So if
people want to go down the route of getting an electric car, something like that is clearly
going to put them off, isn’t it? It is. We know from the research that people
feel more comfortable if they see regularly electric chargepoints and things. But I also
think in some ways electric cars are still expensive compared with efficient petrol fuelled
vehicles and we need to recognise that the average income per head in Wales is lower
than in many other parts of the country. So it would be a bit tough to be relying on people
living in Wales to be the earlier adopters of some of these technologies. We know that
electric cars will get cheaper, we know that in the long term electric cars are cheaper
to make and cheaper to run and cheaper to maintain than internal combustion engine vehicles.
So actually they will be great for Wales, but they may not be the best thing for most
people in Wales now. So I don’t think we should worry if Wales adopts that a bit later than
say Greater London, which I think we should be seeing that transition occurring much faster
in London. But actually we also need to be trying, all of us, to change our behaviours
so that we do more healthy things like we walk more often and we do need to be encouraging
all of our councils to be providing better public transport, because that will help everybody.
We were though the first part of the UK to introduce the plastic bag levy, which was
introduced without any problem really. Everybody embraced it almost immediately, but that’s
the thing, it’s about making it easier for people to make those changes, isn’t it?
We have got the Future Generations (Wales) Act, which I’m very proud of, living in Wales
and having this fantastic act, which does mean that all decisions have to be looked
through with the sustainable development lens. If you look at the devolved powers for Wales,
we have got control over our building standards, over how we design our cities and towns, to
allow for people to walk and to cycle more. So I think there are an awful lot of opportunities
for Wales to really be a leader, if it wants to.
I want to come onto the issue of affordability a little bit later, but first of all I think
it’s time for a little bit of audience participation. A survey has been conducted by YouGov on behalf
of The Royal Society and the results are in. So I would like to ask the audience members
here tonight – a bit of a straw poll if you don’t mind. So I’m going to ask who you think
is most responsible for taking action on climate change. So I’ll just tell you that the choices
are government, industry or individuals and the public. So if I ask first of all, who
thinks that the government has responsibility? Okay and how about industry? Then finally
individuals? Okay, that’s interesting. Clearly the majority of people think that it’s a government
responsibility. That won’t surprise you, Julia. No, I think the government has to put in place
the framework that then enables all of us as individuals to act. So it’s like somebody
has to be responsible for making sure those charging points are there and we can all see
them, so that we can actually do the right thing and when we are thinking of having a
new car, invest in an electric vehicle. But we can’t just leave that to the market, or
it’s going to take far too long for all of these things to happen.
I think we can see the results of the poll, so this is answering that question. It found,
as has been reflected here tonight, that government were most responsible, industry next, then
the general public. Interesting there to see that more people thought that schools had
a responsibility than scientists. I think that’s really important though, educating
and teaching. We’ve seen Extinction Rebellion and what that’s done to help our politicians
make decisions around this. So I think educating the public and starting with school children
is really important in terms of how we are going to get change.
We’ve seen Italy today announcing that every child in every Italian school will have climate
change lessons. Out of interest, do any of you think it should
be on the curriculum here? Completely, yes, of course.
It’s just laughable that it’s not. I’m very aware because obviously I teach and
lecture undergraduates and postgraduates and I’m always stunned and impressed by how motivated
so many young people are about the challenge of climate change and what to do about it.
So many of them want to find ways to contribute to helping be part of a solution, not part
of a problem. That to me is wonderfully exciting. There are so many things which are scary about
climate change, but young people is not one of them.
Yes, I agree. We have seen obviously the school strikes,
Greta Thunberg has led the way and we’ve seen this wave of action, which has now become
a global movement. Yes, so if we move on, I think this is going
to be quite interesting hopefully. So we want to talk about actively making changes to reduce
carbon footprint. I think we have got another slide to show the results of this in terms
of how people are changing their habits. I just wonder again, if you don’t mind, a show
of hands. So how many people here recycle more? Okay, so that’s really good, that’s
really impressive. Again, because it’s easy to do so, isn’t it?
We’ve made it easy in Wales through leadership. Wales has the best recycling rates in Europe,
I’m always really proud of this whenever we talk about what Wales is doing. That’s because
the government has put infrastructure around to collect things from kerbsides and we don’t
have that in the rest of the UK. So that’s perhaps a combination of people’s choices
and also the government supporting that to enable it to happen.
I think it’s interesting to see what the second choice is here. So intentionally purchasing
locally produced food, again would people here agree with that? How many of you are
doing that? Okay, then I think this is quite interesting, I’d like to find out how many
of you have intentionally reduced your red meat consumption? Okay, that’s in a country
where red meat is the backbone of the Welsh rural economy, that’s really interesting,
isn’t it? We can see as well there’s the choice of being vegetarian and vegan. Very low down
driving an electric car, that might be back down to the lack of chargepoints in various
parts of Wales. There are three in Swansea, I think.
I’ve got the figures showing also here, so the decision, actively deciding not to have
any children or fewer children, has anybody here made that decision? Okay, I have to say
for myself personally it’s a bit late. Also as the mother of twins I had one more child
than I had intended to have. I definitely think there’s a trend though
we’re seeing from the 18 to 24 year olds beginning to say I’m not going to have children, partially
because they’re not sure what world they’re going to bring them into, but partially because
they’re aware of the impact of population on the planet.
That’s an interesting – that’s a huge change and it’s something that’s quite controversial.
Governments or the United Nations has backed off talking about this as an act…
I think it’s going to come through naturally anyhow in developed countries.
What about here? Do you think we’ll see that trend continuing?
It’s difficult to know really, isn’t it? In Wales?
