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Clean energy transition ‘will not play by the rules’

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The global energy transition will not “play by the rules” and will be driven largely by disruptive consumers as they flock towards decentralised generation.

That was the conclusion reached by a panel of energy professionals at today’s FT Energy Transition Strategies event, involving the likes of Good Energy’s Juliet Davenport and the Energy Transition Commission’s Lord Adair Turner.

Turner sparked debate surrounding the transition towards a cleaner power system by announcing that he had changed his mind since his days at the Committee on Climate Change which he chaired between 2008 and 2012, stating that he now believed power grids could be run almost entirely on renewables with the help of battery storage and some small gas turbines.

However he caveated this by remarking that there were significant parts of the economy that could not be decarbonised as easily - particularly heavy industry and aviation - and that other sectors would have to go further if the Paris Climate Agreement’s goal of limiting the effects of climate change to two degrees is to be met.

This was reinforced by BP’s group chief economist Spencer Dale who, remarking that BP’s forecasts had energy demand surging by nearly one third out to 2030, said that the global energy transition would be coloured by increased demand for power from the developing world.

Other members of the panel were more optimistic about the chances of decarbonising power systems, particularly Davenport who lauded the ability of consumers to help drive the transition.

Responding to Turner’s comment that public policy had been a “huge success” in driving cost reductions in renewables, Davenport said: “Consumers can transform but they can also disrupt policies and governments… drivers [of the transition] will be factors like clean air… this transition will not play by the rules”.

Turner added to the debate by speaking of forthcoming government policy - Theresa May’s government failed to publish the eagerly anticipated Clean Growth Plan before parliament was dissolved for next month’s election - arguing that it needed to focus on carbon pricing.

“As many consumers are out there putting solar panels on their roof, just as many are out there in London buying SUVs,” he added.

Previous speakers at the event were also quick to state the problems and disruption caused with the transition. Wilfrid Petrie, chief executive at Engie UK & Ireland, said: “The transition has not been smooth and will not be smooth…in fact it feels more like a revolution.”

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