Stories of Change: The past, present and future of energy

Ryan Bramley Story 10 items 26 Jul 2017

Behind the Story: The Cloud Photo Booth

Cover picture caption

Photo Credit: Renata Tyszczuk

Over the course of the project, the Stories of Change team have adopted a wide variety of methods to capture the voices of people across the UK and beyond.

In this segment of 'Behind the Story', I take a look back Tim Mitchell's Cloud Photo Booth, a sub-project which captioned the energetic thoughts and questions of college students from Sheffield, an ex-coalmining community in the South Wales Valleys, people on the streets of East London, and even a dog!

Photographer Tim Mitchell toured his Cloud Booth project across the UK, reaching out to a wide range of people with little more than a camera, a drywipe pen and a cloud-whiteboard-on-a-rope. In Ilford and Peckham, two districts of London (East and South-East respectively), the 'Energy Generation' string of the Stories of Change project brought a questioning of our energy wastefulness to light.

Unlike the 'vox pop' media tradition, the Cloud Photo Booth allowed people to comfortably craft their own ideas *onto the cloud* in their own time, without being pressed on the spot by a boom microphone and a heavy camera. As a result, the responses were often clear, concise and honest (although 'Sally' the dog needed a little help with the writing!)

The pupils of UTC Sheffield weren't the only young people who engaged with the Stories of Change project via the Cloud Booth. At the Westmill Wind and Solar Farm Open Day (WeSET) at Swindon in June 2017, a group of teenagers had mixed responses for 'Jules' - Energy personified. One had an ultimatum: "Go clean or go home"...

Photobooth: Jules, we need to talk...

from the Stories of Change photobooth at Westmill Sustainable Energy Trust (WeSET), 2017

...whilst others had kinder words to say, thanking Jules for bringing them here...

Photobooth: Jules brought me here

from the Stories of Change photobooth at Westmill Sustainable Energy Trust (WeSET), 2017

...and for bringing people together.

Photobooth: Jules, it's so wonderful...

from the Stories of Change photobooth at Westmill Wind and Solar Farm Open Day, June 2017

Rather than handing out an ultimatum to 'Jules', one of the older visitors to WeSET looked more to ourselves, and what we could do more for Jules - rather than what Jules could do more for us.

Moving further west...and in the South Wales Valleys, the questions were different once again. In the former coal-mining village of Treherbert, one resident asked whether the local community could take greater ownership of their energy production...

...whilst another asked whether wind was fit for the community's energy needs in the first place.

All in all, Tim Mitchell's Cloud Photo Booth demonstrates an ethical way of capturing a host of diverse voices, in a format that allows different points of view around energy and climate change to be compared and contrasted. It can tell a story in its own right, such as this Cloud Booth image from the Uffington, Baulking and Woolstone Women's Institute in Oxfordshire...

Photobooth: Jules brings us cake and tea…

from the Stories of Change photobooth at Westmill Wind and Solar Farm Open Day, June 2017

...but it can also add an extra dimension to existing methods, such as the interview. In this case, the interview recording with Richard Black, a former Environment Correspondent for the BBC, is accompanied by a 'cloud' that provides a relevant provocation: "Why was the move away from fossil fuels so slow when so many people were in favour of it?"

