Apologies this time to Simon & Garfunkeli.
It is taken as read by many climate worriers that “big oil” has a huge amount of money that it throws at climate misinformation, etc. and that somehow the odds are stacked against the climate activist Davids in their fight against the Goliath that is fossil fuel interests. I suppose that might have been true once upon a time, but these days the big money seems to be on the side of all things “green” and “renewable”.
A good way of seeing just how all-embracing the “green” mantra now is (and how much money is floating around), is to take a look at the cast list and organisations represented at the regular conferences organised by Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport Forum (“WEET”). From time to time details of these appear in my email inbox; the most recent one to bring itself to my attention is with regard to the conference to be held on 11th March 2022 on “Next steps for Zero Emission Vehicles in the UK”.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to learn that there is a UK Government Office For Zero Emission Vehicles, and since there is such a thing, it’s also appropriate that they send a representative to a conference on this subject. But what do they do? According to the relevant websiteii:
The Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV) is a team working across government to support the transition to zero emission vehicles (ZEVs). We are providing support for the take-up of plug in vehicles, as well as funding to support chargepoint infrastructure across the UK. This will contribute to economic growth and will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution on our roads.
My focus there is on the words “support for the take-up of plug in vehicles”, which suggests that support is needed, or take-up would otherwise be low. As always, if new technology works for people (e.g. the arrival of smartphones or even vehicles propelled by the internal combustion engine) then people will take to it of their own volition, because it makes their lives better, it works for them, and thus support from the Government isn’t needed. The fact that support is needed in this case tells us everything we need to know. And I see that they also provide “funding to support chargepoint infrastructure across the UK” – presumably the market won’t supply it on its own. I also note the statement as fact of an opinion of doubtful provenance: “this will contribute to economic growth”.
By the way, they used to be called the Office for Low Emission Vehicles, and the old websiteiii (which is still there) put a number on part of its spending, at that stage at least:
The Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) is a team working across government to support the early market for ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEV). We are providing over £900 million to position the UK at the global forefront of ULEV development, manufacture and use.
One of the speakers is Maria Bengtsson, Partner, UK&I Electric Vehicle Lead, Ernst & Young LLP, who, according to their websiteiv, is “[d]edicated to providing advice to clients around strategy and transactions in the energy sector, enabling them to find opportunities and manage risks in the energy transition.”
What does this tell us? First, that a huge multi-national firm of accountants has identified this area as a source of substantial profits. Secondly, that the energy transition involves challenges. Third, that there are “opportunities” to be found, which I imagine involves accountants directing clients to taxpayer-funded subsidies of various types.
Another speaker is Philippa Oldham, Stakeholder Engagement Director from the Advanced Propulsion Centre. No doubt I do her a profound dis-service, but when I read titles like “Stakeholder Engagement Director”, rightly or wrongly they always sound like complete non-jobs to me. Anyway, what on earth is the Advanced Propulsion Centre? This, apparently:
The Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) was established in 2013 by the UK Government and the Automotive Council. The APC aims to achieve significant progress in developing low carbon propulsion technologies, anchor and attract research and development and manufacturing capability in the UK, and leverage high value manufacturing opportunities that market exploitation may provide.
That description comes from an Interim Impact Evaluationv dated July 2021:
Ipsos MORI, in association with George Barrett and Ecorys, was commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to complete an interim impact evaluation of the APC funding competition in September 2018. The evaluation aims to examine the early impacts of APC funding in terms of accelerating the development of low carbon propulsion technologies and the performance of firms benefitting from the programme.
I suppose these are some of the much-vaunted “green” jobs.
I’m not sure how much use all this is, especially given this aspect of the conclusions:
Uncertainties: Although the findings provide an indication that the programme has been successful in meeting its objectives, there are several uncertainties as the findings were not always consistent across modelling approaches and the estimated magnitude of effects varied. The analyses were based on comparatively small sample sizes, and revisiting the analysis at later stages will offer an opportunity to provide more robust quantification of the programme’s effects and investigate further important issues, such as their persistence over time. Additionally, it should be noted that the data available only ran to 2017, and the effect of external factors that may have influenced the performance of the automotive sector between 2017 and 2019 will not yet be visible in this data.
