monolithic-part-of-the-waters-3137978_1280

Supporting retail market innovation for net zero

Ofgem recently published its Decarbonisation Action Plan. This set out our priorities and the steps we will take as a regulator to help achieve ‘net zero’ at lowest cost. One of those priorities is to accelerate innovation to create products and services that help consumers use energy in ways that supports decarbonisation.

Empowered consumers will be central to fair and effective decarbonisation. Ultimately, a diverse range of products and services need to be made available to consumers, empowering them to change the way they use energy in order to meet and benefit from the net zero challenge.

We’ve been speaking to innovators and investors to understand their experiences and realise we need to continue to adapt our approach to regulation to better enable innovative consumer offerings. This means Ofgem being more proactive and using our existing powers to provide the flexibility innovators need to bring new products and services to market. 

So, what can you expect over the coming months? Our plans centre around: 

  1. the launch of an expanded Innovation Sandbox Service 
  2. extending our ability to provide relief from certain supplier obligations
  3. a more permissive approach to granting supply licences restricted by geography or premises type.

Enabling innovators to test and trial

Testing new ideas allows us and businesses to understand how consumers actually react and respond to new products and services. Yet there are times when it is not always clear whether an idea is possible or not under existing rules and regulations. 

Our Sandbox service was launched in 2017 to experiment with ways of mitigating barriers when innovative plans didn’t readily fit with the rulebook. This includes the BP and Tonik trial of a new platform for trading customers’ small scale exports with other consumers. We now have a much better handle on what kinds of support innovators are looking for, and are expanding our Innovation Sandbox Service

As part of this, we are widening the scope of rules that can be relaxed for innovative trials beyond the Ofgem rulebook to cover some of the main industry codes. This includes the rules for electricity balancing and settlement (BSC), rules around the connection to, and use of, the electricity distribution networks (DCUSA), and code requirements relating to retail energy activities (REC).

We also want to better use derogations from the rulebook so that experimentation, trialling and testing can flourish. This means taking a more permissive approach and we will consult shortly on expanding the number of rules that we can provide relief from. 

Bringing innovative ideas to market

Many innovators have told us that they want to specialise in the products and services they bring to market, focusing on offerings within their expertise. This could include local or regional suppliers, social enterprises focused on vulnerable customers, or those delivering flexibility solutions. To help with this, we’ll be providing greater clarity on when we might grant restricted supply licences – that enable a business to focus on particular geographies or types of premises. We’ll say more on restricted licences and the potential for greater use of derogations to deliver innovative ideas shortly.

Innovators often approach us with ideas that blur the boundaries of the traditional definitions of generation, distribution and supply. These activities typically aren’t prescribed for in law which can undermine the confidence of innovators, investors, and consumers. Many of you think that we should be able to confirm whether a type of activity is permissible (as well as what isn’t), and we agree. This means we’ll confirm to innovators that what they’re trying to do is allowable within today’s regulatory framework, without going as far as endorsing particular business models.

Helping navigate complexity

We’re regularly reminded of just how complex the energy sector can be and we want to help the industry and new entrants navigate this complexity effectively.

Today, we’re outlining our view of how Ofgem and government reforms will help improve the environment for innovation and competition in the retail energy market by 2024. This is accompanied by refreshed guidance on what you need to know, and what you need to do, if you want to sell electricity to consumers

We’ll provide more guidance in other areas as we go forward – including on how longer-term contracts fit with the current rules. And we stand ready to amend or remove rules where these are getting in the way of good outcomes for consumers. We want to work with innovators and industry to help drive innovation so welcome your views and input

wind-turbine-2218457_1280

Fears raised over Bristol Energy after suggestions it could need more public money

Speculation is mounting about the future of Bristol Energy after city council leaders hinted they might have to throw even more money at the loss-making company.

Opposition councillors expressed “very grave doubt” that the budget passed by full council on Tuesday (February 25) is legal amid fears it could mess up the balance sheet, and by law, local authorities must set balanced budgets.

The concerns stem from an “urgent” confidential report to next week’s cabinet which overview & scrutiny management board (OSMB) chairman and Tory Cllr Geoff Gollop said was “of such significance” that the budget meeting should have been postponed to allow all 70 councillors to read it.

Labour deputy mayor Craig Cheney insisted the mystery papers, whose details were not revealed, “did not materially affect the budget”.