Well yes, in the UK in general. We are, I guess this was a survey in the UK
or in Wales and people are saying that. I think global birth rates have declined.
Not by much, but a certain amount. We also know that in developing countries,
as people become more affluent the birth rate drops. I think rather than us in a rich country
looking at them and saying gosh, they should have less children, we need to be supporting
them to have the kind of lifestyles where they don’t expect half of their children to
die. So that means they will stop having as many children, they will want to be more like
us and we should be helping them do that, not criticising them for having too many children.
One other interesting question here, and it’s quite high on the survey results, is reducing
how often you choose to fly. Can I just have a rough idea, have you actively decided to
fly less? Yes, that’s quite significant as well. We’re going to move on to maybe talk
about public transport in a minute, but are any of you flying less?
Yes. Has that been easy, an easy decision?
Not always. If you need to go to Glasgow to go and speak on a panel at nine o’clock in
the morning it can be a little tricky, but you make it work.
James? I try, of course. Eurostar is a good start
to getting into Europe, that’s very useful. I prefer the train anyway, so it works very
well for me and I prefer to holiday in the UK. So I think it’s about these choices, you
do the ones that are actually perhaps easier for you and fit with your preferences. So
I’ve perhaps started by doing the things which actually that’s not too big a stretch for
me to do that. So I find I have to say the plane one quite easily because I really don’t
like aeroplanes. Again, it’s having those choices though. So
if the alternatives aren’t great in terms of public transport – and I think again, anybody
who has experience of trying to get around various parts of Wales will know that it’s
not always easy – it’s difficult then, isn’t it, to make those choices?
Yes, it is and the electrification obviously of the railways, I think, is something that
needs to be reviewed. Yet that was another decision to made, to
not electrify the line from Cardiff to Swansea. But it is another – James was talking about
the really positive combinations we could have of, for example, offshore wind and making
hydrogen by electrolysing water so that when the wind is blowing and at times when we don’t
need the electricity, we can use the spare electricity to produce hydrogen. Well actually
we could be propelling trains with hydrogen, it’s a perfectly safe thing to do. There are
demonstrations going on and actually all of those lines that it may not be economically
viable to do electrification on, we could still be making them, we could still be planning
to make them zero carbon train lines and we should be doing that.
I was reading with interest about Electric Mountain in North Wales, so in Dinorwig. Designed
to cope when there are surges of power, that this was a sort of backup plan. That’s an
interesting development, isn’t it, Juliet? I think what’s really interesting is you obviously
have to take quite a lot of land mass to do what was done in North Wales with that hydropower
station. I think what we’re seeing now is new technologies come through that can provide
the same service to the grid. So battery is something that can switch very fast on and
very fast off. So you have hydrogen which provides a different service to the needs
of the energy grid, then you’ve got things like battery which can support Dinorwig in
terms of when you get outages or when you get significant shifts in other power stations.
That’s why an integrated grid is really interesting. One technology, if you could just go for one
technology, it doesn’t work; you’ve got to look at integrating lots of different technologies
together. I think, would you agree, that the results
of the survey are quite interesting, aren’t they? Especially in terms of how it ranks.
It may be that there are a few surprises there in those results, but we’ll leave that there
for the moment and return to the questions that the audience have asked tonight. So if
we start looking at maybe more what people as individuals can do, so if we look at the
way that we heat our homes, there have been a number of questions on this. The first one
being why aren’t there minimum standards for renewable and efficient homes in towns and
cities? James? I’m not a policymaker, but of course I’m aware
that many of our political parties are now starting to talk about zero carbon buildings,
passive buildings, energy positive buildings. I think one of the exciting things is how
we can develop new technologies to make that easier. I’m well aware that if you want a
solar park building currently, then you put your silicon panels on the roof. I’m excited
by this sort of stuff, so these are solar cells printed here in Swansea and this sort
of – it’s a semiconductor ink which is printed onto plastic. But it means that when you have
something like this, you can imagine integrating solar cells into building infrastructure so
that… How does that work then?
It’s an ink, a semiconductor, the same idea as silicon, except that this is a material
which is photoactive, you shine a light on it, it makes electrons and holes and makes
a current, but it’s an ink, so it is printable and so it’s flexible. This allows you to think
about integrating solar cells into buildings, in ways which are almost invisible and which
could really open up the door to integrating – we already are seeing things like this out
in the fields, but our cities are huge resources which it would be so fantastic to be part
of themselves. But it’s interesting, again as a journalist
I’ve covered stories where people in various communities in Wales have not wanted these
solar parks or solar farms on their doorstep. They’re citing the tourism industry is hugely
important here in Wales, it’s an eyesore. Yes, of course. It may be less of an eyesore
than some wind farms, at least on land. At least that’s the public perception.
But I think that we have to be really careful that we think – we’re thinking in an older
mindset, because actually some people think they’re beautiful and actually the opportunity
interestingly with solar is that you can regenerate from a biodiversity point of view. Because
the land goes back, you can regenerate the soils underneath and most often you can still
use sheep farming, quite often you put bees and you integrate that into the landscape.
Most of the time you can’t see them because they’re behind a hedge. So I think particularly
on solar and then some people love wind farms. We own a couple of wind farms, people go there
on holiday to go and look at wind farms. So I do think that we need to stop the attitude
that everybody hates them. Something like 75 per cent of people in the UK would like
to see more wind farms in the UK. So I think it is a smaller minority of people who don’t.
But if we look at why then, Rebecca, don’t all newbuilds come with solar panels? It seems
so obvious, doesn’t it? I think I would agree, I think we should be
changing our building regs to do that. We do have quite strict building regulations,
but they should certainly be a lot stricter, particularly with respect to insulation actually,
which was Julia’s point. We’re locking ourselves into a future by building houses now which
don’t even have the basic insulation that we need. If we want to move to things like
hybrid heat pumps, which is this electric heating that requires very insulated homes.
