Seeing a facemask on the street used to be rare – but over the summer they have become an essential part of our daily lives whether we are shopping in Sainsbury’s or heading into the office. Nearly every high street clothing chain now has its own style and someone has even paid $1.5m for a diamond-encrusted face mask.
So you are probably asking what a diamond-encrusted face mask and renewable energy have in common? Well, they have both become recognised as increasingly important by the public over recent months and, like high street clothing brands designing fashionable facemasks, now is the moment for renewable companies to begin to differentiate their offerings.
The response to the COVID-19 induced economic recession has seen support in renewables become truly mainstream. With everyone from Prince Charles through to investors and business networks including Lloyds Bank, Asda and Mitsubishi, all calling on the Government to deliver a Covid-19 recovery plan that aligns with the UK’s wider social, environmental and climate goals.
This has translated into the development of renewable infrastructure becoming a central part of post-COVID economic recovery planing in Europe. In France, President Emmanuel Macron’s government said his €100bn stimulus package would include big spending on green energy and transport. Germany has pledged to spend €54bn on climate projects through to 2023.
The UK is already a world leader in renewable energy, which made up 47% of the UK’s electricity generation in the first three months of the year. But we are only at the start of the social and economic benefits that renewables can offer. They can solve the old trilemma that has haunted the energy industry for decades: decarbonisation, energy security and affordability. But to do this, we need to see a radical shift over the next decade in infrastructure, technology and consumer behaviour.
Later this year, the Sixth Carbon Budget is expected to outline ambitious targets for decarbonising both homes and transport sectors. This will build on existing targets around phasing out petrol cars by 2040 and all new homes being banned from installing gas boilers by 2025.
At the same time, for Government, a number of critical policy decisions and political events are in the pipeline. From the Energy White Paper through to the Green Heat Strategy, from the Autumn Budget through to the National Infrastructure Strategy and Spending Review, we have a clear opportunity to create new policy measures and the right investment environment to spark the next generation of green innovation.
Renewable investment can also help to turbocharge post-Brexit Britain’s global reputation. This is going to be crucial in 2021 when the UK holds the presidency of the G7 group of industrialised nations and is also hosting COP 26 in November. The Government could and should use both opportunities to showcase the country’s ability to lead the world in embracing action on net-zero, and its ambition to become the first major global green economy. But fulfilling this ambition of renewable investment is going to have a radical impact on our daily lives.
Here the discrepancy lies between public support and actual willingness to make disruptive changes to daily life that contributes to our climate goals.
Polling shows people are in favour of renewables – the latest Public Attitudes Tracker published by BEIS shows 80% of people surveyed support the use of renewable energy, while only 3% oppose it. However, when it comes closer to home the problems that have blighted onshore wind, with local residents concerned about the impact of wind farms on their local community, show people are less in favour when it is on their doorstep. The same is borne out time and again in opinion polls, such as a quarter (24 per cent) of drivers said they don’t foresee themselves ever buying an electric car in their lifetimes, through to shoppers who say they want to buy fashion more sustainably but don’t want to pay for it.
But hidden behind this challenge is an opportunity. An opportunity for renewable businesses to show leadership by talking about the benefits of the next generation of renewable innovations and being open about how this will shift our daily lives. Not only will this give the Government the political cover to help drive action towards net-zero but these companies will also gain the reputational benefit of standing for something and trying to lead ambitious climate action.
So while I desperately try to find the perfect facemask embroidered with wind turbines to buy, it is important that renewables learn the right lessons from the other industries and products that have normalised – people understand the economic message so now is the time to put a stake in the ground and own part of the next wave of innovation.
This means focusing communications with stakeholders and the public on the next difficult to decarbonise parts of the economy like integrating renewables with other key technologies to build green transport and environmentally friendly ways to heat our homes.
By doing this now, you will not only support the move to cheaper, more environmentally friendly and secure energy but will also be well-positioned as a renewable leader for decades to come.