He told the full council meeting: “We have adequate risk reserves should we need to draw down on them should we need to deal with any issues arising from that paper.”

It comes just a month after cabinet members approved the energy firm’s five-year business plan amid assurances that it did not need any further public cash.

Bristol City Council has already pumped £37million into the company.

However, the business has posted total losses so far of £29.7million, including £10.1million in 2018/19, its third year of trading.

It was initially expected to be in profit by 2019/20. But in December, Peter Beange, executive chairman of Bristol Holding, which oversees Bristol Energy, told OSMB councillors that the firm’s break-even point remained 2023/24 .

He told members: “Bristol Energy is not seeking any investments nor increased collateral within this business plan. However, its risks remain significant.

“The key risks to Bristol Energy are not dissimilar from a lot of energy companies in that it needs to secure its customer base, there is tremendous volatility of the energy sector and that might lead to a credit gap and dependency on the council for collateral coverage.”

Whether the situation has changed within a matter of weeks is now open to speculation with an exempt report, thought to contain commercially sensitive information, going to cabinet on March 3, that has alarmed Cllr Gollop.

He told full council: “The implications of the item on the cabinet agenda are of such significance that all members of this council should access it before full council considers this budget, not just members of cabinet.

“To have not had access could risk the setting of an ultra vires budget [without legal authority].

“I understand the sudden urgency of this cabinet item but to not refer to it in the (full council) papers is appalling, and for the mayor and deputy mayor to have not alluded to it in their presentations is unacceptable.”

He said he had only received access to the report minutes before full council began.

“It is inappropriate that the only time members can read something of such significance is actually during the debate when they are setting the budget,” Cllr Gollop said.

“I am not allowed in public session to explain my concerns further, so I apologise to members of the public that I’m talking in riddles but I cannot breach confidentiality.”

Cllr Cheney said: “I have been assured that that paper does not materially affect the budget.

“We have adequate risk reserves should we need to draw down on them should we need to deal with any issues arising from that paper.”

Cllr Gollop replied: “I understand why Cllr Cheney is saying that but if we could have a debate about it, I could explain why I believe it is significant and why members need at least to be aware of the potential significance when deciding whether to approve the budget today or not.

“If that budget is potentially illegal then I think that will be very dangerous.”

City council finance director Denise Murray said: “I have reviewed the details and been party to the drafting of the report.

“There is sufficient contingency risk reserves to deal with any risk to which the council is exposed.

“The budget itself is robust and the paper does not impact on the budget.”

Legal and democratic services director Tim O’Gara said: “I have also been privy to the drafting of the report and I’m satisfied that the council can proceed to set a lawful budget this afternoon without further consideration of a report which will be duly considered by cabinet next week.”

Cllr Gollop said: “Professionally I have a different interpretation of the financial position and I believe there is a potential impact fundamentally on the council’s budget and balance sheet.

“I find it very frustrating that we can’t have a debate about it because I cannot explain why I have those concerns.

“But I cannot let a budget go through without registering my very grave doubt.”

Cllr Cheney said: “The paper will go to OSMB next week so there is the opportunity for councillors to scrutinise and review that paperwork.”

Tory group leader Cllr Mark Weston said: “I don’t know what is in that report but the fact we’re having to get assurance that even if the worst happened it wouldn’t affect the budget makes me wonder what the hell is in there.

the-eleventh-hour-1156792_1280

Iberdrola “two decades ahead of energy transition” and making it pay

Scottish Power parent Iberdrola’s 13 per cent surge in group profits to £2.89 billion (€3.4 billion) last year reflects its two decades of steady renewables investment, according to CEO Ignacio Galán.

Galán said its push into clean generation puts Iberdrola “20 years ahead of the current energy transition.”

The group’s full 2019 results reveal a record 2.8GW of new green generation capacity, including East Anglia One’s first turbines commissioned last year. A further 9GW is under construction worldwide.

Iberdrola’s UK activities posted a net profit of £347 million, up 5 per cent on 2018. Higher wholesale prices pushed gross earnings at Scottish Power similarly up to £579 million. The subsidiary’s 2.5GW of installed capacity, predominantly onshore wind, is receiving continued investment, said the group.

But Scottish Power suffered in the retail market, with supply accounts falling to 2.8 million. A shrinkage of its customer base, plus a warmer winter, also saw volume sales of electricity drop 3 per cent compared to 2018.

