Yesterday morning I tuned into the BBC 5 Live breakfast phone-in show and guess what they were discussing….energy.
It was a good old fashioned chat and I obviously rang in to have my two penneth worth as the public discussed what we need to do to secure our energy future.
Kevin McCullough the new boss of UK Coal rang in and there were representatives of various groups but what amazed me was the sheer number of callers who had no energy background. The fact ordinary Joes and Josephines had bothered to get involved in a phone-in about energy showed just how much public engagement there is with this sector.
Why is that fascinating? Well when I started at the BBC twenty years ago I was unusual as I had a science background in the newsroom. Science, energy, engineering were rarely of interest in daily news discussions and although I managed to make my case for the odd story they were really about exploring space or something to do with science curing diseases. No one ever considered energy a topic worth exploring.
In fact in all those early years I think the only time we covered something energy related was when there was an oil spill. When I started the whole of the BBC had two science reporters, there was I think one industry correspondent but no one covered energy and no one cared. It was the same story at ITN and SKY and even the nationals.
Today it’s a completely different story with energy writers and broadcasters at all the major networks and national papers. So why the change? Because the public care and the reason they care is we now have to pay more for our energy than ever before and that has put energy into the conciousness of everyone who has to foot the bill. The other big change is the increased environmental awareness not just here but globally which means many of us now care where our power comes from.
These two pressures have changed the dynamic and now is the time for the energy sector not to duck things but to cash in on this public interest. If we as a society now care where our energy comes from it means the energy companies and the policy makers should feel they can make a difference, Ed Davey should be able to put energy up there with the other big hitting governement departments like health, home and defence. The power companies should be able to get themselves out there and engage with us the way retailers have done for decades.
This is actually a great time for this sector, when people want to know they can apply pressure and ask for accountability. The energy sector shouldn’t be scared of this engagement it should grab it and reveal what makes it tick.
Times are certainly changing and if I was the boss of a big power company I’d think opportunity awaits but I fear too many are still too scared to open up. That would be a mistake… the public have woken up to energy and they want answers.