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Sustainable Innovation Forum - The global energy shift: Accelerating the fossil fuel phase out

Monday’s panel discussion with speakers Paul Spence, Director for Strategy and Corporate Affairs at EDF, Mark Somerset, Director of Business Growth at Highview Power, Marzia Zafar, Director of Policy and Sustainability at Kaluza, Mark Campanale, Executive Chairman at Carbon Tracker and Jane Dennett-Thorpe, Deputy Director Decarbonisation & Energy Transition at Ofgem was played out in front of a packed audience and a sea of navy suits.

A stark contrast to the audiences in the Green Zone youth focussed events I attended on Sunday but no less entertaining as the Moderator, Mathreyi Seetharaman, Forum Co-Chair quipped “you carry on, I’m just enjoying the show”.

So what did they say?

Mark Campanale pointed out that there has already been change in climate action. He spoke of attending previous COPs but this being the first one where there was price parity in renewables. He said that you only needed to look to the markets to see the change and used statistics such as carbon companies having lost half of their value in recent years and renewable companies being up 70%. He pointed out that Tesla had a recent $1trn valuation. His message was clear ‘we have the money, we have the tech, we have the desire. We need policy to support climate action’.

That phrase is a fitting summation of the discussion up to this point amongst the panel members. It was then that the moderator relayed an audience question that came in online pointing out that Paul Spence had mentioned nuclear twice in the last 15 minutes and wanted to know what the other panel members thought of that. Paul was directed to respond first and said that if public support is there, then nuclear can work. Marzia Zafar stated she was neither pro nor anti-nuclear. Jane Dennett and Mark Somerset gave no opinion. It was Mark Campanale who addressed Paul directly to say that nuclear was a ‘failed tech’ that ‘you can’t make any money from’ so he couldn’t see why you would do it particularly when the cost to produce hasn’t gone down in the last 40 years and is considerably more expensive than wind and solar. He even roused laugher from the audience when he asked if Paul could imagine a village in the Global South manning a modular nuclear plant.

Whatever your thoughts on nuclear, it did lead on to an interesting question around what was needed for the grid. Marzia had said that the advantage of Nuclear was a stable baseload, renewables were intermittent and reliant on storage or static demand becoming dynamic demand. In her view, until long term storage was scalable, we should look to the technologies we do have. Well, in my personal view, I wouldn’t think of nuclear as being a stop gap type solution. Once again though, it was Mark Campanale who questioned whether we should still be even talking about a stable baseload and whether the need was actually stable supply.

Finally, the moderator asked each panellist what they required going forward and here is their wish list. How many of these would be on your list?

  • For rules and standards on carbon to be very clear for companies

  • An evolution of the future supply market

  • For consumers to become active participants in the market

  • Transparency in local grid constraints

  • Half hourly settlement data by 2025 to be opt out rather than opt in

  • A push for all homes to have smart meters

  • For institutional investors to sit down with Ofgem and say what’s needed for them to support renewables in the UK

The final word was given to Jane from Ofgem who said that the dilemma between a desire for the regulator to provide guidance that has both clarity and fixedness when on the other hand trying to collaborate together to respond adaptively to climate action is not easy to solve and many are unclear who should be leading that. What was clear, is that a major change of the rules will be needed and in not too far a distance and for that, Jane would take all the support she could get.

By Joanne Linehan, E.ON Energy

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