The PSI Blog

Recent adventures with DECC and ECC
Kevin Burchell

Kevin Burchell

It is always enjoyable and interesting to attend departmental workshops and meetings around Westminster and this week I have been to two. On Monday afternoon, I was at the BIS Conference Centre for an Energy Efficiency Advice stakeholder workshop run by the Smart Meter team in the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). DECC is just starting out on a research project that is designed to investigate the best ways to provide householders with energy efficiency advice at the same time as their smart meter is being installed. The workshop was attended by a range of stakeholders, including many from the energy companies (who are leading on the installations), and was designed as an evidence gathering or scoping exercise. Based on my work in Smart Communities, I have long been an advocate of the provision of energy efficiency advice in home visits, so I am really pleased that DECC is going down this route and was glad to attend.

DECC very kindly invited me to provide a bit of conceptual context. Briefly, I introduced the concept of energy know-how. This tries to capture the very practical and skills-based characteristics of the kinds of things that householders find helpful when they want to reduce their energy consumption, as well as the highly household-specific nature of that knowledge. There is more detail on energy know-how in these slides and even more detail in this paper that I presented at the ECEEE Conference in June this year.

Two things struck me about this meeting. The first was the very much changed approach of the representatives of the energy companies. When I first started attending stakeholder meetings on smart meters four or five years ago, the people from the energy companies were almost entirely focused on their own commercial interests in the smart meter rollout; maximising the potential householder benefits, in terms of energy efficiency, were not easy to get on the table. This time, although – clearly – commercial organisations always do these things for commercial reasons, there was a much more householder-focused approach on the part of the energy company representatives; clear evidence, it seemed to me, that the energy companies are doing a lot to reinvent themselves as energy services companies. The second thing was the emerging appreciation among the stakeholders that the installation of the smart meter is just the start of an energy efficiency relationship that the companies will need to maintain with householders for the long-term in order to achieve significant engagement with smart meters and reductions in energy consumption.

On Tuesday morning, I was down at Portcullis House for a stakeholder workshop run by the Energy and Climate Change parliamentary select committee. Following a public consultation earlier in the summer, the purpose of this workshop was to scope the ‘ECC priorities for holding government to account’. Although details of the discussions will no doubt be published in due course, this meeting was covered by Chatham House rules, so I cannot say much about it. However, this is the 300-word submission that Policy Studies Institute made to the consultation back in August.

Policy Studies Institute (PSI) at University of Westminster specialises in policy-facing research on a range of sustainability issues. In addition to broad-based knowledge of the energy policy terrain, PSI has specific expertise relating to: community energy; energy efficiency; smart meters; retrofit; smart grids; transport futures; domestic renewables; and energy transitions.

In our view, urgent and immediate scrutiny is required of the overall direction of DECC policy. A period of relatively progressive and innovative policy in DECC appears to have been reversed in just a few months. In particular, we draw attention to various changes that threaten further investment in: renewable energy (subsidies cancelled), mass retrofit programmes (Green Deal cancelled) and energy-efficient new builds (cancellation of Zero Carbon Homes), energy efficiency measures by householders and community energy (and other distributed production models) (ongoing challenges). All of these policies offer carbon reduction, energy security, job creation, widespread economic development and action on fuel poverty, but are being dismantled by DECC.

We also suggest that scrutiny is required of the two very contrasting policy trajectories that protect subsidies for shale gas and nuclear. Shale gas brings environmental damage and risk, supports carbon production and is the subject of public ambivalence. Yet, DECC policy promotes shale gas aggressively, now even threatening to take decisions centrally. Nuclear carries long term risk and the public remains ambivalent. Both shale and nuclear concentrate investment in small numbers of international companies, and centralise production.

In particular, scrutiny of these policies needs to examine, in the context of DECC’s objectives: what is the evidential basis for these policy preferences?

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