Interview with Richard Black

An Energy Generation interview with Richard Black. Richard is a former BBC Environment Correspondent, who reported on a wide range of environmental issues, including five UNFCCC meetings and Rio+20. More recently, he established the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), of which he is the Director. The ECIU is a “a non-profit organisation that supports informed debate on energy and climate change issues in the UK”. Interview Transcript Date recorded: 01/05/15 Location: The National Grid Room, Prince Philip House, London Interviewer(s): I1:= Junior, I2:= Ebenezer Participant(s): P: = Richard Black [time e.g. 5:22] = inaudible word at this time [IA 5:22] = inaudible section at this time [word] = best guess at word … = interruption in sentence, trailing off or short pause I1: Could you explain to us what you did in your job? P: Sure. Well, my background's as a journalist. I was a BBC environment correspondent, before that science correspondent for about 10, 15 years altogether. My background was in radio. Currently I run an organisation called the Energy And Climate Intelligence Unit, it's a very pompous title, a very small not-for-profit unit. And the idea's basically to try and improve the quality of the national conversation on energy and climate issues so we actually have evidence based discussions on the issues that we need to discuss. I2: How did you start being interested in the whole energy issues? P: I guess it goes two different angles, really. One is I did a science degree and so I've always been interested in the technology of how you produce energy and so on. And then the other thing is working as, first of all, a science and then environment journalist I became much more aware of climate change and even further down the line of air pollution and really the reasons why it's necessary that we have a change in our energy systems. I1: OK. So, when my mum was growing up, 40 years ago in Brazil, they couldn't really take energy for granted but it seems that young people nowadays they do. How would you address it? P: It's a really interesting question actually. I think one is to broaden awareness of how other people in the world live because there are still some countries in the world where you can't take energy for granted. Another thing would be to find ways of visualizing the energy that we use. And I think in this country smart-metering is a way that people can start to do that. There was another very interesting little demonstration that I was looking at yesterday, actually, where you use thermal cameras to show energy waste. It was a very dramatic picture and you can immediately see, 'OK, well, in that case I should do something. I can do this, that and the other.' I1: Would you see that on the TV or how do you ... P: It certainly would work on the TV, there's no doubt about it but maybe we're not too far away from the day when you could have a little app. If you've got a smart phone with a camera, if there's something that's cheap that you could use, I'm not sure whether it's possible but if you could adapt the camera so it could give you infrared detection, you might be able to use that. I1: You spoke quickly about teaching young people how it is in other countries where they can't take energy for granted. How would you address the education side of it, about energy? P: Well, I suppose the natural place to look at it would be in school. And it's a very, very long time since I was at school but in Geography, for example, it seems you'd have scope to do that. I know some schools set time aside for enrichment activities, you know, things that are off the curriculum. Again, I think there's a Global Perspectives GCSE or something like this which seems to me absolutely ideal to do that kind of thing. And perhaps there are other ways to do it as well. Perhaps where you've got towns that have twinning arrangements with towns or villages in other parts of the world, swap experiences like that. Media would be another good way of doing it. Social media, it's never been easier to swap experiences and so on. I2: What do you think could be done to make people more aware of the energy use within their communities? P: Well, I think visualizing it is a good thing. I mean the first thing to do is measure it because there isn't an easy measurement of the energy that they use in all its various forms. So the first thing to do is just have ways of measuring it very easily. Obliviously with electricity it kind of is quite easy. And then visualize it and then look at simple ways that you can reduce your consumption without your lifestyle suffering. I2: That whole aspect of visualising it seems very good. It's almost similar to how our ancestors, for example like my grandparents used to use more physical energy to get energy; stuff like getting wood and putting it in the fire to get heat. Do you think our situation at the moment could return back to those type of lifestyles? P: I think that's rather difficult because people are always going to do what gives them the most comfort and what's cheapest, I suppose. At the moment, having electricity coming in through a wire and having gas coming in through a pipe and so on, it's just the easiest and most convenient. So I don't think would ever really en masse back to that day if they could avoid it. I2: It's kind of made us lazier, would you say? P: You could view it as lazier but I think it's also just a part of progress. My grandmother, for example, used to do all the washing by hand, wringing out with a mangle and so on and doing the washing was the day's work. So if you don't have to spend a day doing that stuff, you can spend a day doing things that are more interesting and productive. And I think it's the same with energy. I2: In your view, what is the relationship between energy and the economy? P: And the economy? I2: Yeah. P: Well, I think it's absolutely crucial. Cheap energy has underpinned a lot of economic progress. It's to do with the Industrial Revolution, going way back in Britain and in other countries, really depended on coal and so on. So I think you've now got to a point where that equation's beginning to turn round, certainly in some countries, because both climate change and air pollution have a negative effect on economic growth in many countries. So if you want to view it strictly from an economic point of view, which some people do, then I think that you're now getting to the stage where those cheap fossil fuels are seeming less and less like a good idea because of the damage that they do. And I think we've got to a stage where enough smart people have enough smart ideas, things are being deployed, things like solar panels and so on are being deployed now and