UK performance was strongest in Scottish Power’s Energy Networks unit. Its gross margin rose 7 per cent to £1.12 billion.

The unit was hit though by persistent faults in its Western Link cable to north Wales, now the subject of an Ofgem investigation.   Output from onshore generation in the Highlands dropped 2.8 per cent on 2018, says Scottish Power’s parent.

Analysts Cornwall Insight this week estimated that prolonged outages from Scottish Power’s Western HVDC triggered £ 31 million in curtailment payments in January alone.

power-poles-252203_1280

Supporting retail market innovation for net zero

Ofgem recently published its Decarbonisation Action Plan. This set out our priorities and the steps we will take as a regulator to help achieve ‘net zero’ at lowest cost. One of those priorities is to accelerate innovation to create products and services that help consumers use energy in ways that supports decarbonisation.

Empowered consumers will be central to fair and effective decarbonisation. Ultimately, a diverse range of products and services need to be made available to consumers, empowering them to change the way they use energy in order to meet and benefit from the net zero challenge.

We’ve been speaking to innovators and investors to understand their experiences and realise we need to continue to adapt our approach to regulation to better enable innovative consumer offerings. This means Ofgem being more proactive and using our existing powers to provide the flexibility innovators need to bring new products and services to market. 

So, what can you expect over the coming months? Our plans centre around: 

  1. the launch of an expanded Innovation Sandbox Service 
  2. extending our ability to provide relief from certain supplier obligations
  3. a more permissive approach to granting supply licences restricted by geography or premises type.

Enabling innovators to test and trial

Testing new ideas allows us and businesses to understand how consumers actually react and respond to new products and services. Yet there are times when it is not always clear whether an idea is possible or not under existing rules and regulations. 

Our Sandbox service was launched in 2017 to experiment with ways of mitigating barriers when innovative plans didn’t readily fit with the rulebook. This includes the BP and Tonik trial of a new platform for trading customers’ small scale exports with other consumers. We now have a much better handle on what kinds of support innovators are looking for, and are expanding our Innovation Sandbox Service

As part of this, we are widening the scope of rules that can be relaxed for innovative trials beyond the Ofgem rulebook to cover some of the main industry codes. This includes the rules for electricity balancing and settlement (BSC), rules around the connection to, and use of, the electricity distribution networks (DCUSA), and code requirements relating to retail energy activities (REC).

We also want to better use derogations from the rulebook so that experimentation, trialling and testing can flourish. This means taking a more permissive approach and we will consult shortly on expanding the number of rules that we can provide relief from. 

Bringing innovative ideas to market

Many innovators have told us that they want to specialise in the products and services they bring to market, focusing on offerings within their expertise. This could include local or regional suppliers, social enterprises focused on vulnerable customers, or those delivering flexibility solutions. To help with this, we’ll be providing greater clarity on when we might grant restricted supply licences – that enable a business to focus on particular geographies or types of premises. We’ll say more on restricted licences and the potential for greater use of derogations to deliver innovative ideas shortly.

Innovators often approach us with ideas that blur the boundaries of the traditional definitions of generation, distribution and supply. These activities typically aren’t prescribed for in law which can undermine the confidence of innovators, investors, and consumers. Many of you think that we should be able to confirm whether a type of activity is permissible (as well as what isn’t), and we agree. This means we’ll confirm to innovators that what they’re trying to do is allowable within today’s regulatory framework, without going as far as endorsing particular business models.

Helping navigate complexity

We’re regularly reminded of just how complex the energy sector can be and we want to help the industry and new entrants navigate this complexity effectively.

Today, we’re outlining our view of how Ofgem and government reforms will help improve the environment for innovation and competition in the retail energy market by 2024. This is accompanied by refreshed guidance on what you need to know, and what you need to do, if you want to sell electricity to consumers

We’ll provide more guidance in other areas as we go forward – including on how longer-term contracts fit with the current rules. And we stand ready to amend or remove rules where these are getting in the way of good outcomes for consumers. We want to work with innovators and industry to help drive innovation so welcome your views and input. 

thunderstorm-3625405_1280

£90 million UK drive to reduce carbon emissions

Households and businesses will benefit from £90 million to cut carbon emissions in industry and homes.

