Smart energy and local generation: Labour's energy vision

Smart energy technologies and local generation and the future of energy: these were the themes explored by PolicyExchange during their fringe event with Centrica that also happen to be at the heart of Labour's current energy narrative. PolicyExchange’s Richard Howard was joined by Jonathan Reynolds MP and Mark Futyan, responsible for Centrica’s merchant power generation business. 

The overall tone of the debate was one of consensus. All welcomed the opportunities that new technologies such as smart meters and remotely managed storage systems are bringing to the UK power sector, but there was frustration when it comes to implementation. Futyan highlighted how policy issues and transmission and distribution fees were obstructing Centrica from developing a storage facility in the North West. 

Reynolds meanwhile argued that the dots of energy policy are not being connected by the Government. In his view, this has left a void where we have piecemeal policies without an overarching strategy. This is borne out in the complexity of existing arrangements and why policy is unable to keep up to speed with technology developments. 

Technology development and the increasing localisation of energy underpins the ‘democratisation’ of energy - a policy platform Labour outlined last year and that which was echoed in Shadow Energy Secretary Barry Gardiner’s address to conference today. It is perhaps the most unifying theme of Labour’s current thinking on energy. At this point, Futyan pointed out that we need to see greater collaboration between local and large-scale generation as the latter will always be necessary to underpin the system - perhaps a nod to Labour’s opposition to shale. 

The discussion also focused on the opportunities of demand side response and again, there was broad agreement on its yet untapped full potential. Reynolds was particularly excited about the possible opportunities and criticised the way it is reported in the media. All too often it is considered an emergency procedure to prevent a blackout, with DSR only being viewed in the context of security. But, argues Reynolds, the truth is that it is an extremely useful procurement tool that can contribute significantly to the UK’s grid by providing flexibility and saving cost. It will also play a more critical role if the diverse micro-macro energy system that Labour wants ever becomes a reality. 

Michael Stott

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search