I loved this bit: “revisiting the analysis at later stages will offer an opportunity to provide more robust quantification of the programme’s effects and investigate further important issues”.
Translation: It will be well worth you paying us some more money in the future to have another look at this, because although you have paid us a lot of money at this interim stage, it really is too early to tell.
Ah, the Big Bright Green Money Machine!
Who else? Simon Swan, Mobility Solutions Director, Arcadis, is speaking on “[i]ntegrating ZEV technologies with smart transport systems and plans for autonomous vehicles”. Sounds fascinating. But who are Arcadis? According to their websitevi they are “the world’s leading company delivering sustainable design, engineering and consultancy solutions for natural and built assets. We are more than 28,000 people, in over 70 countries, dedicated to improving quality of life.” I’m not sure I’m much wiser, though I am increasingly clear that there is loads of money in this stuff.
Moving on, Jacqui Murray, Deputy Director, Faraday Battery Challenge, Innovate UK, will also be in attendance. I’ve heard of Innovate UK, of course, but the Faraday Battery Challenge is new to me. Once again, I turned to a UK Government websitevii to learn more:
The challenge is addressing 8 key targets of automotive battery technology which will allow the UK to realise its commitment to move to full electrification and zero emissions vehicles. It is also expected to translate into other sectors, including aerospace and rail.
I can’t help thinking there’s an awful lot of overlap here. We’re not talking mega-bucks, but with this sort of spending here, there and everywhere in Government, it soon adds up, and we’re paying for it:
In November 2017, £38 million was awarded to 27 projects involving 66 organisations addressing a range of technical areas from cell materials to pack integration, to battery management systems and recycling.
In June 2018, a further £22 million was awarded to 12 projects involving 40 organisations focusing on developments in solid-state batteries, understanding battery safety and advanced battery management systems.
A third round of funding will see up to £25 million awarded to collaborative research and development projects and feasibility studies.
In addition, as WEET’s blurb for the March 2022 conference tells us, The Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution involves spending £1Bn to support the electrification of UK vehicles and their supply chains, including the development and mass-scale production of electric vehicle batteries and other technologies; £1.3Bn to accelerate the rollout of charging infrastructure, targeting support for rapid charge points on motorways and major roads; and £582M to extend the plug-in car, van, taxi, and motorcycle grants to 2022–23.
Then there’s the Net Zero Strategy: Build Back Greener funding – £620m for zero emission vehicle grants and EV infrastructure and £350m to support the electrification of UK vehicles and their supply chains.
Before the 11th March conference, though, WEET has organised another one to take place on 28th February 2022 (there are rather a lot of these things). This one is headed: Electricity markets in the UK: Next steps for the Capacity Market, the Contracts for Difference regime, and supporting low-carbon electricity generation.
From this I learn that there is an Electricity Security and Market Evolution team at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. I realise that I’m not qualified to comment, but I will anyway – I think they need to work a bit harder on the electricity security part of their remit. At the time of writing (late afternoon on the day after the winter solstice), with a temperature of 0.5C recorded on my car thermometer before I arrived home around noon, the National Grid is heavily reliant on fossil fuels (coal – the thing they’re phasing out – is generating 3.5% of our needs; and gas is supplying 52.4%). Solar is providing a glorious 0.6% and wind is offering a surprising (surprising, as it’s flat calm here today) 13%. Nuclear, at 15.4% is supplying as much as solar, wind and hydro combined.
I’m gratified to see among the attendees a representative of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Intelligent Energy, though I would feel a little more reassured if there was an intelligent representative of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Energy.
This part of the discussion promises to be challenging: “Capacity Market reform – sector priorities for developing a market that can deliver reliable, cost-effective, and decarbonised power supplies to the UK energy system.” I think somebody needs to point out that these are mutually inconsistent objectives. With a bit of luck, one of the experts will spot that.
Speakers include Graeme Forbes, Head of Market Solutions at Gemserv. According to their websiteviii they are an expert provider of professional services, helping clients make the most of a world increasingly driven by data and technology and their purpose is “[m]aking things that matter work better for everyone”. Which is nice. They claim to be a trusted service provider to, inter alia, the Crown Commercial Service, Department for BEIS and HM Revenue & Customs, so no doubt that works for them.
