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Press release

Adjustments needed on UK energy policy

25 January 2012


A new report, published today, considers whether current policies are far-reaching enough for the UK to meet its carbon budgets and build a low carbon economy.

As Government and policy makers urgently grapple with these issues, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and the Parliamentary Group for Energy Studies (PGES) report looks at what lessons history can teach us.

The report “UK Energy Policy 1980 – 2010: A history and lessons to be learnt” has been written by leading energy policy analysts Professor Peter Pearson, Director of the Low Carbon Research Institute of Wales, Cardiff University, and Professor Jim Watson, Director of the Sussex Energy Group, University of Sussex.

Professor Pearson said: “The debate should not be about more or less intervention, but about the kinds of intervention required to meet these goals in a flexible, sustainable and legitimate way.

“It is clear from our history that the UK has been moving away from a pure ‘text book’ model of liberalised energy markets since their creation in the 1980s. Our history illustrates how liberalisation is a process rather than an event, which has been shaped in different ways by the policies of successive governments and the factors that influence them.”

Professor Jim Watson said: “Markets and competition are important – and our history shows some of the hazards of excessive planning and state control, such as the ‘over prediction’ for nuclear power in the 1980s. We emphasise the need to combine top-down targets and policies, such as the 80 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 with incentives for bottom-up action to meet these targets – including by communities, local authorities and households.

“Our work emphasises the need for policy integration – that the low-carbon transition requires co-ordination right across government.  Close co-ordination is required between government and a wide range of public and private sector bodies, utilities, government agencies, voluntary groups and communities.”

PGES Chairman, Ian Liddell-Grainger MP said: "This report is an invaluable contribution to the work of the Group and will be eagerly read by policy makers, academics and engineers wishing to understand the relationship between politics and energy. "

IET Energy Policy Panel Chair Professor Simon Harrison said: “The report shows clearly how challenging it is to formulate good energy policy.   Long construction lead times mean that it is easy for good decisions to be overtaken by events before they have had an impact.  Policy makers need to value the lessons identified in responding to the even more complex circumstances of our own time.”

Starting with the privatisation of the energy market in the 1980s, the authors note how energy issues were increasingly left to market forces and the role of energy in Whitehall and Parliament diminished as it became a small part of one government department.

Now, energy policy has come full circle with energy once again centre stage as the UK grapples with climate change, energy security, affordability, fuel poverty and numerous new technological and societal developments.

Media enquiries to:

Robert Beahan
External Communications Manager

Tel: +44 (0)1438 767336
Mob: +44 (0)7595 400912
Email: rbeahan@theiet.org

Notes to editors:

  • The full report is available at: www.theiet.org/pges30
  • Interviews with both authors are available and can be arranged via the IET Press Office.
  • The Parliamentary Group for Energy Studies is marking the 30th anniversary of its establishment.
  • The Institution of Engineering and Technology is Europe’s largest professional body of engineers and a source of essential engineering intelligence.