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A voice in Parliament

9 December 2013
Houses of Parliament

Informing public policy with sound engineering  principles.

During 2013 the IET has been called to give oral evidence to Parliamentary Select Committees on eight occasions, a remarkable achievement reports Helen Farr.

The influence which the IET seeks to exert on government and Parliament is not on behalf of a particular cause but to ensure that public policy is informed by sound engineering principles. It is important that policy makers consider the engineering practicality of their proposals as an integral part of the decision-making process.
Six of these calls to give evidence came from the Energy and Climate Change Committee. So what is the secret of the IET’s success in this area?
The Energy and Climate Change Committee shadows the UK government department of the same name in a constructive way. Instead of waiting until a policy has been implemented and then calling government to account for the outcome, (which used to be the way of working of some Select Committees) it seeks to draw government attention to key issues and probe whether they are being adequately addressed while there is still time to make a difference. This makes it a particularly good channel for IET influence into Parliament and government.

Building the relationship

The relationship between the IET’s Energy Policy Panel (EPP) and the Select Committee has been built over many years. On separate occasions, both staff and chair of the Committee have been dinner guests of the IET’s Energy Policy Panel. We have discussed their aims and working methods and learnt from them how to present IET written evidence advice in a way that carries authority and fits the way that parliamentary committees work.
The theme running through all of the IET’s energy submissions, whether to government or to Parliament, is that solving the energy ‘trilemma’ of maintaining security of supply while decarbonising generation and keeping down costs to consumers requires a ‘whole system’ approach. If policies are introduced piecemeal to promote one part of the supply chain, there are likely to be adverse consequences for the long-term ability to optimise the equation.

Hot topics

Perhaps the most important topic this year so far has been smart meter roll-out because this subject plays to the IET’s strength as a multi-disciplinary professional body. When advising on this subject, the IET combines the expertise of its Policy Panels on Energy, IT, Communications and the Biological Effects Policy Advisory Group of low-level EMFs (BEPAG). Having submitted detailed written evidence, the IET was requested to provide witnesses to two sessions.
Speaking on behalf of the IET’s BEPAG, Dr John Swanson explained that wireless communication for smart meters would be comparable in power, if not lower, than existing technologies, with a low data-rate, and will use existing communications technologies such as mobile phones, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and others. These technologies are covered by the latest IET Position Statement on ‘The Possible Harmful Biological Effects of Low-Level Electromagnetic Fields of Frequencies up to 300 GHz’. This concludes that the balance of scientific evidence to date does not indicate that harmful effects occur in humans due to low-level exposure to radio frequency EMFs.
Also on the subject of smart meter roll-out, Dr Martyn Thomas, chair of the IET IT Policy Panel, covered the privacy and security implications of the smart meter specifications and the importance of recognising realistic timescales for major engineering changes when setting policy timescales. The resulting Select Committee report, which was published in July, quotes extensively from the IET’s written and oral evidence.
In July, the IET was invited to give evidence on Community Energy. The witness was Duncan Botting, a member of the IET Energy Policy Panel. It is important to embrace a whole systems approach in addressing the government’s decarbonisation objectives. The point at which heat, light and transport all come together is at the community and individual level and the ability of a community to manage its energy in a more holistic manner is a largely untapped resource. Policy, legislation, regulation and the free market need to be aligned to produce consistent market signals so that the various components of community energy are able to deliver within a consistent framework. Duncan Botting also represented the IET at a renewable and sustainable energy event at the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Professor Roger Kemp was the IET’s witness when the IET was called to give oral evidence on gas generation strategy in February, also stressing the whole system approach.
Other notable submissions to the Energy and Climate Change Committee this year have been prepared jointly with other institutions under the banner of Engineering the Future. The IET led the work on carbon capture and storage which was supported by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, the Energy Institute, the Institution of Chemical Engineers and the Royal Academy of Engineering. The IET played a major part in the evidence on heat, which was led by the Royal Academy of Engineering.
In addition to these energy topics, the IET has been called to give oral evidence on e-crime to the Commons Home Affairs Committee where the witness was Professor Jim Norton, and on digital by default, with Dr Martyn Thomas as IET witness to the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee.

How to get involved

Owing to the rapid pace of change in energy policy and implementation, the Select Committee conducts ever more inquiries and with shorter timescales.
Deadlines can be short – three weeks is typical – although the more complex inquiries allow more time. This is challenging for a membership organisation, but active consultations are posted on the website and interested members who have ticked the relevant ‘Policy Keys’ box are alerted by email. It is the job of the Energy Policy Panel, under its chairman, Dr Simon Harrison, to ensure the range of member views are appropriately covered, but also that the weight is identified that constitutes the essence of an objective and balanced engineering response.
All submissions made by the IET are available on the IET website and oral evidence can be viewed on the UK Parliament website at Parliament.tv

Further reading

• Energy Policy Panel: www.theiet.org/policy/ panels/energy/
• IET Submissions: www.theiet.org/policy/ submissions/
• Parliament.tv: www.parliamentlive.tv/ Main/Home.aspx
• Electromagnetic Fields and Health: www.theiet.org/factfiles/bioeffects/index.cfm

It’s all in the cloud

The Information Technology Panel has published its latest fact-file, one in a set of four guides. The complete set is designed to explain the concepts of cloud computing in a non-technical way, the rationale behind this being that there is much coverage of cloud computing in both the business press and by many service providers. In practice, however, the concept of cloud computing can mean different things to different people.
While the term ‘Cloud’ is relatively new, many engineers have been using private forms of cloud computing for a couple of decades, referred to as distributed computing. That said, new cloud-based technologies coupled with the growth of the Internet have the potential to offer business benefits not conceivably possible a decade ago. While the perceived benefits can be significant, they have to be balanced against the risks that cloud can bring.
The most recent document pays particular attention to those who are new to the cloud concept and now want to take the first steps towards cloud adoption. How should they go about starting this journey, what should they look for in a cloud provider and how can they ensure that the cloud environment delivers value for their business? This fact-file attempts to provide some guidance to these questions.
Much of the technology that enables cloud is based on open systems. Users may wish to keep a watch for the next fact-file on the business benefits of adopting open source solutions many of which have been adopted to build globally recognised brands that have changed the world.
Access to the full set of IET Cloud fact-files is available at www.theiet.org/cloud
The Policy Department is always interested to receive feedback from readers via policy@ theiet.org.

EurIng Alan Berry, principal policy advisor, IT & Communications

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