Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280 - 289)



  Q280  Mr Cawsey: Allan, could you tell us something about the role of microgeneration in the London Plan, this idea that you are going to move to a decentralised system of more than 50% by 2050?

  Mr Jones: The target for decentralised energy is 25% by 2025 and 53% by 2050. About 17% of that is microgeneration. We have similar proportions for renewables, waste to energy and CHP. We see all of those technologies working with each other trying to get the regulatory system to recognise the laws of physics and how that trades locally across that. There is an important example that could be set for other cities and for other regions as to how you can drive forward what is quite an aggressive target. The 60% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2025 is 25 years currently ahead of the Government's aspirational target and that is simply because we looked at the 450 parts per million and worked back what we needed to be doing now to get there. You come up with some rather different figures. 75% of London's CO2 emissions come from centralised energy, both gas and electricity. You do not normally see that figure, it is normally smeared across end use, but that indicates quite strongly that we need to do much better than we are currently doing on decentralised energy technologies.

  Q281  Dr Blackman-Woods: Can you tell us what the role of social science research is in renewable energy development or deployment, and can you point to any recent achievements?

  Professor MacKerron: Thank you for the question. It is fair to say that the Economic and Social Research Council as well as the UK Energy Research Centre have been very active in promoting social science research on renewable energy. If you take a period over the last few years, probably the largest single contribution—and it has come from many different institutions—has been research on the effectiveness of the renewables obligation and the ROC system that Des Turner referred to earlier, and quite detailed work on the possible alternatives, about which you have already heard today and no doubt on other occasions, including the feed-in tariff and work that has been done in places like Cambridge, Warwick, Sussex where I come from, Surrey and Imperial College. They have all been very influential in that area. A second area which I think has been active and has made some impact on policy has been the micro-generation issue in general. I should just add the qualification to that that micro-generation of course, although mostly about renewables, is also about efficient use of fossil fuels too and that while your inquiry is particularly concerned with generation, we have inevitably been looking at the heat side of things as well. I think it is fair to say the social science community has been alerting the policy system to the fact that there has been major neglect of the heat market and the importance of heat to climate change targets. I think that is another contribution that the social science community has been making in recent times. There are a number of other specific areas that I will not go into. Perhaps I could make one generic point and that is that the way in which the social science research community is aiming to have an impact is not just in the form of individual research projects; it is in the form of being engaged in a number of different ways. One of my colleagues is a specialist adviser to another of the committees of this House. We have a social scientist, you may observe, sitting behind you and no doubt advising you at present. Tim Jackson at Surrey is a member of the Sustainable Development Commission and he has been very influential in persuading them to work very effectively on issues like tidal power. I think one of the ways that the social science community is responding is by an engagement with many of the important institutions that themselves have some leverage, both in research and policy, as well as the traditional activity of conducting research projects in which I think we have also been fairly active.

  Q282  Dr Blackman-Woods: Are there specific challenges for social science research in this sector?

  Professor MacKerron: One of the challenges is, and I think Brian has alluded to it, is that where it bites there is a need for a great deal more basic demonstration at a technical level. Much of the work that social scientists can do and will be able to do does depend upon having prior work done in the demonstration field. In the field of micro-wind that we discussed earlier on, we have a bit of scepticism at the moment but we know that better demonstration might allow us to be more positive. I think that is the challenge, to try to persuade the policy system that the so-called valley of death, the gap between the initial demonstration and the commercial application, is one of those things that Government might give greater attention to. As you have already heard, the Environmental Transformation Fund but also the Energy Technologies Institute are both encouraging developments because they are designed to help fill that gap and provide the material that the social scientists can then work on more effectively.

  Q283  Dr Blackman-Woods: Is it your experience that it is common practice for social science researchers when they are looking at the renewable sector to come up with policy solutions to the problems that they find or not?

  Professor MacKerron: I would put it the other way round. I have found very few instances where that has not been true; in other words, virtually all the social science research that is devoted to renewables starts from a policy question and uses the various tools of social science. Much of it has been economics but increasingly it is sociology and social psychology as well, looking at consumer behaviour, which is a very big growth area right now. I would say the vast bulk of the social science work is devoted to real and practical policy questions and is designed to have impact either in the short term or more commonly to influence the climate of opinion.

  Q284  Dr Blackman-Woods: My question was actually about policy solutions, not whether they come up with policy questions, which I would expect them to do of course. Are they coming up with policy solutions?