So, it’s not only solar panels, which are a very obvious demonstration and are a bit
sexy. We actually need to get the other basic things right as well. Again, I think that’s
where Wales has a real opportunity to take control and take a leadership.
It was a real shame. In 2015, we reversed the zero carbon regs, which was all new houses
are going to have to be zero carbon, and we reversed that as a result of the general election
in 2015, and I think the opportunity now is to go back and reinstate that.
But in that case, we’re going backwards. We’re talking about these targets. We’re
never going to get [there], so we need to go forwards now.
Julia, we talked – sorry. I was going to say, can I just say that we
also need a system where not only are there building regulations, but they need to be
enforced, because we know actually that most new houses today sadly do not even meet the
standards to which they are theoretically built. We know about the Volkswagen car scandal,
when they were – when people were buying cars which they were told had particular fuel consumption,
and that those cars had software inside them that was kidding the tests so that you were
being sold a lie. Where is the scandal about Britain’s houses? Where is the scandal that
says, this is the standard your house was supposed to have been built to, but actually
this is the real performance of your house? Because we don’t have those obvious tests
for our house, almost everybody who’s bought a new house in the last 10 years or so has
not got the performance that, nominally, that house should have had. So, we need a huge
improvement in the quality of our building, and actually we need to be training people
to be really skilled builders and fitters and installers of new, low-carbon heating
systems. These should be really high-quality, high-paid jobs which are skills that young
people should be aspiring to have. Sadly, we don’t have a building industry at the
moment with that kind of aspiration, and that’s what we need to deliver the quality of buildings
that we need for the future. In the absence of that, then, if we were talking
earlier about affordability, so what some people might describe as a scandal is the
fact that so many people in Wales are living in what’s known as fuel poverty, so 155,000
homes, I think, are the current figures. So, that’s – the definition being that more
than 10 per cent of the household’s income is spent heating the home. If you’re living
in that kind of situation, renewables, this is all luxury, isn’t it?
It’s very dear to my heart, this, because I spent years renting very damp cottages with
no insulation and electric storage heaters, so I was living in this fuel poverty. I think
we do have to start with social housing and really look at what we can do there, and particularly
groups of houses where it’s always going to be simpler to do a sort of heating system
for that, and then just making sure that new-builds meet the right regulations.
Is there funding available? Shouldn’t there be funding, though, and incentives for people?
Well, I wonder if you might look at it a different way, because most people – if you’ve got
a rental income from a private rented house, maybe we should be looking at those should
be taxed higher if those don’t meet the energy efficiency standards. So, your income
gets taxed unless you put the energy efficiency in. So, I think we need to think quite innovatively
about the different – we’ve got loads of different tools that we use for everything.
So, taxing the landlords then. Yeah, why not?
In terms of forcing – yeah. Because if they got a tax advantage for making
sure those homes were warm and cosy for the people who want to live in them, then there
would be health advantages, so there would be a lower impact on the NHS, and you would
get the energy efficiency and the carbon piece, so suddenly you move to a win-win situation.
I think it’s worthwhile emphasising that Swansea is leading the UK in this area. Is
has the Active Building Centre, which is the UK centre for driving out a programme of low-cost
energy-positive buildings, and that includes social housing, it includes office blocks,
it includes teaching facilities. What they’re trying to do is show the building industry
what is technically possible with today’s technology. It’s possible to make warm,
well-insulated, energy-positive buildings without large cost in the UK now.
We’re talking about new builds. What about providing incentives or funding for people
who want to switch from where they are currently to, maybe, renewables?
So, I recently went on a tour of South Wales with Wales and West Utilities, and they’re
just doing some fantastic work there, retrofitting houses with hybrid heat pumps. So, this is
this way of transforming your heating over to electricity in a really efficient way,
and I was so impressed by that. I think that’s a company that’s really taken some leadership.
Then I looked to try and do it at home where I am, up in Llangurig, and couldn’t find
anybody, actually, who could help me do that, and it was also going to be very expensive.
So, I think there’s two issues. There’s definitely the need for some financial incentive,
some sort of grant system, but also, I think, like Julia was saying, we need to get people
in to be installing these, and be trained to do it, and that will bring costs down as
well. Just a quick question as well about – sorry
– smart meters. Is that the way forward? I live in Carmarthen, and I’m being bombarded.
Well, let me answer a bit more on that. One of the really depressing things that we’ve
just done in the UK is, we’ve taken the VAT on solar panels from five per cent to
20 per cent. We didn’t need to do that. We haven’t done it for ages. We’re claiming
it’s an EU reg that we have to implement, but it’s quite possible that we could find
a way around it, I’m sure, in our current situation. So, I think one of the other things
is, that we keep seeing – there was an article, I think, yesterday in the Times talking about
business rates on schools who wanted to put solar panels on them, and that completely
undermines the economics of putting solar panels on school. So, we’ve just got to
stop these stupid things getting in the way. In terms of smart, smart’s really interesting,
because smart meters were sold in as a technology, I’m afraid, by the industry in the wrong
way. So, we kind of went around it in the wrong way. We are getting there. The new second-tier
smart meters are coming through. They’re a much better technology. But what nobody
has explained is that they become a foundation for implementing a much better low-carbon
Britain, and what everybody said, oh, you’ll save £10 here, or you’ll save – so, obviously,
no wonder nobody’s really that interested. But actually, if you can completely transform
the energy system in the UK by putting smart meters in, and helping people become part
of the solution in their own homes, then I think that’s a much more positive message,
and we just haven’t been talking about that at all, and the possibilities around that.
