Volume 19 No.4
The road to ...
Insider viewpoint from Gideon Richards
We now have feed-in tarriffs and the RHI consultation has been published. For some the last word in Chris Rea’s song The Road to Hell is about to kick off.
By now I am sure you will be battered by what the clean energy cashback schemes (CECS) are and are not, how they work or won’t (and I have my fair share of this already), so let’s stray wider than this and think about the good, the bad and the ugly of this ‘hell of a road’ we have embarked on.
For many of us this road is going to be a ‘road to a hell of a lot of good’, with green jobs, new skills, democratised energy (as Andrew Cooper once coined it), lower energy bills, saving the planet, etc.
For others this road is going to be a ‘road to ruin’, where energy prices are going up to pay for the few who can afford the technology anyway and the impact of these technologies won’t really support security of supply, stopping the lights going out or wars over oil and gas. Many of these same people, I am sure, also do not believe climate change is as serious as we are being told by the now dented credibility of scientists (by perception and association).
However, life isn’t as simple as this; it’s never black and white.
There are plenty of good opportunities to come out of CECS. There are already financial mechanisms emerging that will allow a lot of households, communities and small commercials to engage with these technologies, without having to find the capital up front. The problem will be ensuring that those offering to provide these services are prepared to share the benefits on a fair, equitable, open and honest basis. If this market is infiltrated by the less-than-scrupulous, the consequences for the individuals, reputation of the industry and government policy could be in tatters.
So how do we ensure that the balance is struck between those out to make a fast and generous buck and those that genuinely believe in the uptake of low and zero carbon technologies? The government’s answer may well be to regulate and legislate (and it probably already has some of the powers to hand for this), if the industry and its mechanisms aren’t balanced. This could then potentially add cost to those offering a good product and, in turn, affect the yin and yang of the financial balance.
The CECS is also going to stimulate a rapid take up of the technologies in the early years, which is what is wanted, so the higher tariff rates are achieved by those generating or producing the energy. However, is the infrastructure of the industry ready for this step change?
There are already shortages in the product market, noticeably inverters, with PV arrays being installed and not being able to be turned on. The products have to be available in timescales that don’t negatively affect the capacity to gain the tariff they have calculated their finances on.
More importantly, the products that do get installed have to perform, in terms of safety, energy performance, durability and environmental impact over the life of the product (with proper maintenance!). This means quality products that demonstrate their provenance before they are installed, as well as during their life. Would you buy a car you had never heard of without good evidence of what it is capable of?
The installation companies have to find skilled personnel to ensure the products that are available are installed correctly. The medium to longer term won’t be a problem as training and apprenticeships will deal with this. However, the next couple of years are going to be harder to manage and with all the supply and demand issues, will there be pressure on employers to put up wages as skilled installers become more transient? How will the industry retain and maintain its workforce?
For those that can’t find the skilled personnel, or more worryingly don’t want to find the skilled installers, what reputation will that taint the industry with, if we start seeing more frequent press releases about cowboy installers, or worst still, accidents through poor installations?
‘On your journey cross the wilderness, from the desert to the well’, we are on a potential roller coaster of a road, which in many respects is in the hands of those driving it. It is down to us, and the industry in particular, to ensure the ride is exciting and fun, while avoiding the potholes along the way.
Gideon has a diploma in management studies and an HND in electrical and electronic engineering. He sits on a number of European Standards and International Committee for Solid Biofuels, Solid Recovered Fuels and Sustainability of Bioenergy. Gideon chairs the British Standards Institution's PTI/17 mirror committee for TC335 and TC343 and PTI/20
Sustainability for Bioenergy and chairs the Mircogeneration Certificate Scheme. He runs a consultancy called Consulting With Purpose Ltd and is a director of DC21. He is also a Trustee of the charity CREATE.