their becoming kind of cost competitive with fossil fuels. So you can see a situation in which we'll actually have the best of both worlds: we'll have cheap reliable energy but we won't have any of the sort of climate damaging or air pollution consequences. That's the vision anyway. I1: That's really interesting. So, international corporations such as Apple and Starbucks, have used energy to build and sustain their businesses. How do you see them surviving without it? P: Well they won't be without it. They’ll just get it from a different source. Already in Germany, for example, you've got almost a quarter of their electricity is derived from renewables. And if you're a business, whether you're Starbucks or Apple, or whether you're making cars or whatever it is, the electrons that come down the wire into your factory are exactly the same electrons, they do exactly the same job, they just come from a different source. I1: And how can we ensure the equality and fairness of the countries that we trade with them better? P: That's a very important question but it goes much wider than energy, really. It goes to the heart of the global system and the relationships between different countries. In some ways I think if you move away from fossil fuels you start intrinsically to make things a little bit more equal because the power of giant companies which in some cases is more powerful than governments, that power starts to dwindle because overwhelmingly you're talking about decentralised energy, community energy, small companies. However, that's one thing, but another thing is fossil fuel exploration in some developing countries has been very damaging and very unequal. Nigeria is the obvious example where you've got vast quantities of oil and gas coming from Nigeria and making some people in Nigeria very wealthy, making some corporations outside Nigeria very wealthy but actually doing nothing, even damaging lives, for some of the people that in the oil exploration area. So, obviously, as you move away from oil, that kind of issue goes away. I2: Right. Thank you for that. Concentrating more on energy sources, what's the future for fracking? P: Well, fracking is clearly a reality in the US and my suspicion is that'll probably continue for a little while. I think the future of fracking, it depends more on economics than anything else. And I think you're getting to a stage where the price on the world markets for oil and gas has come down way more than anyone expected. And it's really an open question now as to whether it keeps going down. So we're currently at about 80, no, 60 odd dollars a barrel. And I've seen some forecasts that it might go down as low as 30 dollars a barrel and other forecasts are saying that it'll go up again. Frankly, I don't think anyone really has a clue. But obviously, the lower the oil price, the less economic it is to go and get oil and gas, because the gas price is tied to the oil price, the less economical it is to go and do these things. So what you'll see is if the price does stay low or continue to fall, the less profitable operations will start to close. So, in Britain, you're already seeing the North Sea which is quite an expensive environment, people are talking about, 'Will that industry really survive? Is it just too expensive? Business is making a loss.' And then as you get down to the next stage, fracking's probably sort of on the middle tier and then the cheapest ones, for example, are Saudi, Kuwait and all these giant oil and gas fields out there. So it probably depends more on economics than anything else but in individual countries it also depends on what the geology is like and that's different everywhere. And then it depends on public opinion as well because you can't have an industry that public opinion doesn't tolerate, it just won't work. And I think in the UK context, that's a really interesting question: will the public actually tolerate fracking? And I just don't know, I don't think we know the answer to that at the moment. I2: The argument says damaging to the land and stuff. P: Yes. I think like all industrial processes it can be done well or it can be done badly. If you do it badly you clearly can end up with damage to water resources, pollution and so on into water resources, and you can also end up with some of the gas escaping into the atmosphere, what's called fugitive emissions. And of course methane is a greenhouse case so you're contributing a lot more to the greenhouse effect. On the other hand, there clearly are some operations that are done very well, there isn't fugitive methane release and there don't seem to be many problems with waste water. So, I guess you'd need to look at: what are the regulations like on the companies. Are they well inspected enough? Do they face real penalties if they screw it up? And again in the UK context, we're not really there yet because we don't have a shale gas industry. I2: I just want to go back to the topic on oil and Nigeria. I kind of find that interesting. What do you think the future is for countries like Nigeria? P: I think it ties in most closely to the institutional development of countries. So if you have a country that develops where you have widespread education, you have people becoming more prosperous, better educated, demanding better things, you have absolute rule of law, it's secure, good governance is secure, then I think you could potentially move to the situation where some of that oil wealth does benefit more of the people. But on the other hand, is that going to happen? There are clearly some countries where it has and some countries where it hasn't. I1: So, in your opinion, do you think that wind power really is the solution for the future? P: There isn't one solution, that's for sure. It is part of the solution. The best way of looking at this whole thing was developed by a US chap called Robert Socolow and he produced this thing which has been become known as Socolow's wedges. And it's a very simple concept, he takes the trajectory of global emissions as things stand and he then takes the trajectory of global emissions that you need to have if you're going to stay within two Celsius, or whatever you set your target to be. And he says, 'OK, we've got this gap. So we can do so much with energy efficiency, we do so much with renewables, so much with nuclear, so much with carbon capture and storage, so much with smarter cities, blah, blah, blah, blah.' And you sort of fill the gap between the trajectory we have and the trajectory we need with these different wedges that take you to different places. So, clearly in some countries wind power is already making quite a big contribution. Denmark has this target of basically being 100% renewable by 2050 and wind