The cheapest – the greenest option has to be the cheapest option. Is that oversimplifying
things? Unfortunately, it is. Fortunately, now, in
terms of electricity generation, the greenest option is the cheapest option. The cheapest
way to generate electricity in this country is on-shore wind, and now the second-cheapest
option, and cheaper than gas or any of the fossil fuels, is off-shore wind. So, the greenest
option is the cheapest option. It will also be true, as the prices of electric vehicles
come down, that will be the cheapest option for motoring, and it’s predicted that we
should get there by the middle to the late 2020s, so we’ve got a bit of a wait to bring
the prices down. But unfortunately, this issue of how we’re going to heat our homes in
a zero-carbon world, this is one of the more expensive problems that we have to solve,
and I think that’s another reason why we really do need government intervention and
government support to provide the framework for that. All governments have all sorts of
taxes and incentives implicit in our energy system, and one of the things they need to
do is take a big step back and say, how do we make this transition to low-carbon heating
fair for everybody, and we don’t leave the fuel-poor in a worse position than they are
today? That’s the reason why the Committee on Climate Change, in our report on net zero,
said to the Treasury, you have to produce a report looking at where the costs of this
transition fall, and you have to think about how you are going to make that fair, and not
make things like fuel poverty worse. Fortunately, the Treasury have accepted that, and that
report, that study, is now in progress. I’m going to move on to another question
that was asked about the particular challenges of decarbonising Wales. There’s a challenge.
So, if we look at, first of all – so, we’ve already talked about red meat being the backbone
of the Welsh rural economy, and I have to say I live in an area where dairy farming
is very prominent, just about, but I wonder, in terms of – there’s this sort of conflict,
isn’t there, between farming and the environment at the moment. Will we have any farmers in
the future? I think we will, I just think they might be
farming slightly different things in a slightly different way. I think, with our different
relationship that we may have with Europe, we’ve got an opportunity to have a look
at what we want to do with our land in Wales, and how we might support farmers to do things
which do support the climate, and it’s not that we can’t have any sheep, because I’m
very partial to a lamb chop myself. I live in an area of sheep farming country. I think
it’s that we need to look carefully at where we’re having sheep, where we might put trees.
We also need to look at how innovation can really help agriculture as well. So, for example,
Aberystwyth University have got some world-leading work on ruminants, and on how we can manage
greenhouse gas emissions from sheep and cows, and there’s other things which farmers can
do which just make really good economic sense as well, about how you manage your fertilisers,
putting them on at the right time, not putting too much on. So, I think there are a lot of
options for agriculture. I think it is challenging, but certainly don’t think we should all
become vegetarian. I think it’s about making slightly more conscious choices, and also
being really cognisant of the other things which farming adds to the environment, to
biodiversity, as well as climate change. Because a lot of farmers would argue that
they are guardians of the landscape as well. It’s not all about livestock production,
is it? I think one of the perceptions we have in
this country is that farming is actually a kind of economically rational thing to do,
and actually for the most part it isn’t. Half of farm income in this country comes
from the Common Agriculture – the CAP payments. Now, as we come out of the EU, those payments
are going to have to be replaced, and they’ve tended to be focused on the area of farms
and the amount of food that farms produce. In replacing that, and we’re going to be
replacing them with something called the Environmental Land Management Payments, we have the opportunity
to pay farmers to do different things. I mean, the last thing we want to do, obviously, to
happen, is the removal of CAP payments to destabilise farming and land prices across
the UK, but we have the chance to incentivise farmers to be planting more trees to absorb
carbon dioxide, to be planting new woodlands, actually to be planting bio-energy crops which
will help us generate power with bio-energy and then capture the CO2 and store it, as
Becca has been talking about. So, I think this is a fantastic opportunity, but we need
to make sure whatever government we have after the election is really focusing on, how do
we help farmers to transition… But hasn’t that happened already? We’ve
had various agri-environment schemes over the years that have done exactly that. They’ve
paid farmers to manage the land in a certain way, to improve hedgerows, this kind of thing.
That’s been a tiny proportion of the CAP payments. Now, we have the chance to completely
reform that system, and transform – we need to transform the way we use land in the UK.
This is our chance to start doing it. This is one of the urgent things we need to get
our minds around in the next five to 10 years. James?
I actually come from Norfolk, and my uncle in Norfolk has inherited a traditional Norfolk
farm, and he’s now transformed it, so the main money-maker is the export of renewable
power, renewable electricity, from methane from the manure from the cows. He makes more
money from electricity from manure than he does from the milk that the cows produce.
If you think about the joined-up thinking of how you can change how you design a farm
which has less environmental impact, and can make money different ways.
Fewer animals, in other words. No, the same amount of animals, but he was
using the waste to make electricity. Juliet, do you see the way that we use the
land – we’ve talked about lots of changes, some really quite radical changes. The way
we use the land is one of those big changes we have to make?
Yeah, I think we also – soil quality is really important. I think the way we’ve been using
land has a limited life-cycle, particularly when you over-fertilise, and you don’t look
at actually how you recycle carbon through – nitrogen through the soil. So, I think there
is a real opportunity here, as Julia said, to rethink land usage, and in some cases use
it for energy generation, use it for different income streams, use it for biodiversity use,
use it for carbon sequestration. It is a massive opportunity, and I think Wales obviously has
a massive resource in its land, and could lead on it. So, rather than worrying that
somebody’s going to take it away, putting some great research into it, some great minds
on actually, what could we create? Because the tourist industry is incredibly important
in Wales, so thinking about that – I mean, one of the most beautiful places I’ve been
to recently is a lavender farm in Wales, which is producing local lavender oil. It hasn’t
got any – I don’t think it’s got any animals on it at all, but it’s completely transformed
– so, they run – they press the oil on-site, and then they create hand creams and soaps,
and all those kinds of things. So, they’ve got an income stream, they’ve transformed
the land, and they’ve created massive biodiversity as well. So, I think just thinking through
some of the ideas about how we take this forward, and being more creative about it.