  • £90 million package announced to tackle emissions from homes and heavy industry – including funding for Europe’s first hydrogen plants which could generate enough clean energy to heat over 200,000 homes
  • local energy projects across the country could reduce housing emissions by up to 80% and save consumers money on their energy bills
  • renewable energy to power industry instead of fossil fuels, removing 3.2 million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere by 2030

Households and businesses will benefit from £90 million to cut carbon emissions in industry and homes, Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng announced today (18 February 2020).

£70 million will include funding for 2 of Europe’s first-ever low carbon hydrogen production plants – the first on the banks of the Mersey, the second planned for near Aberdeen. A third project will develop technology to harness offshore wind off the Grimsby coast to power electrolysis and produce hydrogen.

Hydrogen is a low or zero-emission alternative to fossil fuels which could power future industry and transport. The investment will also fund projects to trial cutting-edge technologies for switching industrial production from fossil fuels to renewables in industries such as cement and glass production.

The remaining £20 million will be used to fund projects aimed at cutting household emissions and bills through nine UK-wide local “smart energy” projects. Over 250,000 people could have their homes powered by local renewable sources by 2030 – which could lead to their energy bills reducing by as much as half, thanks to this government funding.

If successful, the 10 community pilot projects from Rugeley near Stafford to Coleraine in Northern Ireland could revolutionise local energy generation – allowing local communities to join the frontline in the fight against climate change.

In Rugeley, a coal fired power station is to be demolished and turned into a sustainable village of 2,300 homes. Residents will benefit from thermal storage units instead of traditional gas boilers, enabling them to draw, store and heat their homes with geothermal energy from local canals and disused mine shafts.

In Coleraine, a micro-grid of nearly 100 homes will be established, powered entirely by local wind power. It will help lower household electricity bills by as much as 50% and boost the contribution of renewables to the local energy mix by a quarter.

Visiting the Gigastack project in Grimsby today, Kwasi Kwarteng, Minister for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, said:

Cleaning up emissions from industry and housing is a big challenge but today’s £90 million investment will set us on the right path as we develop clean technologies like hydrogen.

This is an important part of our world-leading efforts in eliminating our contribution to climate change by 2050 while also growing our economy, creating up to 2 million green collar jobs across the country by 2030.

This investment in low carbon innovation will be crucial to help us end our contribution to climate change by 2050.

The news comes just 2 weeks after the Prime Minister announced plans to bring forward the phase-out of coal to 2024 as we continue to ramp up our Year of Climate Action ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) this November.

Notes to editors

1. The complete funding package forms part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s £500 million innovation fund, which is dedicated to harnessing and rolling out cutting edge technology to fight climate change.

2. Currently difficult and expensive to produce in bulk, hydrogen could be vital in the fight against climate change as a low carbon alternative to fossil fuels used by heavy transport and industry.

3. Of the £70 million being invested in these technologies, £28 million will be for projects developing hydrogen production, including the 2 plants.

4. A further £18.5 million of funding is being awarded to projects developing and trialling technologies to move industrial concrete and glass production away from fossil fuels and onto renewables.

5. The projects have the potential to be scaled up and rolled out across industry, meaning houses and roads could be built using low-emission concrete by 2030. This would prevent 3.2 million tonnes of CO2 a year from polluting the environment – equivalent to taking 679,000 cars off the road.

6. The remaining £22 million of funding will go to top UK scientists and engineers to conduct cutting-edge research into decarbonising industry, focusing on emission-heavy transport and heating.

7. Breakdown of funding:

  • Hydrogen Supply programme – £28 million for 5 demonstration phase projects
  • Industrial Fuel Switching programme – £18.5 million for 4 demonstration phase projects
  • UKRI Local Smart Energy Designs – £21 million for 10 demonstration phase projects
  • UKRI Key Technology Components for Local Energy Systems – £3 million awarded to various demonstration phase projects
  • UKRI Research funding – £22 million for research into challenges in reaching net zero posed by: heating, transport and global fuel markets

8. Hydrogen projects awarded funding:

ProjectLeading bodyFunding received
Dolphyn ProjectEnvironmental Resources Management Ltd£3.12 million
HyNetProgressive Energy Limited, in collaboration with Johnson Matthey, SNC Lavalin and Essar Oil£7.48 million
GigastackITM Power Trading Ltd, in collaboration with Orsted, Phillips 66 and Element Energy£7.5 million
AcornProject Pale Blue Dot Energy£2.7 million
HyPERCranfield University, in collaboration with Gas Technology Institute and Doosan£7.44 million

Find more details of the Hydrogen Supply Competition projects.

