Ed Davey’s contribution (on the next steps to decarbonize the UK) to a new collection of essays from the Social Liberal Forum is a tour de force in strategic thinking. 

One of the great strengths of Liberal thought through the ages has been an ability to find practical, scientifically and economically-sound solutions to pressing social challenges. For an excellent example of this, from someone who has held high office, look no further than Sir Ed Davey’s essay in Four Go In Search of Big Ideas, which not only provides a wide-ranging discussion of the challenges of decarbonising the UK’s economy in line with the aims of the Paris Agreement but also presents up-to-date policy suggestions to support the deployment of cutting-edge green tech.

For the power sector, Davey suggests that “any new nuclear should be suspended until it can prove substantial cost reduction”. He is also clear both for the need to improve the incentives to supply-side innovations like renewable power with storage (the practice of equipping intermittent power sources like wind and solar PV with battery storage) and to rapidly speed up the ability of “demand-response” technologies and smart grids to respond to changes in supply and to cut overall energy demand.

In a section that reminds clean energy advocates like me of how useful it would be to have Davey back in the Council of the EU, he urges much more use to be made of interconnectors between neighbouring nations, as well as fast-tracking reforms to electricity markets to ensure, for example, that network costs are fairly shared among market participants and that barriers to new entrants like community energy groups are broken down.

One of the many interesting proposals in the chapter is Davey’s suggestion for encouraging more consumers to get involved with the energy market via a competition called “Your Home, Your Power Station”. Distributed energy couldn’t be a more liberal vision but more needs to be done to bring people onboard and this could help.

Fully decarbonising heat is still a challenge to which there is not sufficient agreement and Davey acknowledges this. The core of the debate turns on whether to go for “renewable gas” or whether to push for full electrification of heat via things like electric heat pumps. Both require significant further work and Davey suggests a £1 billion Innovation Fund for zero carbon gas to be coupled with a kickstarted programme for Carbon Capture and Storage. The UK should also aim to set up two new Hydrogen Heating Projects at village scale, so we can better understand the nature (and cost) of the retrofits needed to make current gas networks suitable for Hydrogen. When we look at how successful the Lib Dem pioneered Offshore Wind Industrial Strategy has been in attracting investment and cutting costs in the sector, this sounds wise.

Finally, there is transport and industry. Both require big investment in clean infrastructure. Electric Vehicle growth in the UK will be stunted if decisions are not made soon on how to roll-out a full EV charging network across the country. If this is done well, EVs could even be used to balance power grids. Davey suggests a new Commission on Transport Fuel Infrastructure Switch (COFIS). As noted, a comprehensive carbon capture and storage programme and a huge ramp up of energy efficiency investment are also urgently needed as a part of a Green Power Industrial Strategy and, no doubt, Davey would see a much bigger role for this than the government does in its recently published Clean Growth Strategy. 

Four Go In Search of Big Ideas is available from the SLF website for £9.50 including postage and packing. Find us at www.socialliberal.net

A version of this blogpost originally appeared on LibDemVoice.org.uk

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