Let’s look at, also though, another industry, a heavy industry which has had a prominent
role to play in Wales’ history, which is of course steel, and if we look just down
the road in Port Talbot, you know, you can’t fail to miss the enormous TATA plant there.
So, I think it’s quite interesting that we know air pollution is an issue there, and
yet what – many of us have probably driven along the M4. The speed limit has been reduced
to 50 for a bigger section now in order to reduce air pollution, but I think people would
ask, well, why not change or put pressure on the steel industry to reduce its carbon
footprint? It is starting to change. So, a lot of the
issue with the steel industry is that it uses coke to reduce the iron ore through to steel.
In Germany, they’ve now got a major demonstration programme looking at using hydrogen to reduce
– at least partly to reduce the iron ore through to steel, and if you can make that hydrogen
from renewables, from wind or from solar, then you end up with a steel industry which
is far less polluting than it currently is. I know in Port Talbot we just started to look
at exactly that. Because the fact is, when Tata’s fortunes
have been up and down recently, but it’s still a major employer, and people need to
work, don’t they? But there’s also a huge innovation budget
now in the UK. The UK is looking to increase the amount of research and development so
we can do this transformation to three per cent of GDP, so why not actually take the
opportunity to take some of these technologies that are sitting and have got issues, and
actually use research and innovation to really transform them into something of the future?
Then, that technology actually becomes something you can export worldwide.
So, if you look, one of the things we’re trying to now do is print solar cells onto
Port Talbot steel products, and so then the output of that plant is a renewable energy
technology, which we can then export. I want a solar car. I want those on a car.
That would be so cool, wouldn’t it? That’s the idea, absolutely.
Again though, we’ve come back to this point about how you can – we’ve got one foot in
the past, haven’t we, with these kind of heavy industries, and yet we can see this
bright future. We’ve heard about some real, innovative projects tonight.
We’re going to need these heavy industries, though. We can’t build a wind turbine, whether
it’s a land-based one or an off-shore one, without steel. So, we’re going to need either
hydrogen reduction to produce the steel, which is one route, or we’re going to need to
use carbon capture and storage on steel plants, and one of the things we need to be thinking
about is, can we develop clusters of industries? So, can we – the cement industry here in Wales,
the steel industry here in Wales, actually perhaps the gas power generation plant with
carbon capture and storage, could we bring all of those together into a system where
we were capturing the CO2, and if we get enough of a cluster of industries it really starts
to make it cost effective to put in the pipework, and the pressurisation, to collect and pressurise
that CO2 so that we can take it off-shore, and we can put it into old oil and gas wells.
We are seeing that happen down in Port Talbot. There is a lot of work going on, they’re
doing a lot of R&D. They realise they have to change. We have to make sure they can still
remain economic, and we don’t just end up offshoring our steel, but there’s something
about being a leader in these innovative technologies. You have to remember, the rest of the world
has also signed up to Paris, and will also have to solve these things. We’re actually
a little bit further ahead than other countries, particularly in this concept of capturing
carbon that’s released and burying it, and so the government are funding various studies
on this, and this cluster technique, to try and get some economic projects off the ground
in the next few years. This is one of those crucial technologies that we probably need
to sort out in the next five to 10 years in terms of whether it’s feasible.
So, in which case, James, it’s always going to have to be an integrated approach.
Absolutely, it has to be. I’m well aware that putting CO2 under the ground is one good
strategy. I’m excited about, can we use CO2 as a chemical feedstock? There’s many
chemicals, there’s polymers and carbon fibres, which need carbon. It’s got to come from
somewhere. We’re worried about CO2 emissions, say, from cement. That’s quite a hard one
to get rid of, but can we turn into it with joined-up thinking? Can we put a plant which
is using the CO2 from a cement plant to make products which we can then use to build buildings?
To me, that’s exciting. It’s not easy. It requires new science. It requires new catalysis.
One of the questions that was asked was, what’s the number one change that we can make to
most radically improve our impact on the environment? So, it goes back to a little bit about the
survey that we saw earlier, but I just wonder what your – is there one thing? We’re down
to this silver bullet idea, aren’t we, that doesn’t exist?
There’s no silver bullet. I think you have to think in fives or 10s in terms of the things
that you should be trying to do, and I think coming back to Rebecca’s point earlier,
you should be trying to do things that suit you. So, understand where your carbon footprints
are? So, do you drive a lot? Do you fly a lot? Do you eat a lot of red meat? What are
the things that actually you can cut back on that might have another benefit? So, cutting
back on red meat can have a health benefit. Not flying as much can make you feel better.
Just because I think we have to look at the positive side of not doing things, because
unfortunately stopping stuff is quite a negative psychological approach for humanity, so we
have to think about what positive things do we want to do? Really sadly, I do have an
electric car, and the thing I most enjoy about it is the software in it, more than anything
else. So, we have to think about, how do we get people to enjoy these new technologies?
How do we get people to embrace a new lifestyle that actually makes them feel better? As Julia
said, walking more. I love walking. I’ve just been on a walking holiday in Cumbria.
I feel so much better after a week walking in Cumbria than I have on anything else, sitting
on a beach. But it can be difficult, Julia, for people
to know where to start, you know, to sort of feel, well, it’s just all too much, and
I don’t know whether – I’m overwhelmed, I think I’ll just stay as I am.