power will be the biggest single contributor in the Danish case. It may turn out to be the biggest single contributor in the UK case. But I think there are other countries where, a) you simply don't have enough wind to make it work, or there are better options. I2: Where are we on nuclear energy in the UK? P: In a mess, in a word. And that's for a few reasons. First of all, governments have all kicked into the long grass this question of what we do with the legacy nuclear waste, our legacy high-level nuclear waste. It's all sitting in Sellafield and other sites round the country and for 20-30 years governments have failed to find a solution to it. And there is a view that you shouldn't really start on a new generation of nuclear power stations until you've got a solution to that because otherwise you're just adding to the pile that you leave for future generations. The economics are really difficult and currently we have this situation where Hinkley is amazingly expensive, sort of 16 billion odd for one power station. And my personal suspicion is that it won't be built because the economics will look too horrible to the incoming government. The industry has really stagnated in the West. All industries you need to learn by doing, the more you do of something the more you learn, the cheaper you get, the better at it. And because nuclear reactor building has really stalled in the West, no one's learning by doing. So now you have these few, very big, very complex, way too complex actually, designs for reactors that clearly have big engineering issues. Other technologies are just looking cheaper and easier. With solar panels for example, you can go from the idea to building the thing and having it connected to the grid within a year. So you can keep doing it, keep adding and keep getting better at what you're doing. There's no real negative impact. Some people don't like the view but apart from that there really isn't any negative impact. As well you can do farming around it, you can have nature growing around it, protect your birds, your bees, you know, your wildlife. So compare that with a nuclear case. Personally I'm not sure we'll ever build another nuclear reactor in this country. And I'm not by conviction anti-nuclear, I'm kind of agnostic and I see some of the problems but some of the advantages. But it's just when you look at it against what else is actually happening in the real world, it just increasingly doesn't look like a particularly good bet. I2: So, would you say there's a future for nuclear power? P: There definitely is globally. Definitely a future for nuclear power. I2: Some people say it's a last-minute resort. It should be a last-minute resort. P: It should be a last resort sort of thing? I think different countries take different attitudes to it. China and India are the two countries that have the biggest long-term vision and they both have research and development plans that go out to 2050. For slightly different reasons but they're both pushing ahead with it. Russia is building reactors, it's exporting reactors. The US is ... not really sure where that's going. So I think there will be nuclear reactors in operation for decades somewhere in the world, I'm just not sure they'll be in Britain. I1: You touched a little bit about the negative side of nuclear power and stuff but you also mentioned that there are positives. Could you state a few? P: Well, a nuclear power station does produce very low carbon electricity and that's the main positive. And if you look at France, for example, France's per capita carbon emissions are lower than the UK's, for example, and that's largely because virtually all their electricity comes from nuclear plus a bit of hydro. So, to that extent it's quite a positive thing but it's cheap now because the reactors have already been built and they've already been operating for a long time, your running costs are low. But the problem with nuclear is you've got big capital costs when you build it and that's difficult to finance. And you've got big costs at the end of the life of the power station and you can keep incurring those decommissioning costs for 20-30 years. So the problem is: how do you get … obviously, a lot of those early power stations, well some of them, were built to produce plutonium for bombs more than to produce nuclear power, and some of them there were kind of geopolitical reasons, for example, why some western countries and why Japan, for example, went down the nuclear route. And the cost wasn't necessarily a massive issue because it would be borne by one government or the other and sort of tucked away. But in the modern world, certainly in countries like Britain that want to do it in the private sector, you've got this difficult financing model where you've got let's say ten years to build the thing, the price is big and, frankly, varies quite a lot during construction. Then you've got a long period of operation where it doesn't cost you very much. And then you've got this big decommissioning cost. So the total span can be a century so how do you set up the financing mechanism that deals with that, a regulatory mechanism that deals with that? How do you ensure that you're going to have consistency of policy for 100 years? These are really difficult questions and no one's, frankly, solved them. I1: That's really interesting. Talking about costs, can renewable energy be cost effective? How cost effective can it be? P: Yes. It can be cost effective. If you go to Iceland, for example, Iceland has some of the cheapest electricity on the planet. That's virtually all from renewables, geothermal and hydro power. If you're a country that's lucky enough to have abundant of those two, you're in heaven, basically. I2: For a moment I thought you meant Iceland the supermarket. P: OK [chuckles] No, I rarely go there. But those are very cheap renewables and you can turn them on and off. Other countries that don't have those resources, obviously you're talking much more about wind and solar and biomass. And those are all … the costs are coming down so already solar is cost competitive in large chunks of the world and you've got serious banks and so on that are talking about, 'It will be cost competitive in most of the world within sort of five to ten years.' So those things have to be taken very seriously. The cost of wind is coming down a little bit more slowly but it is coming down. For the UK it could well be the cheapest form of producing electricity in five years’ time, cheaper than coal and gas and so on. So it depends where you are, what resources you've got but, yes, absolutely it can be. I1: Going on to talk a bit about the politics with energy. I2: Yeah. Oil is running out due to the speed we're using it at and