Another speaker is Sarah Keay-Bright, Senior Advisor Markets, Policy and Regulation, Energy Systems Catapult. No, I hadn’t heard of them either. According to their websiteix, they are “[s]upporting government, local authorities and innovators to create the new policies, markets, business models and technologies we need to deliver Net Zero.” I’m guessing that means that they have a number of contracts with both the national Government and some Councils, and so are also in receipt of some of the money provided by the Big Bright Green Money Machine (i.e. us, the taxpayers).
Dig a little deeper in their website, and that assumption turns out to be correct:
Modern Energy Partners (MEP) was a ground-breaking innovation programme tasked with exploring how to decarbonise the public sector estate, delivered in collaboration with selected government departments and the NHS.
Completed in September 2021, Phase 2 of MEP was funded by the Innovation team at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and overseen by BEIS and the Cabinet Office. The programme focused on learning through doing, testing out the practicalities of decarbonisation on complex campus-style public sector sites.
Through the MEP programme, a wide range of insights and tools were developed to guide public sector organisations through the decarbonisation process. Energy Systems Catapult, supported by BEIS, have made these available to public sector organisations and the wider supply chain.
MEP developed scalable, replicable methodologies for the decarbonisation of campus-style sites based on the experience gained from a testbed of 42 sites, where three aspects of decarbonisation were tested. They were:
- Rapid deployment of sub-metering and data analysis;
- The creation of Concept Designs that offered each site a decarbonisation pathway;
- Taking forward some no-regret measures on site.
By following this methodology sites across the public sector can benefit from the learnings of MEP and develop robust decarbonisation plans. The scale of MEP across 42 sites also presented learnings around different delivery routes, and the capacity and skills required.
It’s always good to have no regrets. Even if I don’t know what all that means.
The scale of this “green” takeover is such that WEET, the organisers, say that they expect speakers and attendees to be a senior and informed group including Members of both Houses of Parliament, senior government and regulatory officials in this area of public policy, together with energy sector professionals and relevant stakeholders from across the sector including renewables, representatives from suppliers, generators and network operators, infrastructure and engineering firms, innovators and technology providers, legal and financial specialists, industry analysts and consumer groups, environmental and other advocacy bodies, consultants and industry advisers, academics and commentators, and reporters from the national and specialist media.
Given that very few, if any, of those people will be attending just to obtain a warm rosy glow from the knowledge that huge amounts of time and money are being spent on all this stuff, that looks to me like a lot of salaries being diverted from the day-job to attending conferences like these. I can’t help wondering what could be achieved if, instead of attending such functions and instead of doing a day-job that revolves around this stuff, the various attendees devoted their working lives instead to doing something useful.
As well as the people who are expected to attend, we also learn that places have been reserved for parliamentary pass-holders from the House of Lords, and officials from BEIS; the Climate Change Committee; the Competition and Markets Authority; Crown Commercial Services; Defra; the Department for International Trade; the Department for the Economy, NI; the Department for Transport; the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications; the Health and Safety Executive; Ofgem; The Scottish Government; the UK Space Agency; and the Welsh Government. Also due to attend are representatives from Actis; Baringa Partners; CEPA; DLA Piper UK; Drax Group; Energy Systems Catapult; Frontier Economics; FTI Consulting; Joan Pye Project; RWE; Sembcorp Energy UK; Shell; Siemens Energy; The Crown Estate; UCL; and Vattenfall.
This article is already long enough, and no doubt you’ll be glad to learn that I don’t propose digging into who Actis, Baringa Partners, CEPA, FTI Consulting, Joan Pye Project and others are. Actually, I will tell you about the Joan Pye Project, since its gratifying to see somebody turning up, without their fingers in the taxpayers’ pocket, and trying to do something of which I approve:
The Joan Pye Project was established to help balance the debate concerning the future of energy in the United Kingdom and to put the case for nuclear generated electricity. The Project was self-funded and totally independent of Government departments or other political or commercial organizations.x
It makes a refreshing change to end on a positive note. Merry Christmas!
i The Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine was on the 1966 Simon & Garfunkel album “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme”.