9. Fuel switching projects funding:

ProjectLeading bodyFunding received
HyNetProgressive Energy Ltd, in collaboration with Pilkington, Unilever and Essar£5.27 million
Hydrogen Alternatives to Gas for Calcium Lime ManufacturingBritish Lime Association£2.82 million
Switching fuels for cement productionMineral Products Association£3.2 million
Switching Technologies for the Glass SectorGlass Futures Ltd and partners£7.12 million

Find more details of the Industrial Fuel Switching competition projects.

10. Local smart energy projects awarded UKRI funding (more information available from UKRI):

ProjectTown / City
West Midlands Regional Energy System OperatorCoventry
GIRONAColeraine, Causeway Coast and Glens
Peterborough Integrated Renewables InfrastructurePeterborough
Green Smart Community Integrated Energy Systems 2Islington (London)
Zero Carbon RugeleyRugeley
GM Local Energy MarketGreater Manchester
Project REMeDYSouthend
Energy KingdomMilford Haven
Multi-vector Energy ExchangeLiverpool
REWIRE-NWWarrington

environmental-protection-4366503_1280

British Gas scraps rise in minimum meter top-ups after public outcry

British Gas has scrapped an increase in the minimum top-up amount for its pre-pay energy meters after a public outcry over the move which opponents argued forced some vulnerable families to choose between eating and heating.

More than 90,000 people signed a petition calling for the UK’s biggest energy supplier to reverse their decision to raise the minimum top-up amount from £1 to £5 which was put in place on 1 January this year.

Activist group 38 degrees, which helped to spearhead the campaign, said the hike meant homes that rely on small top-ups to ration their heating costs between pay days were forced to choose between staying warm and buying food.

British Gas, which recently revealed its worst ever full-year profits for 2019, justified the hike by pointing out that only a small number of its pre-pay customers would regularly top-up their meter with less than £5 at a time. The supplier added that rivals at Ovo Energy and Bulb Energy have set a £5 limit to keep costs low.

Sarwjit Sambhi, the boss of British Gas, said “customers are always at the heart of the decisions we make” and the “aim of this move was to keep our costs down in order to offer our customers the best value”.

“But I am happy to change this decision whilst we continue to look at ways that we can help our most vulnerable customers,” he said.

About 91,000 members of the public signed a petition set up by Preet Kaur Gill, the MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, which called on British Gas to reverse their decision. Hundreds of people also contacted the supplier to share how they were affected.

Trevor, a British Gas customer from Stafford who signed the online petition, said: “I am disabled and so rely on benefits to get by. Sometimes you just haven’t got that fiver to top up the meter – because you’re not getting paid until the end of the week – so you can’t. It means choosing between things like food, and heat – and in cold weather it’s even worse.”

Gill said the British Gas U-turn is “a vital win for the thousands of people affected by British Gas’s decision to raise the minimum pre-pay top-up”.

“Our campaign revealed the extent of the fuel poverty crisis under this government. Much more needs to be done to ensure that no one has to choose between eating and heating their home. I urge other energy providers to follow suit,” she added.

Ruby Earle, a campaigner at 38 degrees, said: “This goes to show the power ordinary people can have when we come together.”

wind-turbine-2218457_1280

Call for governments to work together to ‘kick start’ energy revolution

New funding needs to be established by the UK and Scottish governments to kick start a “community energy revolution” if climate change targets are to be met, a major new report has claimed.

The report by WPI Economics and SP Energy Networks calls for the UK and Scottish governments to collaborate to support community groups who want to generate their own energy.

But the report comes as the two administrations are at loggerheads over the COP26 climate conference due to be held in Glasgow later this year.

The Future of Community Energy document maps out the benefits the sector could deliver if given support, suggesting that over the next decade the number of community energy organisations could rise to around 4,000 across the UK – bringing a possible £1.8bn boost to local economies and creating over 8,000 jobs.

The schemes could also play a key role in meeting climate change targets by saving 2.5m tonnes of carbon emissions, while community solar panels or wind turbines could power up to 2.2m homes across the UK, and cut energy bills of households involved by up to £150m a year. A Citizens Advice Scotland report has found that one in eight Scots say their energy bills are unaffordable.

According to the report, the government should establish a national community energy strategy with a community energy fund; create new, regional funding streams; and give greater support and resource to groups who want to set up schemes.