Well, Greta Thunberg has this lovely expression which is, what we need is more cathedral thinking.
I was brought up near Salisbury cathedral, and it took centuries to build, and the guys
who started building it did it with the faith that this would be a beautiful and memorable
building. They had no idea how the roof was going to be completed. We need that. We don’t
have to have the 100 per cent picture. We have to start.
James, what would you say are the positive steps that science is taking to tackle climate
change? Scientists are, of course, a part of humanity,
and many scientist are young, and many scientists are very concerned about climate change, and
many of the innovations like this flexible foil here, or that for catalysis of making
hydrogen, or how we’ve got batteries into cars, this has all come about from science.
So, I would say that science – there are name scientists who are already very motivated
to try to achieve – to create the possibilities for the future. One of the challenges, of
course, is to translate that science into real technology and application, and that’s
particularly a challenge, I think, for the UK.
Did you bring any other props? No, no more props, I’m sorry.
I was just wondering if there was anything else.
No, no. Nothing up my sleeves. Rebecca, what do you think science’s role
is her? I think science has been really good at getting
the message out there, and I think then the general public recently have been really good
at amplifying that message. So, we need hard data to be clear that this is actually happening,
that the time for doubting is over, and scientists have provided that. When I was appointed to
the Committee on Climate Change three years ago, I had people saying, oh climate change,
what’s that? Is that something I should be worried about? No one is going to say that
to me now. I think we all know that, and that has been a combination of the scientists and
the public picking up on that. I do see a great role for innovation, and I don’t think
it’s all doom and gloom. I see a role for the UK to become a leader in innovation, and
for us to really do very well economically as well through this transition. It’s going
to take some very brave decisions, but I do think that’s possible.
Can I stick up for the social scientists as well? Because one of the things we desperately
need is, we desperately need a world where governments don’t measure their success
simply on the increase in GDP. If we all drive continuously for more and more GDP, we’re
not going to solve these problems. In some countries, we have got to a level of affluence
where, do we really need to be thinking that, you know, every year we should be…
I agree. …increasing GDP by five per cent? There
are some countries where they desperately need to be doing that, but we need to find
some other way of measuring success in rich, developed countries.
We measure success in how much we are reducing our carbon footprint.
Yes, why not come up with a measure like that? What’s really interesting is, if we all
reduced our energy usage by 30 per cent, all households in the UK, we’d completely upset
the GDP figures. So, growth would go backwards, because all the energy companies’ revenues
would go down, yet everybody in this country would be better off. So, it’s kind of like
– we do really need to think about, where is that balance, and how do we manage that?
I think we’ve got stuck in a cycle that we can just be extractive as a society, and
actually we need to be regenerative now. If we were talking about targets earlier,
what is holding us back, then? So, the current target is to be carbon-neutral by 2050. I
mentioned that the Welsh Government wants to see the public sector in Wales achieve
that 20 years earlier, but what is holding us back, then?
One of the obvious challenges there, of course, is that 2050 is quite a long time in politics,
and it’s quite easy for politicians to have a target of 2050 and do relatively little
about it right now. I think leadership. I think government needs
to give us the framework to get on and do the work. I think business is a real engine
to be able to deliver innovation, work with the scientists to come up with the science,
then you need the innovation, then you need the public to embrace it, but you need the
framework from the government to allow us to get on and do it, and at the moment, I’m
afraid, we’re not seeing that leadership. We’ve got a government that’s going around
and around in circles. We haven’t got any thought leadership and actually, I’m afraid,
at the moment from the regulatory point of view we’re seeing that go backwards, not
forwards. Doesn’t that have to be then global change,
global pressure? Because leadership – we’re about to go into our third general election
in five years. Leadership is inevitably going to change. Particularly, at the moment, we’re
seeing these changes in government. I think we are seeing global leadership, though.
I think we’re seeing a lot of other countries move a lot faster than the UK. I think we’re
lagging – we could end up lagging behind if we’re not careful. In terms of the speed
that things are going now, the deployment of renewables in other countries is increasing,
whereas it has been decreasing for the last five years in the UK. So, I think it’s about
getting on with it now and expanding. I think what we’re doing well at is in science,
actually. I think we’re investing well in science, but we now need to lay out – for
example, we’ve just done some work on something called vehicle to grid, which says that you
can plug your car in at home, and then overnight it might supply energy to the grid when the
grid needs some power. So, it helps balance the whole system. It’s a really interesting
piece of research. We can’t roll it out as an innovation because the legislation gets
in the way, and that’s my point. I think everybody – we’ve got everybody lining up
to push out some of these technologies, or these innovations, but the legislation isn’t
moving fast enough to actually allow us to get to market.
We’ve talked a lot tonight about big projects. So, I mentioned earlier on about one of the
biggest offshore wind farms in the world off the North Wales coast, but what about a more
community approach? Does it have to be all big projects?
I think that’s one of the points why it’s so interesting to think about your own home
as being a power station, because you then have some sense of personal empowerment. I
think one of the big and difficult transitions is that fossil fuel generation was big power
stations, nuclear’s big power stations. Wind and solar can be micro-generation, and
that’s empowering but it’s also challenging to the current structures we have in how we
invest in energy in this country. Should we still be talking about nuclear?
We’ve seen the project on Anglesey being shelved, but should we still be looking at
– you know, the problem being waste, really, isn’t it?
The volume of waste from modern nuclear power plants is very, very small compared to the
historic waste that we currently have in storage in the UK. So, from our point of view on the
Committee for Climate Change, we’re technology-neutral. If nuclear is cheap enough, it will play a
role in our models. The challenge with nuclear is that now that we’ve seen such dramatic
reductions in the cost of renewables, that nuclear just looks too expensive, and it’s
at the moment difficult to see whether there will indeed be further major developments
of nuclear power stations in the UK. Because unless we start to see the cost come down
very significantly, renewables are just going to win.