  Professor MacKerron: The answer is: yes, on the whole. One feels slight diffidence about allowing experts to be too much in control of policy. One can make a contribution; there are others, such as yourselves, who have contributions to make as well. Yes, if I was not clear, I am sure it is the case that all that research is designed to think about practical policy solutions as well as simply to raise the questions.

  Q285  Dr Blackman-Woods: Can you tell the Committee briefly about the work being carried out at SPRU and the role of renewable energy in electricity supply?

  Professor MacKerron: I can briefly. I think probably the largest single contribution, which is now, as I said before, 18 months since publication but nevertheless among the most influential is a large, multidisciplinary project on micro-generation, which involved the collaboration of both engineers and social scientists. The engineers are from Southampton and Imperial College and the social scientists from SPRU. I think that was very valuable because it did manage to conduct some important small-scale engineering trials and then build some economic and political analysis on the back of that. Just to give you an example of, as it were, policy solutions, we came to some fairly strong conclusions on the subject of the need to treat smart metering not as a matter of individual consumer choice, but as a matter of infrastructure development that should be treated at a national and policy level generically and not, as I think the regulator Ofgem would wish, as a matter of individual consumer choice. We pointed to examples elsewhere—Italy and Sweden—where such a broad policy approach has been made. We also did some quite practical work on the question of capital allowances and enhanced capital allowances, trying to even out the tax treatment of what effectively is similar kinds of investment that might happen to be done by householders to the kinds of investment that may be done actually in the same technologies but by energy supply companies whose tax treatment is much more generous and much more liable to lead to early deployment.

  Q286  Dr Blackman-Woods: So you already have key recommendations emerging?

  Professor MacKerron: And those have been referenced often enough in parliamentary debates and in government publications. That is an example of a fairly large and important multi-disciplinary study. There are other examples but I have a suspicion that in the interests of time I should leave those out for now.

  Q287  Dr Blackman-Woods: I turn to David Sowden briefly?

  Mr Sowden: In the interests of time, I have a pointer for the Committee on a piece of research that was done by the Sustainable Consumption Round Table two years ago, which is relevant to your question, but I will write to the Committee with the details.

  Q288  Mr Cawsey: I want to get one point in on the public sector and how it can make a contribution, an example being the schools estates and the school estates contribute 15% of carbon emissions from the public sector and yet if you look at building regulations, it will just say "all new school buildings over 1000 m2 should consider the use of micro-generation", which does not sound very tough. Some local policies might say that there has to be a target of, say, about 10%. Should that be a national requirement and is 10% too low? Should it be more ambitious? What should be being done to make sure the public sector plays a big role in micro-generation?

  Mr Jones: You have raised quite an interesting question there because in London we regard the building regulations as the base case for business as usual. The London Plan actually demands far more than building regulations does. You may be aware that the new London Plan that was recently published has increased the renewables target from 10% to 20%. It has also fundamentally changed the way that you calculate that. The previous London Plan was an energy-led target; the new London Plan is a carbon-led target. It no longer talks about 10% renewable energy generated on site. It talks about displacing 20% CO2 emissions from renewable energy. That encourages and stimulates other technologies like decentralised energy, further energy efficiency improvements, because it is more economic for the developer to reduce its carbon footprint to as low as possible before it then applies perhaps more expensive micro-generation renewable technologies.

  Mr Sowden: I would endorse that with the revision to the Climate Change Planning Policy Statement, shortly we hope to be underwritten by Michael Fallon's Private Member's Bill that has already been through committee and which opens up the Merton Rule type polices, as we call them, to both renewables, which they were before, and importantly low carbon technologies. It allows local authorities to specify those policies in local plans that give developers the appropriate balance between renewables on the one hand and CHP and energy efficiency on the other. We welcome that move.

  Q289  Mr Cawsey: I do not want to put words into your mouths, but the Government has a very ambitions Building Schools for the Future programme to replace and refurbish every secondary school in England. Surely it would be sensible to say that this has to be part of that, since they are doing the work anyway?

  Mr Samuel: We need to be more ambitious.

  Mr Sowden: Certainly that is something that the Energy Minister, Malcolm Wicks, in his previous stint as Energy Minister was very keen to see during several announcements.

  Chairman: We shall ask him when we see him. Thank you very much indeed. I am very sorry that this has been a very quick canter through the subject. I do appreciate your patience with us. Thank you all very much.

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