Frank Mitchell, chief executive of SP Energy Networks said the report showed “just how much potential there is within our communities in our drive to a zero- carbon future, lowering emissions with the additional benefit of driving up skills and jobs across the UK.”

Last week MSPs on Holyrood’s economy and energy committee were told that more investment was needed if a broader range of people were to benefit from the decarbonisation of energy. A recent Climate Emergency Response Group report also said the Scottish Government needed to generate public and private investment of between £1.8bn and £3.6bn a year, to achieve its carbon emissions goals by 2045.

Community and local energy schemes are being encouraged as a way to increase renewable energy production, taking strain off the national grid, and creating new revenues for local areas. Today the Scottish Parliament also agreed to give rates relief to district heating schemes to encourage more be established.

Mr Mitchell said: “The report also shows what might be possible by highlighting the innovative efforts of communities – notably in Scotland and Wales– where sustained government support and a strong backing from third sector organisations has enabled local energy to lead the way, not only in a UK context but internationally as well.”

He added: “But we’ve only just scratched the surface. Communities across the UK increasingly want to generate their own, low carbon power. As the provider of the energy networks that make this possible, SP Energy Networks is committed to doing more. But we need government and regulators to allow us to do so.

“It is time for communities to be given a stronger voice in how their areas reach Net Zero. And as this report makes clear, we need new funding streams and reduced regulation in licensing planning to meet this vision”.

Scotland’s Energy Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, said: “Our support for community energy is beyond question – indeed it is internationally recognised. We had a target for 500MW by 2020 which we have exceeded by far, and indeed we voluntarily increased it to 1GW for 2020 and 2GW for 2030.

“Progress has been good against higher target. To date, there are more than 700MW of community and locally owned projects installed, with a similar quantity in the pipeline, but we have been undermined by removal of Feed In Tariffs by UK ministers and have urged them to reconsider reinstating them.

“We have put in place Non Domestic Rates reliefs for community hydro and wind projects and continue with CARES support, but UK ministers ultimately control the ‘route to market’ and have withdrawn any subsidy for onshore wind. We continue to explore and have been encouraging shared revenue models as a means of increasing community involvement in larger projects.”

He added: “We welcome this report and SPEN’s growing interests in community energy. Many of the recommendations included in this report are similar to what we have recently consulted on in our draft Local Energy Policy Statement, for which SPEN submitted a response.

“We are currently reviewing the responses to the consultation with the intention of publishing a final statement, including a delivery framework, in the spring.”

SP Energy Networks said it would launch an “educational toolkit” to provide communities with the information needed to get schemes off the ground and connect to the grid.

the-eleventh-hour-1156792_1280

Over £50 million for clean energy projects across Africa

The UK has invested millions in clean technology across Africa, to support the continent’s growing energy needs.

  • over £50 million invested in innovative, clean technology as the UK works with African countries to develop sustainable energy sources, providing thousands of people with clean energy
  • UK will share expertise in green finance and science and innovation to develop solar farms and battery storage projects
  • African energy demand is set to rise 60% by 2040 – clean energy will be central in powering Africa’s growing economies and increasing access to electricity

Green energy supply in Africa is set for a major boost after the UK government announced winners of an investment package for the continent’s clean energy infrastructure at the African Investment Summit today.

Solar farms in Kenya, geothermal power stations in Ethiopia and clean energy storage across sub-Saharan Africa will receive funding and see leading UK scientists and financial experts working with their African counterparts to realise the continent’s huge potential for renewable energy.

With African energy demand set to rise by 60% by 2040, UK experts will help deliver green solutions for the continent’s growing energy needs, bringing clean energy to thousands of people and creating jobs and increased prosperity.

Business and Energy Secretary Andrea Leadsom said:

Our world-leading scientists and financial experts will work hand in hand with African nations to support their quest for energy security, powering new industries and jobs across the continent with a diverse mix of energy sources while promoting economic growth.

Speaking at the summit, Ms Leadsom emphasised the opportunity for many African countries to leapfrog coal power to cleaner forms of energy but stressed that more needed to be done to unlock investment.

A world-leader in reducing carbon emissions at home, today’s investment in global clean energy comes after the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced the £1 billion ‘Ayrton Fund’ for British scientists last Autumn to help developing nations reduce reliance on fossil fuels and reduce their carbon emissions.