It’s also quite slow. So, you can deploy significant amounts of renewables within three,
four months, whereas… But cost is an issue there too. That was an
issue with the Swansea tidal lagoon. I know.
But Swansea is the first of a kind, but if you compared it to the first of a kind on
nuclear then it would be cheap in comparison. So, I think what you’ve got to look at in
terms of something like solar, I mean, originally that was very expensive. Today, it’s really,
really very reasonable cost, and you can roll it out in three, four months. So, that’s
the point, is it’s about speed now as well as cost, that we’ve got to get on with.
So, we’ve talked about nuclear, but why – I was asking you about your company’s
new gas power station. Why are we – this is one of the questions that’s been asked.
Why are we still building new fossil fuel-burning power plants?
Because of what we’d said about solar and wind, and this sort of intermittency when
the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, and ultimately yes, we could have batteries,
and we could definitely see our car batteries acting as sort of backup. I think we’re
going to see, especially with digitalisation and electronics coming in, a way of this being
able to store energy and release it very quickly, and that’s something that Dinorwig also
does very well, but at the moment, for the next 10 or 15 years, we’re not in that position.
I think it’s really important when we’re building fossil that we look at what we’re
building and why, and how it helps that transition, and what role it has to play, and also how
it could perhaps be converted to non-fossil in the future, which is certainly something
for our plant that we’re looking at, to make sure it can be future-proof.
If we’ve talked about reaching this goal of carbon-neutrality by 2050, I just want
to ask you all how you think we can get there, because you’ve said about being positive,
and having solutions. So, how do we get there? James?
I’ll just speak from a scientific perspective. I’m always inspired by plants. I started
off my life as a scientist studying plants and how photosynthesis works to harness sunlight,
and for me the challenge of what is often called artificial photosynthesis, can we harness
sunlight to make fuel, that to me is the holy grail which we’re hoping to be able to achieve.
I do believe if we can do that, that will have a major difference.
How far off… That’s only one thing. I’m not saying
that’s a silver bullet. I know there’s many other bullets we need as well, but to
me, that excites me. I think we’ve established there isn’t
one golden solution, but it’s interesting to hear your thoughts. What do you think,
Juliet? I think – so, I think everybody is going to
need their own solution, because everybody’s lives are slightly different. I think we need
to be flexible. I don’t think we should be dogmatic about how we approach it, but
I think we should use every technology that we have. I do think that the marine technologies,
we haven’t seen enough of in this country. We’re an island state. We would see that
we probably have a little bit of an advantage on that. I think we need to see solar come
back, I think we need onshore wind to come back, and we need some leadership to make
sure that those technologies come through. But at the other side of it, I really want
to see the fact – when I joined the industry 20 years ago, everybody used to talk about
meters. They didn’t talk about customers. They talked about meters, and what everybody
envisaged were these wires from these power stations to these meters, but they didn’t
think actually that there was anything on the other side of the meter. The person on
the other side of the meter was kind of irrelevant in their world, because they assumed that
they would never respond. My vision is that everybody’s house can become a power station,
and my vision for the future with the digitalisation is actually, you go to work in the morning,
you close your house, and it starts trading. It starts looking after your energy for it.
It tries to work out what’s the most effective way of either generating power, using power,
or making sure that your home has heat and light when you come back at the lowest cost,
and that is what we should be aiming for in the future.
How does a carbon-neutral world look, Julie? In our work at the Committee on Climate Change
in recommending to the government that we should commit to net zero by 2050, all our
scenarios are based on technologies that we have. So, I’m very keen that James is funded
to do his solar to hydrogen and all these other exciting things, but we’re not – we
don’t need to rely on those to get to net zero by 2050. Those will be an added bonus,
and of course the world doesn’t stop in 2050. We need all these new scientific developments
to enable us to get beyond there as well. So, actually, a lot of it looks like things
we already know about, but I hope that there is also some kind of lifestyle change in that,
that there is this healthier eating, that there are these new woodlands, these changes
in land use, actually these new coastal areas where sea level rise means that we see changes
having to happen on the coast, and perhaps some of the structures and buildings we have
around parts of our coast will have to go, and actually that we make the best of those,
and we make this a more beautiful island where we all get out more and enjoy these things
more, and are slightly less consumerist, in a way.
As an island nation, are we exploiting what we can here? Couldn’t we be doing a lot
more? I think we have to do a lot more in many aspects.
I actually feel – I’m an optimist. 2050, it’s 30 years’ time. 30 years ago, I went
to university. It seems like yesterday, and yet I was writing my essays by hand, and I
didn’t know what a computer was. So, when I look back, that gives me confidence that
I’ve now got this phone with more computing power than a whole room. So, that gives me
confidence in innovation, but it’s also quite scary because it seems like yesterday.
So, I have this real dichotomy in my mind on how I feel about it. I’m just going to
bring up one thing that we haven’t really talked about much, and that’s the investor
community. So, I work for a company which has shareholders, and I’ve really seen a
real difference in the behaviour of our shareholders, and in the banks and financial institutions
that lend us money as a business to do renewable energy projects, and they are actively looking
for projects now, and they are grilling us in a way that just wasn’t the case a few
years ago. It’s cheaper to borrow money now if you can demonstrate that you are reducing
carbon emissions. I think that’s really, really positive, and a lot of that has come
from individuals looking at their pension plans and saying, do you know, I’m not happy
to be funding this fossil fuel future. I want to do something different. So, that’s something
where individuals are actually really changing large institutions. So, that’s one of the
things that gives me quite a lot of positivity. One of the questions that was asked, actually,
was should we focus on reducing our carbon footprint or increasing renewable electricity
production, which – we’ve discussed all those elements, but it’s both, is it?
