Every week I take my kids swimming at the Tepid Baths in Auckland. So-called because excess heat from the power generator for Auckland’s tram network originally warmed the pools. The trams are long gone, taking with them the cheap heat for the baths – a sad loss on both counts.
Combined heat and power generation (CHP) and the electrification of transport are central planks in a Greenpeace-commissioned report released this week. The meticulously researched study shows that the UK could meet almost 90% of its power from renewable sources by 2030. And that includes increasing the amount of electricity used for heat and transport.
As I’m currently working as an independent consultant for Greenpeace UK, I got a preview of the Scenarios 2030 report. Reading it, I found myself strangely excited and concerned that I might finally be turning into an energy geek. What was it about the transition to a low carbon economy that was getting me so (ahem) energized? OK, so it’s findings show we’ve still got a chance of stopping catastrophic climate change but there was something more than that.
Was it the neat efficiency of CHP? Or the shininess of smart appliances and Tesla batteries? Or the rapidly falling price of solar?
Well all of those things of course. But also the additional social and economic benefits that decarbonising can bring.
Tackling heating, for example, means putting serious effort into insulating homes. That’s a win against fuel poverty.
Decentralising power generation could mean local councils becoming energy producers. Which in turn could create austerity-busting revenue for social programmes. Boom!
Plus, according to a second report released by Greenpeace this week, a transition to renewable energy production globally could create 20 million new jobs between now and 2030. What’s not to like?
But despite the positive story told repeatedly in policy reports like these, campaigning on solutions to climate change is notoriously hard. People aren’t easily mobilised into saying ‘yes’ to something. And the technocratic blizzard of gigawatts, feed in tariffs and ROCs can be a turn-off for even the most committed climate warrior.
But shifting the energy debate more firmly into narratives about inequality and democracy is giving it new impetus. Naomi Klein has argued the point powerfully over the last few years. Tackling climate change shouldn’t just be about preventing a distant threat. Making the massive transitions necessary to cut emissions can also support building a more fair and equal society. Greenpeace’s Scenarios 2030 may be geek-tastic but it gives us a glimmer of the wider transformation the energy transition could bring.