As part of the initiatives announced today, the UK will support African countries with the technical skills and expertise they need in order to attract investment in renewable projects, getting innovative projects like wind and solar farms up and running. Close collaboration with African countries will be key as the UK gears up to host the UN climate talks (COP26) later this year.

UK funded projects in Africa include winners of the Energy Catalyst Competition, which has seen solar plants, energy storage batteries and hydro-power built in countries such as Botswana and Kenya; a £10 million programme which matches UK based green finance experts with project developers from developing countries to facilitate investment in clean energy projects; and the Nigeria 2050 calculator, a modelling tool designed by UK scientists to support the Nigerian government’s sustainable development planning.

Kenya is also set to benefit from a £30 million government investment in affordable energy-efficient housing which will see the construction of 10,000 low-carbon homes for rent and sale. This will support the creation of new jobs in Kenya’s green construction industry and help tackle climate change.

Over 50% of the UK’s energy production came from renewable sources last year, and with London’s expertise as the global hub for green finance, the UK is best placed to be Africa’s leading partner and help it harness its wealth of renewable sources as it moves away from coal power.

steel-3387882_1920

Electric shock: Could Brexit scar Britain’s energy landscape?

Britain’s exit from the EU, which will finally happen on Friday (31 January), has sparked fears of disruption to its electricity market, from higher bills to supply issues and stalled de-carbonisation efforts.

Britain depends on the European Union for much of its electricity supply.

Its own generation fell in 2018 by 1.6%, according to the latest available statistics.

This reduction stems from the gradual shutdown of coal-fired power plants, which is yet to be fully compensated by a rise in wind power.

Imports of electricity and gas have increased in response, predominantly from France, the Netherlands and Ireland, which now account for almost 40% of Britain’s energy consumption.

Britain’s imminent departure from the 28-member EU and its single electricity market therefore represents a risk for an already fragile network, which suffered a big blackout in August.

It will continue to benefit from existing arrangements during a post-Brexit transition phase, while it seeks a new agreement on everything from energy to security cooperation with Brussels.

But it is not clear if these talks will entirely resolve the issue.

British industry regulator Ofgem has said “alternative trading arrangements will need to be developed”, without giving further details.

It insists that whatever deal is struck, it does not “expect Brexit to interrupt the flows of electricity and gas”.

But at times of peak demand, Britain may find itself at the back of the line for electricity.

“EU countries could get preference,” Weijie Mak, of research company Aurora, told AFP.

As with other areas such as finance, agreeing so-called equivalence on things like CO2 emission rules – so countries who produce cleaner and more expensive electricity are not disadvantaged – will be key.

Price rise?

Uncertainty over equivalence and the possible return of tariffs or quotas if trade negotiations falter has left some sceptical that nothing will change post-Brexit.

“The electricity trade will become more expensive,” said Joseph Dutton, policy advisor at climate change think tank E3G. “It could mean higher bills for consumers.”

Trading in electricity across the Channel is currently based on an auction system, which could be upset by Britain’s EU departure.

Eurelectric, the association representing the industry at the European level, sees it as a “lose-lose situation” because of “less efficient gas and power trading”.

The hazy picture has seen the French government put on hold several interconnector projects aimed at better linking the electric power grids of Britain and the continent.

But they are seen as crucial for energy security on the English side of the Channel.

“(They) supply less than 10% (of electricity consumed) but allow you to balance supply and demand,” said Dutton.

“Interconnectors give you flexibility to build more renewables (wind mills in particular) because you can buy electricity when the wind is not blowing and sell it when you have more than you need.”

That could lead the government to postpone the closure of gas-fired power stations and delay Britain’s transition to entirely green energy sources, which it has vowed to do by 2050.

It could also mean easing a carbon tax currently levied on electricity prices to finance the transition if bills have spiked.

“If they (interconnectors) are not working, it has real consequences for the net zero targets,” concluded Dutton.

solar-panels-1794467_1280

Who pays for the EU’s €1tn green deal?

Under its president, Ursula von der Leyen, the European commission has big plans to address climate change. With a €1tn ($1.1tn) investment package, it hopes to transform Europe into a carbon-neutral economy by 2050.

But much of that €1tn for the commission’s proposed green deal would be generated through financial-leverage effects. In 2020, the EU will formally allocate for such purposes only around €40bn, most of which is already included in the budget from previous years; arguably, only €7.5bn of additional funding under the plan would actually be new.

