Friday, 9 July 2010

Soap Boxes

The erudite comedian David Mitchell has summed up the true position on climate change perfectly in this 3 minute Soap Box monologue. Priceless - and probably more use in spreading the word than Al Gore's Inconvenient movie. Please watch it and share it with everyone you know with a sense of humour and an open mind.

I heard another Soap Box oration yesterday afternoon, from Phil Bentley, the Managing Director of British Gas. I'm on his company's Customer Panel because I want to encourage them to promote sustainability to the 12 million households that buy energy from British Gas.

The amazing thing about Phil's address to the Customer Panel was that his strategic concerns and intentions are exactly what I would have wished them to be. He highlighted three aspects, that he called the 'eternal triangle' of energy supply:

1) Security of supply - the past winter was the the first time that Britain imported more gas than we produced. As North Sea gas supply continues to wane, our net energy imports will continue to rise so we need to act now, to diversify our energy supplies.

2) De-carbonise the energy supply - climate change will have a huge impact on society across the world and Britain is taking the lead on building our low carbon energy future.

3) Affordability of energy - British companies will spend £200Bn over the next decade, to secure energy supplies from low-carbon sources. Unfortunately, while we have the lowest unit prices for energy in the whole of Europe, our energy bills are the highest because of the low energy efficiency of much of our housing stock. British Gas focuses resources to support households that are low-income and vulnerable, these costs are shared by all its customers. Phil is happy to discuss the best solutions to improving the energy efficiency of the nation's homes with you, me and our Governement.

I suggested that these were the same requirements for our sustainable energy future that Thomas L. Friedman articulated in his book, 'Hot, Flat and Crowded', where he argues the case for clean, cheap and plentiful electrons. Phil responded emphatically that he can't deliver cheap and I am in total agreement with him that affordable is the more appropriate target.

In my view, it's because energy is so cheap today that we are willing to waste it without a second thought. Just as you can't unboil an egg, the laws of thermodynamics mean that we can't unwaste energy. All we can do, going forward, is to waste less.

Being on the Customer Panel at British Gas has given me unique insight into the company's environmental programmes and practicies. As a volunteer, with no contractual arrangements to constrain what I say, I remain fully independent and willing to criticise and praise as I see fit. I have nothing but praise for Phil's strategic intentions and hope that constructive criticism of his company's pace of change, and actions to communicate these intentions to customers and the wider public, might help them to lead the energy industry and its customers in Britain towards a more sustainable future.