some people are of the opinion that we should carry on using it until oil runs out. Where do you stand on this? P: Oil will never completely run out. What'll happen is it will get progressively more and more expensive to take out the last bits. You'll use all the cheap stuff and then … Yeah. So, really, it's a question of: do you have cheaper viable alternatives at some stage? Most oil is used for transport so, really, the question to ask is: what are the options for transport, really? And I think they fall into two categories. One is simply to think of replacing oil for the type of transport that we use now, so cars, lorries, trains, blah, blah, blah. And you can do that. Electric cars: developing fast. Hydrogen cars: developing fast. In a few instances biofuels could be another solution. But the other way to think about it is also changing some of the things about the way we live so we actually use transport differently. Some of these can be things like remote working so you don't need to commute. If you produce food and resources more locally obviously there's less and less need to transport stuff long distances. The really dig opportunity here is in the developing world in the cities that are going to grow really fast over the next kind of 15 to 20 years. Do you have the organic growth without transport planning, without thinking about the relationship between people, where they live and where they work? In which case we're going to remain dependant on the same types of transport that we've had. Or do you try and have a much more holistic, planned development so that you actually make some of that transport unnecessary? And that could save you an awful lot of future transport emissions, future transport use. I1: The current process that we're getting the oil creates inequality and poverty around the world. How might sustainable energy affect this? P: I'm not sure anyone has an absolutely good definition of what sustainable energy is. I would think in ballpark terms it's got to be sustainably producible, it can't be something that's going to run out, there should be an element of equity and fairness in the way it's done and it should be environmentally sound. There are questions, obviously, as to whether oil can ever be environmentally totally sound because you do get pollution and, more importantly, you get climate change. So, sustainable energy for all, which is a big UN push at the moment – Ban Ki-moon very much leading this initiative – you've got to have things that are far more about local production and local use which probably takes you towards renewables more than anything else. There are issues of ownership and control, who actually owns the stuff. Community would seem to be a good way to do things. And if you're going down that route then it's probably going to be more environmentally benign that what we have at the moment. I1: But how do you think the poverty and the inequality that we have currently in the systems that are in place, how do you think this might change if we're moving down to renewable or different forms of energy? P: I think if people have access to more reliable forms of energy then actually people's life prospects increase. The very, very obvious example to this, which is still pertinent in many developing countries, is if you have electric light during the evenings people can study more so you have a better education. Also energy helps you move things. It helps you move water so you don't have to go and collect it and so on and so forth. So the provision of cheap energy in the West obviously led to the industrial revolution and a huge enhancement in living standards that followed from that. And I think it's equally possible to conceive in rural Africa, rural Asia, wherever, that an analogous process will happen. I mean it won't be huge cotton mills but it will be increased opportunities, less time, less human energy spent on doing things, making tasks quicker, giving people more options, improving education, improving health so that people's life prospects probably will be enhanced, I think. I1: Thank you. I2: Expanding on what you were saying about how we can reduce fuel poverty in the UK. Stuff like reducing the transport costs and stuff like that. So having local supermarkets and stuff like that. Are you able to expand more on how we can reduce fuel costs, [26:01 IA] P: The most sensible thing to do would be first of all to insulate people's houses properly so that … what you find is that some of the oldest houses where the poorest people live are also very wasteful of energy because they tend not to be insulated. So, a) you're wasting energy and b) those people are spending much more for their energy when they can least afford it. So the question is, really: how do you have a government policy that makes that happen? And we haven't really had one of those for a number of years, really. The current coalition government tried to do it through the market and the big energy companies, the Big Six, and so called Green Deal. It hasn't really worked. The next government will rethink it. And the point is that all the experts including the government's own advisor's, Committee on Climate Change and everyone, they all make this point: if you tackle energy use in the home you increase people's living standards of some of the poorest people, you get away from this 'heat or eat' dilemma which some of the poorest people have and you save energy and save carbon emissions. So the simplest answer to your question is: get the government policy right. I2: Thank you very much. You actually touch on my next question. I was going to ask about housing insulations. Coming to the next question, why didn't more building projects deliver even better energy solutions? P: Again it comes back to policy and regulations. I can remember back in … about 30 years ago I had a girlfriend who lived in Sweden. At that stage Sweden had just brought in a law that made triple glazing on buildings mandatory; on new buildings you had to have triple glazing 30 years ago. We still don't have that law. We don't even laws on … you know. So first thing, get the regulations as smart as you can, talk to the industry but don't let them make the rules. You talk to them but you don't let them make the rules. And then make sure you have building inspectors and so on that are actually going in and enforcing that these things are happening. It's really not rocket science this stuff. I2: So what should be done to encourage more renewable energy in new buildings, domestic and commercial? P: For new buildings? Well, I think the first thing to do is to mandate it. If you're building a house, a new house or a new housing development, there's no real reason why you can't have the highest