Can London live up to the challenges of providing energy in today’s world?
On Wednesday the 14th of January 2015, the Department for Energy and Climate Change and Prospect organised a public discussion on the energy challenge currently facing London and the UK more widely. The discussion was hosted by journalist and broadcaster Jon Snow who was joined by food critic Jay Rayner, comedian Shappi Khorsandi, Dr Tom Counsell from DECC and Matthew Pencharz, the Mayor of London’s Senior Advisor for Environment and Energy.
The evening was characterised by lively debate with live polling, robust questioning and myth busting about how London and the UK can ensure that we continue to meet energy demand while reducing carbon emissions. Jon Snow proved an excellent chair, getting in to the swing of the debate while sporting eye catching, and on message, green socks and matching tie.
A short animation by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, laid out the key points for discussion, while also encapsulating the sense of fun that pervaded the event. The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Energy, Ed Davey, then kicked the discussion off with a call to arms to embrace the challenge of climate change. “Energy is always controversial,” he said acknowledging the difficulties inherent in this debate. He moved on to describe climate change as a “real and present danger to London and the UK,” especially with regard to flooding and disruption of services. But, the mood of Davey’s message was optimistic. He cited the fact that the UK’s renewable energy capacity has more than doubled in the last four years, and expressed confidence that the 2020 target of increasing renewable electricity to one third of all consumption would be met.
While the government is committed to reducing emissions in the transport sector, Davey reminded the audience that 43 per cent of London’s emissions come from workplaces, and 36 per cent from homes, while only 21 per cent are from transport. “We can’t leave the green debate to government,” he said. “Companies and the public need to embrace it too. You’ve all got to play your part in this, in London-—the greatest city on Earth.”
The first live poll of the evening asked the audience: “How much of the UK’s renewable electricity is generated in London.” An impressive 65 per cent of the audience chose the right answer which was a distinctly less impressive 1.5 per cent.
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Sustainability was a recurrent theme. In the green room prior to the event, Jon Snow and Jay Rayner were battling to appear suitably green by trying to outdo each other over who had done the least damage to the planet on their way to the event. This debate continued once the panel were assembled on stage. “Cities are a marvellous machine when it comes to possibility of sustainable living,” stated Rayner. Yet the question of how best to reduce individual carbon footprints, and at what point do you draw the line, provoked some lively conversation. “I don’t like to eat fruit that’s travelled further than me,” said the comedian Shappi Khorsandi, who proved skilled at using humour to make salient points. Later, Rayner called for a system of sustainability ratings on food, likening it to the current eco ratings on washing machines.
Jon Snow then prodded the panel to reveal their preferred energy choices, before opening the debate up to the floor. The Mayor of London’s Senior Advisor for Environment and Energy, Matthew Pencharz, expressed doubts about the public’s desire to change their energy habits, but if this audience is anything to judge by there is much willingness to experiment.
The second interactive poll of the evening found that most of the audience thought that 20 to 25 per cent of the UK’s energy is used in lighting our homes. A theme taken up by DECC’s Tom Counsell in his myth-busting presentation. He began by asking the audience how they use energy in their homes. Answers proffered included everything from “toilets” to “dogs”. His headline statistic was that in reality 1 per cent of the UK’s energy is used on lighting, while far more is consumed by our travel, heating and hot water needs. The question of finding alternative energy sources resonated with the audience, with bio fuels such as algae proving a popular suggestion. Jay Rayner was among those arguing that the development of this technology had huge potential for energy generation.
The positive shift in attitudes to nuclear was one of the evening’s key talking points. The audience were overwhelmingly in favour of constructing more nuclear power stations in the UK. This extraordinary change highlights an increased awareness to the threat of climate change in the past decade. There is also a perceived economic incentive as France has the lowest energy prices in Europe due to running 80 per cent off nuclear. Earlier, Ed Davey revealed that two thirds of his budget is currently spent on nuclear decommissioning. But, he counselled against staking everything on nuclear: “We are certainly looking at nuclear energy as an alternative low carbon source. But the best way to go greener quicker and cheaper, is to get other technologies to compete with it,” he said.
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