Consumers stand to gain from the electric revolution

Businesses and consumers stand to gain from an electric revolution which can start today, says Martin Wright, Chairman of Gravitricity energy storage.

This article first appeared in The Herald newspaper.

Britain stands on the threshold of an extraordinary green revolution which could spark vast amounts of economic activity – if only the Treasury would unlock the door. Its new £3billion energy efficiency plan is a welcome step in the right direction, but more is needed and can be done.

The last decade has seen an exponential rise in renewable energy – both solar and wind – and in the years ahead we can already plot a route to multiple gigawatts of offshore and onshore wind which will support thousands of jobs and attract literally £billions of investment.

Britain ‘does’ green energy and does it extremely well.

As we look towards our 2050 net zero ambitions, energy supply is not the problem – demand is the key and, by implication, getting households and businesses directly involved.

As numerous studies have suggested – most recently SCDI’s Green Recovery Plan – we should turn our focus – and rapidly – to accelerate the use of electricity to heat our homes and power business and transport.

The exciting news is that this transformation can happen now with new and emerging technologies which are getting cheaper by the day. 

Solar panels, heat pumps, hydro, wind and energy storage can together deliver green energy to homes and factories to power our cars and deliver affordable heat.

Right now, a rapidly evolving energy market means switched-on consumers are already using cheap (or even free!) excess wind energy generated at night to charge up cars, domestic batteries and heat pumps.

Whist new forms of energy storage – such as heat batteries and gravity storage – can bank up low cost renewable generation to be released when required. At Gravitricity we are developing our gravity-based system which can hold up to 24MWh, or enough to power 2000 homes for a day.

Together, energy storage and off-peak demand can drive down bills and de-stress the National Grid – which will allow even more renewables to come onstream to accelerate our journey to zero carbon.

To make this happen we need a nationwide shift to electrification of our homes and businesses – in a change as radical to the energy market as the rollout of North Sea mains gas in the 1970s.

In the next few years we could have a massive national programme with local businesses in every village, town and city installing solar panels, heat pumps and energy storage which would decarbonise factories and homes, reduce bills and mobilise a vast army of skilled installers countrywide.

How can it be done? Easy.

The Treasury just needs to light the fuse – by putting the right policies in place. The £3billion in energy efficiency  grants is a welcome start, but much more can be done.

Look at the vast upswing in solar panel installation last decade which generated thousands of installer jobs and today powers thousands of homes.

For example, Treasury could adapt the Enterprise Investment Scheme, make changes to stamp duty, or offer decent grants that are easy to access and which make it worth people’s while. Or offer capital allowances or reduce stamp duty by 100% of the cost of technologies installed.

And when consumer demand rises – jobs will follow.

The key is to do it now. Keep it simple.  Keep it universal.  And keep the measures in place.

Of course, there are many powerful voices calling for new solutions such as green hydrogen or new nuclear.  However, these technologies take years to deliver and are more expensive than what can be achieved today. Our research focus should be on close-to-market technologies which can be adopted readily in the near term.

If business and homeowners make the shift from gas and diesel to low-cost, off-peak renewables, demand will come and thousands, maybe millions of local, skilled jobs will follow.  

This, in turn will hasten our move to the net zero economy I believe we all desire.

It will be good for our businesses, it will be good for our homes, it will good for our economy and – not least – it will be good for our planet.

If Treasury can unlock electrical demand, the rest will follow.