insulation standards, which obviously reduces the amount of energy you need. And then you can mandate, for example, solar, ground source heat pumps, whatever it may be. You could actually mandate that new housing developments have to be zero energy, that's doable. In theory we have a zero carbon homes obligation in the UK but in practice it's not really working that well. The current government has exempted some houses from it. There are things you can do with industries as well. So, for example, if you have a new factory going up with a rooftop, either mandate or make it really easy for that company to put solar panels on the roof. The costs are so much less if you do it at the time of building and you might change the building style slightly to take account of this. I2: So is it more a case of speaking to architects and landlords? P: Yeah. I2: And encouraging them to do so? P: Yeah, I think that's right. Speak to architects, speak to landlords, speak to the trade associations that actually deal with solar energy and heat pumps and so on, but in the end making good regulations and enforcing. I1: That leads nicely into … my next question is: if you were in power, what would be your energy strategy? P: [chuckles] How long do I get to be in power? 50 years? I1: [chuckles] As long as you like. P: So, the first thing is you have to have a long-term aim and then you have to make sure your short-term policies are consistent with your long-term aim. So if you look at what Germany's doing with its Energiewende, its energy transformation, it is a 50 year operation and so each government term you do a certain, you go a bit further, you encounter new problems, you change your local policies and so on, but you're still consistent with the long-term goal. And you have to do long-term planning as well. Not everything can be done within a lifetime of a parliament. So the first thing I would do would be to get energy efficiency right. It's the cheapest thing to do, it brings lots of benefits such as increased energy security because you don't need to import so much, it takes people out of fuel poverty. So I'd really get that right, have a really big push on that. Second thing I would do would be to encourage the growth of renewables by really getting the subsidy support mechanism right. Problems with the national grid have to be, really, sorted out very quickly. In some parts of the country you can't add anymore renewables onto the national grid because it can't take them, it's full. So that's got to be sorted out pretty quickly. I think you would look to phase out coal-fired power stations as quickly as possible because all the ones we have are getting old, unreliable. Coal is a very damaging fuel in terms of its pollution and once you send a signal that those are going to come off the system then I think that adds the incentives for people to do low carbon generation. Renewable heat is another one. The Committee on Climate Change, again, said that that policy is languishing hugely. So there's a raft of things that you can do. But encouraging interconnectors with other countries would be another one so you have flexible use of electricity. Again, none of it's rocket science, all the answers are out there. It's just a question of talking to the right people, having a long-term vision and then putting in place short-term measures that lead you to that long-term goal. I1: So it's like being united as a country, as a whole, for the one goal. P: It's about being united but also looking outside the country and interconnecting with them and using good ideas from elsewhere. It's like if you were doing a journey from London to the north of Scotland, you might take in different bits along the way and you might not go in a straight line but every move you make would be to get you to your long-term goal. And that's really what policy ought to be like but unfortunately we've got too many bits of policy that either put a roadblock or send you back in the wrong direction. So you've just got to have that long-term goal in mind, make sure you're going there. I1: That's an interesting analogy. In your opinion, how can industry and government collaborate to rethink energy? I know you touched a little bit on it but if you could go into a bit more depth. P: Well, the first thing to say is that the government has to be the boss and it isn't always the boss in that relationship. Too often, and not just this government but other governments you've seen that they've done basically what the big utilities want and what the oil and gas – and in the past coal – companies want. So the government has to be the boss. Within that, industry does best when it's given space to innovate. So, again, if you look at the way Germany has dealt with its solar industry, it's provided the right incentives, a) for companies to make components of the solar supply chain and to install them and so on and so forth with an industrial strategy that encourages as much of that process to be done in Germany. So you have a coherent set of policies that help industry to do what it wants to do anyway which is to make money. It's a question of letting them make money but make money doing the right things rather than the wrong things. I1: Just now, thinking about the future and your term in power, what sort of legacy would you like to leave future generations about energy? P: I would like to leave a coherent policy framework that enables my successors to finish the job. You can't do it all within the term of a single parliament but you can get the building blocks right. And so, by the end of the parliament you'd want to see the right sort of rules and institutions and measures in place. You'd want to see investors being encouraged to invest in long term projects, confident that things are not going to be undermined in the next parliament by sudden changes in the planning regime or something like this. I think you'd want to see greater public engagement both in terms of the local renewable schemes, and industry hasn't always got this right, but also in terms of awareness of climate change and the reasons why we're actually having this transformation. Community energy growing, I think that's definitely a plus. It helps to engage people and gives them a lot of feeling over what they're doing. A national grid that's being transformed to provide the kind of grid that we need, because otherwise we can't do this. Policies that bring people out of fuel poverty, reduce the overall energy demand. Yeah, that would be quite a healthy legacy. If you could do all that I'd be very happy. I1: Now that was the hypothetical bit. But in terms of now or the future, what type of legacy would you like to leave for future generations? P: Me personally? In