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Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Meeting the Minister

I met my first Minister today. One of the fun things about becoming Director of the Cabot Institute has been the range of people I've been able to meet; some senior and some not so senior. The Minister in question was Charles Hendry MP, the Minister of State for Energy who was in Bristol today to be at the launch of the joint Bristol and Oxford Nuclear Research Centre. However, I actually met him at a meeting about the future of renewable energy being organised by Regen SW. I wasn't sure what to expect, but was half anticipating someone being tightly managed by protective civil servants. In fact he spent a lot of time talking and listening to representatives from the renewables sector, and seemed to be well on top of the brief.

The interesting part of the discussion for me was the feeling among the renewables sector that sections of the press currently paint these forms of energy as expensive compared to the alternatives. Last night's Panorama programme is a case in point. Whilst its not my personal field of research, I suspect the devil is in the detail with regard to the accounting assumptions that you make: subtle (and likely unstated) choices can probably make a big difference to whether a particular energy source seems economic or not. There's a case to be made here for rationality and a robust look at the evidence, although as an academic you'd probably expect me to say this!


  1. It's more than detail and accounting systems. It seems also to be about not getting the facts right, at least in the case of the recent KPMG report on the topic. See

    And on the Panorama programme (which was neither rational nor robust) try:

    Be that as it may, whatever premium we may or may not be paying for having wind energy on our system, the UK still has some of the lowest domestic electricity prices in the EU, yet has one of the highest levels of fuel poverty. Perhaps there is more to fuel poverty than simply electricity prices? Energy policy and building standards perhaps? Something as simple as reversing the tariff structure whereby the more you use the less it costs would be a start.

    Colin Palmer

  2. Regarding the Panorama programme's identification of expensive renewables increasing bills, the BBC now have a new article:

    Energy bills driven up by battle for gas
    11 November 2011
    "The main thing that currently drives UK bills is the changing price of gas.

    Increases in the wholesale price of natural gas will not only drive up the cost of a household's heating, it will also increase the cost of its electricity.

    That is because the price of electricity generated from gas power-stations tends to set the wholesale cost of power paid to all generators.

    The more expensive the gas bought by power companies, the more expensive the electricity they produce and the more we pay in our bills."

    full article

    Balance or consistency - choose one!