It is both. It has to be both, yes.
I think we need to remember, with our carbon footprint, our carbon footprint is not just
the production emissions of what we do in the UK. Our commitments to Paris are about
our production emissions, our country emissions, but our carbon footprint is the part of those
emissions that we consume ourselves, so the bits we don’t export, but also the emissions
that we import in goods that we import, for example, from China. So, we may hold China
up and say, look, it’s dreadful, all of these emissions, but actually we’re responsible
for a big chunk of those. So, when you add our consumption, our imports, our consumption
emissions up, which is those we produce here and use, and the stuff we import, actually
our emissions per head are almost double those that we normally account for when we’re
looking at getting to net zero. So, we do have to move to a world where we start being
more responsible for our overall consumption emissions, i.e. our carbon footprint, and
not just our production emissions. Juliet mentioned earlier on that we shouldn’t
be beating ourselves up. Do you agree with that, James? That’s part of the issue, that
people feel overwhelmed by it all. In general, beating ourselves up doesn’t
do most people much good. I believe we have to be positive. Of course, it’s hard, because
you see the change in the world around us and it’s scary, but I think I’m also an
optimist. I’m partly an optimist because I work with young people. Young people are
optimistic. Also scared, but they want to try and drive change, and I do believe that
we have to have some optimism that we can change. If the world is going to change, climate
change is happening and we can’t stop it, but we can mitigate it, and we can make it
not as bad as it could be, and we have to work towards doing that. Beating ourselves
up doesn’t help us move forward. I think it’s quite interesting. I think
you need a bit of a ying and a yang, so you need to keep the pressure on. This is a very
serious issue, and we have to take it very seriously, but at the same time we have to
be optimistic that we can do something about it, and you need to keep those two in balance
and moving forward all the time. I’m happy to hear you all say that you’re
optimistic, because it is – positivity is something that we’ve discussed.
I’m scared. I’m scared as well. Yeah, I was going to say, the scale of the
challenge is not to be underestimated either, is it?
No. Rebecca?
So, I’ve worked in climate change for my whole career, and I would just say the last
few years – first of all, I think we’re really realising the impact of climate change,
but we just suddenly see it going up the political agenda and the public agenda. So, the last
few years have been quite transformative, and that’s what makes me feel quite optimistic
at the moment. It’s not just us sitting in rooms, banging away on our own. Suddenly,
I feel the population’s behind us, we’re really going to do something. So, I think
the last few years have really made me feel a lot more positive about change, and about
being listened to. I don’t want to take away from the seriousness
of that challenge ahead, but I just want to end on a survey that I think Juliet noticed
earlier about the carbon – reducing our carbon footprint at Christmas, which is something
that we could all make a start on. Yes, and I think what was quite interesting
about it is I think it said that the slightly older population weren’t that worried about
it, and maybe seven per cent of the older population were doing something about it,
but something like 60 per cent of people between 18 and 24 are thinking about the carbon footprint
of Christmas. Coming back to your point, Julia, that whole idea of, what are we doing in other
countries by buying all these things? I think there’s a real opportunity also to try and
think about, every time you buy something, whether it’s a shoe, for your carbon footprint,
or anything, think about where it’s manufactured. Maybe we should all just be writing to the
manufacturers to say, are you making sure that you’ve got low-carbon energy helping
your manufacturers? I think one of the biggest areas of development at the moment is Vietnam,
and they have a choice right now of building 37 new coal power stations or going solar.
I think everybody here, if you’re buying any goods that are going to be made in Vietnam,
we should be writing to people and making sure that they build it solar, and they don’t
build it coal. Julia, will you be reducing your carbon footprint
at Christmas? Yes. We don’t have any children, so we haven’t
got that pressure, but I’m lucky enough to have a sort of a goddaughter who is an
extraordinarily frugal young lady, and she’s been a create conscience because if you buy
things for her she sort of tut-tuts a bit. She’s a great one for second-hand, and she’s
a great one for things that are homemade. So, we’re moving towards actually trying
to find the time to start to make things for our important relations and friends at Christmas.
But I’m not saying it’s all magnificently crafty. We will be buying some things. But
we’re kind of – if you actually make that time, it does show – I think it does show
an awful lot of commitment to people, that you’ve done more than just look through
a catalogue and zap off an order. Maybe it’s a useful example of just those
small acts that can make a big difference. Yes.
Do you agree, Rebecca? I mean, I’m a very keen vegetable grower,
so we’ll be having my home-grown vegetables at Christmas. We eat mainly our home-grown
veg anyway, but I do that because I love to do it, and the carbon benefit is also – is
a bonus. She makes great jam.
Well, so do you. James, do you make great jam?
I don’t make great jam, no. Sorry. But it’s a place to start, isn’t it?
Of course. One of the most obvious areas of reducing the carbon footprint of food is lower
beef consumption, because in terms of the carbon content beef is so much higher than
anything else. So, certainly we won’t be having any beef this Christmas.
Well, as it happens, I believe that is the topic for the next You and the Planet discussion
that takes place next year, but we’re going to have to leave it there because we’ve
run out of time. It’s been a fascinating discussion. So, thank you to all of you who’ve
watched online, and as I said, the conversation continues with the hashtag you and the planet.
But I’d like to thank all of the panellists here tonight. So, Baroness Julia Brown, Juliet
Davenport, Professor James Durrant, and Dr Rebecca Heaton. Thank you all very much.

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