Launch of the new Centre for Energy Policy, Scotland, 5 May 2015

Over 100 invited delegates congregated in the plush new innovations hub at Strathclyde University to join the launch of the new Centre for Energy Policy (CEP). The CEP is the newest addition to a broad group of projects which make up the International Public Policy Institute (IPPI). The IPPI was established to make “a difference to policy outcomes locally, nationally and globally”. The new CEP aims to feed the technical and economic expertise honed at Strathclyde University and beyond into a centre of expertise which can advise energy and economic policy in an informed and coordinated manner.

The day began with a welcome from Professor Sir Jim McDonald, Principal and Vice Chancellor of Strathclyde University, who emphasised how important the new CEP could be in terms of promoting cross-sector discussion between commerce, academia and government.

Ian Marchant of the Wood Group then gave an interesting introduction to several ideas which he believes could change the energy industry. Firstly he promoted the concept of a Royal Commission of experts to examine the implications of climate change and to combine this with the move towards integration of energy policy with climate policy. As shown in the new app “grid carbon” (available from it is possible to put all energy into the single context of CO2/KWh. Based on this, Marchant proposed that, much like some areas of electronics double in effectiveness (such as data storage) within a decade, the energy sector should also aim to halve carbon intensity every 10 years. This “Marchants Law” would cover energy production as well as energy use and must be technology neutral to ensure fairness across the industry. Finally Marchant emphasised the importance of regarding heat as a valuable commodity. Heat makes up a large proportion of energy use and yet can only be used locally. This should be taken into account when building new facilities – both energy sources and energy end-users. Situating one next to the other maximises efficiency. For example, last year Tullis Russell built a biomass boiler in Fife, Scotland, to provide heat and energy to the local paper mill. The paper mill closed last month and, while the extra electricity can be sold on, the heat is now a wasted commodity and a significant loss of income and efficiency.

Brian Wilson, a familiar face in the UK as a former Energy Minister, came a somewhat bleak outlook of the energy sector in the UK, focussing on the dilemma in the Western Isles. Whilst the Isles are well placed to be energy efficient, if not 100% renewable, this is simply not possible due to the continued delay on the prospect of a super-connector to link the isles to the national grid. Without this is place, the 70% of the island populations are now in energy poverty. He used this situation to emphasise how useful the CEP could be in terms of coordinating energy policy and moving beyond what he termed “short-term-ism”.

Mary McAllan of the Scottish Government opened her talk by warning that she would be basically talking only about current issues and keeping on brief since the national elections are only days away. The current policy within Scotland is to head towards a 100% renewable situation. However, she stressed that this was an overall total of energy generated plus energy imported minus energy exported, thus allowing for a little bit of “flexibility” over the value (my word, not hers, although the implication was there). The Scottish Government has not closed the door on fossil fuels, having recently funded the long-coming CCS project at Peterhead and a new CCS project in Grangemouth. Unfortunately, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the question and answer session for Mary was monopolised by someone from the anti-fracking movement who attempted to hi-jack the discussion onto the subject of the proposed new Ineos fracking site in Grangemouth.

Keith Bell of the Electronic and Electrical Engineering Dept at Strathclyde University gave a more pragmatic discussion of how the energy trilemma (security of supply vs policy/CO2 vs cost) would benefit from the coordination of technical studies with political desires. Many of the challenges for the energy sector are “too big for one discipline” and therefore the new CEP would be perfectly placed to coordinate projects and programmes which simultaneously aim to achieve the same ends.

Finally, Karen Turner, the new Director of the CEP, closed the launch by emphasising that the centre would aim to be an international body to coordinate energy policy and projects calling upon past and current expertise at the University but also beyond within a rapidly expanding network of advisers and supporting agencies.

More information on the CEP is available on their website along with downloadable policy briefs including one entitled “Increased energy efficiency in Germany – international spillover and rebound effects”.