terms of the job that I'm doing at the moment, you mean? I1: Yeah. P: Well, I would like to see … my expertise is in journalism and communication so I would like to see a media output here, a media offer that is more based in evidence, that doesn't produce bonkers articles that go against the scientific truth or the economic realities, that discusses questions openly, that engages people, that enthuses people, informs people about climate change. And in parallel with that I think you'd want to see ministers and politicians and other people in power being held to account more by the press when they say things that are completely bonkers, because that kind of thing has gone a bit AWOL at the moment. I1: What do you think is the future of energy for London? P: For London? Very interesting question. There are some people who would say that London could produce all of it's own energy. I think that's probably a bit of a tall order because there are so many people in London and there's so little land area. I think London's always going to need to draw in energy from outside and that's fine. We take food in from outside, why not energy? It's fine. But I think there are some things that you can do in London and the first thing again is the fairly boring but reliable one of just making sure you reduce demand as much as you can through insulation, which also improves the quality of people's lives. It'd be great to see all new buildings being really zero carbon, zero energy. Zero net energy, let's put it that way. Renewables being used in the city where you can. You can't everywhere, but there's an awful lot of roofs that could potentially take solar panels, for example. Transport's a really interesting one because there's no doubt that air pollution is becoming a more important issue for Londoners, people are talking about it more and more, I think. Now, if you can imagine a London that didn't have petrol and diesel cars, whether they be electric or whether we're using more bicycles or whatever it might be, you'd transform the city. The city would sound really different, it would smell really different. Sitting outside would become a much more pleasant thing to do. Kids would be healthier. So that's a really interesting vision and potentially you could do that. You could do that certainly by 2040, 2050 if electric cars carry on developing at the rate at which they are, prices coming down which they are, charging points potentially all over the city, perhaps using solar energy, some of which is generated in London to then juice up those cars. That would be an amazing transformation for the city, I think. I2: How far away do you think London is from being entirely powered by renewable energy? P: I think London can only be powered by renewable energy, I think, if the country is powered by renewable energy. Because I don't think London realistically could do it itself. I2: For example you said if we were to change all the transport system to hybrid cars by 2040 the whole atmosphere will be different, people will be [39:23 happier] or [39:23 somewhat] different. P: I think you could do it by 2040 or 2050 if electric cars carry on developing at the rate that they are but I don't think all the electricity you'd need for them could be produced in London. I think you'd probably still have to draw stuff. If you look at solar, for example, it's lovely to have solar panels on house tops, fine, but the really big output comes from solar farms, from big industrial roofs. If you've got a bigger space you produce more energy. So some of that stuff is always going to need to flow into London, I suspect. I2: Apparently there's a lot of turbines producing energy for London in the Thames Estuary. P: The Thames Estuary? Oh, sure. That's true. I2: And that produces energy for London. P: But again, it's a bit outside London. It's offshore so almost by definition it's outside London. I2: So what about the rest of Europe? How far do you think the rest of Europe is from being entirely powered by renewable energy? P: A long way. A long way. Some countries are going fast. Denmark will be there by 2050. Interestingly, Scotland, if you count Scotland as a separate country, it depends on your political view, but if you do then they could be there way before Denmark and Germany. Germany aims to be 80% by 2050. Spain, Portugal, doing great things as well. France I think will increase renewables but decrease its share of nuclear, so probably on balance the same. The big outstanding issue is in the form of Soviet bloc countries: Poland, Romania, Hungary, Czech Republic, blah, blah, blah, where there isn't the same awareness of climate change as a big issue. In some of those countries the mining unions, the coal unions, are still very, very strong, blocking progress. The government doesn't really seem to want to increase energy efficiency and so on and so forth. So how that plays out, what I suspect will happen, just my guess, is that countries that are going ahead such as Denmark and Germany will start to have energy that's much cheaper than that in the Eastern European countries. And when that happens, that I think will then drive a transformation through those Eastern European countries. So my guess would be that by about 2050, let's say, my guess would be that Europe will be 80-90% renewable with a bit of fossil fuels and a bit of nuclear. But that's my guess. I2: What about the rest of the world? P: Yeah. Other developed countries, I think, could be at a similar stage. We're seeing in the US, for example, California and some of the other go-ahead states making incredible, incredible developments in solar. For example electric cars. Japan, I think, for slightly different reasons will go down a similar path. But, obviously, developing countries are going to depend on fossil fuels for longer than the developed world. That's only right, just. If you look at he case of China and India, the two biggest countries in the world, both of them are at a stage now where they're starting to constrain their use of coal, for example. So one could imagine in 15 years' time maybe they'll be seeking to constrain the use of oil and gas as well. That's partly for air pollution reasons, partly for climate change reasons, partly because renewables and so on are becoming cheaper so why … it's not the same incentive. There's a lot of development happening in those countries as well. So if you look at, now, the top manufacturers of solar panels, they're in Asia, some of the top manufacturers of wind turbines are in Asia because the industry's got mature. And once you've the main manufacturers there it becomes much easier for those countries also to adopt an industrial strategy to start using these forms of energy. The other aspect