As with the previous commission’s 2015 Juncker plan, the trick, once again, will be to muster the lion’s share of the quoted sum through a shadow budget administered by the European Investment Bank (EIB). The commission, after all, is not allowed to incur debt; but the EU’s intergovernmental rescue and investment funds are.

Jeffrey Frankel Read more

In essence, the EU is doing what the major banks did before the 2008 financial crisis, when they circumvented regulation by shifting part of their business to off-balance-sheet conduits and special-purpose vehicles. In the case of the EU, the guarantees offered by the commission and individual EU member states are sufficient for a high credit rating, and thus for the issuance of European debenture bonds. The funds generated will be used for public and private purposes, and sometimes even for public-private partnerships. But should the guarantees be called in one day, eurozone taxpayers will be the ones to foot the bill.Advertisement

These planned shadow budgets are problematic, not only because they would allow the commission to circumvent a prohibition against borrowing, but also because they implicate the European Central Bank. To be sure, the ECB president, Christine Lagarde, has already announced that she wants the bank to play a more active role in climate-friendly activities within the eurozone. And the ECB is now considering whether to pursue targeted purchases of bonds issued by institutions that have received the commission’s climate seal of approval.

In practice, of course, this most likely means that the ECB would buy up the “green” bonds now being devised by the EIB. Those purchases will then reduce the interest rates at which the EIB can take on debt, ultimately leading to activation of the printing press to provide the money for spending on climate policy.

It is laudable to want to do something about climate change. But under the current plan, the ECB would be pushed into a legal grey area. The institution is not democratically controlled, but rather managed by technocrats on the executive board. Every member state, big or small, appoints its own representative, who then has equal voting rights, personal immunity, and the autonomy to operate free from any parliamentary accountability.

Moreover, under the Maastricht treaty, the ECB board is primarily obligated to maintain price stability, and may support separate economic-policy measures only if doing so does not endanger its ability to fulfil this mandate. In the case of the green deal, the dangers are obvious. If the additional demand created by an expansion of green projects is funded by printing money instead of collecting taxes, it will not withdraw demand from other sectors of the European economy and would therefore be potentially inflationary.

Situations like this serve as a reminder of why article 123 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union strictly prohibits the ECB from taking part in the financing “of Union institutions, bodies, offices or agencies, central governments, regional, local, or other public authorities, other bodies governed by public law, or public undertakings of member states”. But, of course, the ECB has already circumvented this rule by purchasing around €2tn in public debt from the market, thereby stretching the limits of its mandate to a legally dubious degree.

The latest plans to circumvent the Maastricht treaty will not improve matters. Before the financial crisis, the ECB was concerned only with monetary policy. During the crisis, it turned into a public bailout authority rescuing near-bankrupt banks and governments. Now, it is becoming an economic government that can print its budget as it sees fit.

The impending violation of the spirit of the Maastricht treaty will be twofold: the EU will be assuming debt covertly, and it will be doing so through the printing press. As such, the commission’s plans will further undermine the credibility of the very institution on which Europe relies for its financial and macroeconomic stability and its long-term growth prospects – and this at a time when the world is becoming even more uncertain, competitive and aggressive.

… and never more dangerous than now, as the crisis escalates across the world. The Guardian’s accurate, authoritative journalism has never been more critical – and we will not stay quiet. This is our pledge: we will continue to give global heating, wildlife extinction and pollution the urgent attention and prominence they demand. We recognise the climate emergency as the defining issue of our lifetimes. This month we made an important decision – to renounce fossil fuel advertising, becoming the first major global news organisation to institute an outright ban on taking money from companies that extract fossil fuels.

You’ve read 30 articles in the last four months. We chose a different approach: to keep Guardian journalism open for all. We don’t have a paywall because we believe everyone deserves access to factual information, regardless of where they live or what they can afford to pay.

Our editorial independence means we are free to investigate and challenge inaction by those in power. We will inform our readers about threats to the environment based on scientific facts, not driven by commercial or political interests. And we have made several important changes to our style guide to ensure the language we use accurately reflects the environmental emergency.

The Guardian believes that the problems we face on the climate crisis are systemic and that fundamental societal change is needed. We will keep reporting on the efforts of individuals and communities around the world who are fearlessly taking a stand for future generations and the preservation of human life on earth. We want their stories to inspire hope. We will also report back on our own progress as an organisation, as we take important steps to address our impact on the environment.