“Not being heard is no reason to be silent”, quoted 19th Century French poet and novelist Victor Hugo in Les Miserables, the story of a struggle to reverse power of the French establishment culminating in the Paris rebellion.
Recent waves of opposition to the establishment boosted by social media are increasingly challenging the status quo. Whether driven by dissatisfaction over Europe (Brexit), political party direction (momentum) or national self-confidence (Trump), there is a collective feeling of disconnection between people and those who rule.
Though there are no revolutionary stirrings in the UK energy industry, the feeling of disconnection is palpable. On paper the Establishment (government) and the people (energy users) have had the collective goal from the Climate Change Act passed in 2008 to reduce emissions by 80% in 2050 alongside legally binding carbon budgets up to 2027.
This is important to both parties, who look to mitigate climate change, stabilise energy cost competitiveness and boost energy security. Yet despite this common direction, the market disconnect has created a wealth of poorly formulated policies that have been damaged by political short termism. The sudden Feed-in Tariff fall created a solar investment collapse, rather than market reshaping and ESOS reporting that lacked incentives to drive capital investments are just two examples.
I see this first hand; the Establishment dismissal of industry-led legislation or market stimulus ideas with no real thought. Polite civil servants and lobbyists thoroughly engage in meetings and yet are completely detached from the real economy, unable or unwilling to communicate upwards and influence government decision makers.
The common barrier to creativity in legislation seems to be, “This is how things are done” rather than “The idea lacks merit”. If we’re to achieve the collective goals, then we need a proper partnership between government and energy users.
Actions towards collective engagement
As mentioned, the common ground between government and users is to have an effective energy market that creates actions; such as investing in demand side technology. At the moment, government seeks to intervene only when they perceive a market failure, whereas users want interventions to stimulate the market and build momentum (with a small ‘m’). As far as I can see, the way to ‘reconnect’ is for the Establishment to change its modus operandi and us energy users, to be much more vociferous.
In summary, two actions need to be taken:
- BEIS: Communicate the market failures. It’s been four years since the then Energy Efficiency Deployment Office outlined in their view of the market failures. The market can only respond if they know what the government is thinking. BEIS must communicate the challenges they foresee in the UK energy strategy so users can respond.
- Energy Users: Communicate market ideas. As the saying goes ‘Don’t let the opinions of others drown out your inner voice’. However you interact with peers and industry colleagues, share and create your ideas for change. Many EnergyClub members share ideas locally with peers, which when defined provides direction for the EnergyClub nationally. The message is that the market (us) must be part of creating the solution and influencing the change, rather than grumpily reacting to establishment imposed ideas.
The outcome from these two actions will be dialogue between parties. From that, change can happen. In conclusion I am left with two questions: “Can collective action really happen?” or “Will we need a market failure before we start to co-operate?”
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Haydn Young is the Director of energy consulting and training company GAIA Active Ltd and Head of the UK Energy Club Network.
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