Energy policy

Access to energy is now crucial for India’s continued development. But the scale of the challenge and the changes required could alter the whole structure of governance and the way in which the Indian economy works over the next few years.

A seminar held at Kings College London earlier this week looked at the issues – investment, trade, energy security and the impact of energy on the balance between the urban and the rural communities. We produced more questions than answers but even the questions are instructive. Read more

A number of well-sourced reports over the past two days suggest that, as predicted, we are on the edge of a deal for the construction of new nuclear power stations in the UK.

The champagne corks however are not quite popping either in Whitehall or in Paris. Read more

What does 2013 hold for the UK’s Climate Change Committee? This worthy body was established in 2009 and is responsible for advising the government on emissions targets and reporting to parliament on the progress being made on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The remit sounds reasonable but the reality is that the committee has been written off in Whitehall. The committee’s advice is blatantly ignored and its chief executive, despite his obvious knowledge and capability, has been dismissed by no less than the prime minister as too inexperienced and unqualified to be appointed as permanent secretary of the energy department. For a serious public servant that is pretty damning. Read more

Francis Maude faces a re-assertion of civil service authority. Getty Images

By the end of the week the Department for Energy and Climate Change should have a new permanent secretary. The interviews are on Thursday and the panel, now shorn of inconvenient outsiders such as Lord Stern, will pick a civil servant who will be confirmed immediately.

That might sound bad, but the candidate most likely to be selected is surprisingly strong and a symbol of how seriously the senior civil service takes the department’s problems.

The appointment is a re-assertion of civil service authority and a slap in the face for Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude who wanted to bring in a businessman. Mr Maude and Mr Cameron still owe an apology to David Kennedy, the head of the climate change committee who was selected and then summarily deselected, but the most he is likely to get is a consolatory MBE. (I will elaborate on the future of the committee next week.) Read more

First Minister Alex Salmond, left, favours growth of wind power. Getty Images

The Treasury does not agree with the level of subsidies being offered but has been forced partially to back down because of the political imperative of keeping the coalition together. The secretary of state Ed Davey, a Liberal Democrat, believes in setting medium-term targets on emissions but has been forced to back down and to accept a time-limited policy, which will be reviewed again after the next election. The result is that no one believes the policy being published this week is the right answer, or that it will endure beyond 2015. Read more

After Nick Butler’s post on David Cameron’s energy policy John Kay writes about the complexity of retail energy tariffs and how the simplification of these will not be easy.

Last week, David Cameron told the House of Commons that UK energy suppliers will be required to ensure that all their customers benefit from the lowest tariff. Coincidentally, Britain’s energy regulator Ofgem published a document proposing simplification of retail energy tariffs. The document demonstrated that simplification will be complicated. Certainly more complicated than the prime minister’s statement implied. Read more

David Cameron is the first prime minister in living memory who has not employed a business policy adviser in Number 10. The lack of such an adviser is all too evident in the continuing shambles around the UK’s energy policy.

Picking up public irritation with rising electricity and gas bills, the PM declared that companies would be compelled to supply customers on the basis of the lowest tariff available. This signals a real lack of understanding of how business works. The rapid consequence of such a policy would be to push all tariffs up and to remove any incentive on any supplier to provide competitive packages to end users. Read more

The Department of Energy and Climate Change survives. For the moment. One of the subtexts of last week’s government reshuffle in the UK was whether this was the right moment for a change in the layout of Whitehall with both the culture and energy departments abolished and their functions distributed elsewhere. In the end, the politics of the coalition made that too difficult. Instead, the DECC is being emasculated with several of its powers transferred elsewhere. What does this mean for energy policy and for companies and investors? Read more

Mitt Romney has given Barack Obama a free pass when it comes to energy and environmental policy.  Obama needs only to point to Romney’s energy plan - with its proposed demolition of federal controls on new energy developments and its omission of any mention whatsoever of climate change to claim the votes of the environmental lobby.

Even those most disappointed by the last 4 years can hardly fail to back Obama when the alternative is someone who used his acceptance speech last week to mock Obama’s commitment to the environment and to contrast Obama’s aim of helping to save the earth and the oceans with his own commitment to helping ordinary American families get jobs.  But what won’t be said this week at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte is that the American energy outlook for the next four years at least is already very largely set, and won’t be much altered by whoever is elected in November. Read more

Thanks to those who have commented on the post on adaptation to climate change – or at least thanks to most of them.

Just to be clear, I don’t see adaptation as an alternative to emissions reductions but as an essential part of a twin track strategy.  We need both.  As I said, I can’t see emissions being kept low enough to avoid the risk of an increase of around 2 degree C.  That isn’t a statement of what is desirable, but a judgment of the current political reality.  I hope I’m wrong, but watching what is happening in the US in particular, I am not optimistic.  I will write more on the US situation in the run up to the election. Given my lack of optimism I feel that adaptation is an imperative.  But the other track should be pursued as well.  If we don’t limit emissions at all, the risk is that the average temperature change could go well beyond 2 degrees.  Then we really will be in trouble, especially in terms of food production and the fate of low lying territories and their inhabitants. Read more

Wanted.  Permanent Secretary for the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change.   Key attributes – a thick skin, a blind eye and the ability to wield a sharp knife.

The speed with which the appointment process has moved since the resignation of Moira Wallace was announced at the unusual hour of 8pm on the evening of July 19th and the direct involvement of Sir Bob Kerslake, the head of the home civil service, are signs of the concern felt at the top end of Whitehall about what is happening in DECC and the way in which the Department has lost its way.   Putting things right, however, will need something more than a change of personnel. Read more