of this is that in large swathes of rural Africa, rural India, Bangladesh and so on, there is no electricity grid and even where it exists it's not reliable. So now that you've got things like solar that are so much cheaper, you're starting to think in terms of: 'Well, we don't really need a grid.' You just put a solar panel and a battery pack into a village, maybe connect up three villages, whatever it is. You've got a better system than you would have if you tried to do a national grid with fossil fuel powered power stations. So that's a very different development paradigm. So my suspicion is that in India, in some of the more go-ahead African countries you'll probably see a mixed bag where your cities are powered by traditional power stations for some time to come with bits of solar and wind and blah, blah, blah but out in the countryside you don't have a grid, you just don't need it, you're actually better off having just localised power generation. I1: Just one quick question. You know how you said that in Asia, the top manufacturers of solar panels and wind turbines, do you think then you would see a bit of a shift in the power from where we currently get energy or ... P: Do you mean so we're actually getting power … the Western countries are drawing power from? Not necessarily, no. The longer distance you transport electricity the less efficient it is, you sort of lose power. So there's no real advantage in doing those things if you don't have to. But let's face it, lots of other technologies have followed this same path. Car manufacturing used to be largely done in Europe, North America. It's gone to Asia and then it goes to other bits of Asia because it's cheaper. That's the reality. So what you're seeing is a mature technology. But once you've got the manufacturers in those countries, you've then got an industry lobby in those countries that's now pushing for extra deployment and some of that can be in those very same Asian countries. I don't think it's any coincidence that both China and India have set very ambitious target for solar expansion. Just in the first three months of this year China instilled something like 5 gigawatts of solar power. That's about what the UK has in total, for example. Both China and India are going for about 100 gigawatts of solar installation within the next seven or eight years. This is huge in ambition. It's more in ambition than even Germany, frankly. And I think that's partly because they have the industries there that are pushing to get this stuff out there. I2: Talking about solar panels, we just heard a rumour about how the Sahara … Do you want to explain the Sahara desert. I1: Yeah. Thinking of the Sahara desert as a Mars bar, if you were to make a solar panel farm about the size of a postage stamp and put it on that Mars bar, that could power the entire world. P: Yes [chuckles] I2: You're very confident. P: Yes. Mad isn't it. Sounds Crazy. I1: What do you think about that? P: I think it's probably true. And I remember a professor, actually, in Sydney who's a pioneer on solar panels telling me this: if you get about four percent of the Earth's landmass covered in solar panels you could power the world. Or something like this, the figure. So, probably true. But of course you can't literally do that because how do you get the power from there to elsewhere? You're much better off having a diversified system. There are ideas of having huge solar farms in North Africa and then pumping that electricity to Europe. It might happen but it's not obvious that it has a real economic benefit and there are also concerns about then who owns it. Because in the same way that Europe, for example, has seen its oil supply controlled by OPEC, you could imagine – what should we call it? SOPEC or something – North African countries that should basically turn the tap off if they wanted to. So that's one of reasons why it might not happen, I suspect. I2: In your opinion, how could we transition to, for instance, the renewable energy system? P: Well, you've got to do it bit by bit. That's for sure. And it wont be the same everywhere because if you take the Indian example, India's a very different country from the UK, for example a solution to different stages of development are different. So you've got to look at what resources you have but I think that most of the tools are here and it's not in principle rocket science. Technically it's certainly not rocket science. And it goes down a very familiar hierarchy of reducing energy waste, being more efficient with what you use, looking at where you get it from, increasing low carbon sources, reducing your reliance on finite reserves by which we really mean fossil fuels, involving communities as much as possible, making sure that regulations are fair and just across the board. So there's no barrier in principle to doing it. What you have to have, I think, is particularly governments who have the balls to take on vested interests. And that is where the problem usually arises, there's an awful lot of governments don't have the balls to take on vested interests. I1: So that brings us nicely to our last question. We've been asking everyone this. Are you an optimist or a pessimist thinking about the future of energy? P: Oh, total optimist. Complete optimist. I can't see any reason why we can't move globally to a system of energy that gives everyone great access to modern energy so that they can really fulfil their potential as societies, why we can't do it in a sustainable and equitable, fair manner. All the technical tools are there, it's becoming cheaper and cheaper. Even in countries like the UK, we don't have that much sunshine and we've got a very good infrastructure already set up for things, you're already getting to the stage where solar will, for example, be cost competitive. That means that in large swathes of the area and in large swathes of the world it should already be the technology of choice. You've got battery storage, you've got electric cars, all these technologies are developing way faster than anyone was predicting ten years ago. So I'm a complete optimist about this. I1: Thank you so much for answering our questions. P: You're welcome. My pleasure. [END OF TRANSCRIPT]

Interview with Richard Black

The Cloud Photo Booth was undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable elements of the Stories of Change project. It allowed people of all ages - experts, consultants, pupils, and community residents alike - to pop their own idea, thought or question into the broader public and political conversation around energy and climate change.

Some clouds were serious. Other clouds were fun. But most of all, every cloud was valid.

RB

Story created by Ryan Bramley, 26 Jul 2017