This comment relating to the coronavirus crisis appeared in a national newspaper recently:
“It is clear that the ways we travel, and use transport, will not be the same after the coronavirus outbreak as they were before.”
Perhaps this is the sort of speculative commentary against which some figures in Government reportedly rail.
There’s also plenty of commentary positing the opposing view, which is to say that we risk over-estimating the behavioural impact of the current crisis.
The thinking goes that if we blithely assume that changes made during our locked down state will be permanent, then we risk drifting, “boats against the current” back to the bad old ways.
I do have sympathy with this viewpoint.
Writing in the FT recently, Tim Harford explained how countries fail to prepare for disasters even though they know they are coming.
One of the terms for describing the phenomenon is ‘optimism bias’ – or, put simply, thinking that bad stuff happens to other people.
We are now learning to adapt to our new circumstances. For example, RenewableUK Cymru has recently set up a Virtual Energy Network in partnership with one of our key members, Arup.
Obviously, the current situation is a motivating factor to meet online, but more importantly, we need policy makers to be able to laser focus on the Energy transition as soon as they can and to prevent that ‘drift’.
“Wall of demand” for EVS?
In its first Virtual Energy Network session last week, we asked whether the current lockdown has energy policy implications for likely patterns of transport usage and provision.
There was a good deal of conjecture about the impact Covid-19 would have on transport decarbonisation policy in the short term.
We don’t know yet, for example, how quickly ‘normality’ will be phased back or how ‘sticky’ these changed behaviours will prove in practical terms for organisations to implement for the long term.
If, as suggested by a recent report by transport infrastructure consulting and engineering firm Systra, public transport use falls by up to 20% across UK cities, how to ensure that the slack isn’t recovered by Internal Combustion Engine cars?
(Let’s not forget that even under National Grid Future Energy Scenario’s most aggressive projection for decarbonisation, there will still be nearly 30million Internal Combustion Engine vehicles on the road in 2030.)
Perhaps as suggested by one commentator, rather than bailing out car companies,
“…We should send a wall of demand for electric vehicles their way. Food delivery and online shopping companies…should be required to invest in an accelerated switch to electric delivery vehicles, simultaneously locking in better urban air quality and providing support for the automotive industry.”
Radical manifestos required
Recent weeks have shown how quickly policy machinery can turn.
So in considering the climate and natural emergencies, which still pose massive threats to humanity , now more than ever is the time to move fast and think radically.
Elections to the National Assembly for Wales are scheduled to take place next May. Of course we need to see radical manifestos which plot a course toward recovery, but more importantly, the scrutiny of any lag between the imagining, and delivery, of Wales’ future energy system will be vital during the next Senedd term.
A starting point must surely be an appreciation in strategic planning policy of the way the environment, economy, well-being and community are all interconnected.
This needs to be backed up by decisive action to ensure both renewable energy and associated infrastructure development are considered in the round, and ensuring transmission and distribution constraints are addressed to meet the challenge of deep decarbonisation.
Wales should also revise its ambition for renewable power so that we move to consuming 100% from renewable generation by 2030.
In the midst of so much uncertainty, renewable energy is increasingly becoming a beacon of resilience – an unfathomable thought only a few months ago let alone a few years ago. This points the way forward for Wales’ policy makers.
Only last week, the International Energy Agency forecast that “Renewable energy is expected to grow by 5% this year, to make up almost 30% of the world’s shrinking demand for electricity”…with gas and coal demand expected to shrink 5% and 8% respectively.
As one commentator recently optimistically observed, we should remember that a century ago, a decade beset by great upheaval, tragedy and uncertainty made way for the ‘unlimited possibility’ of the Roaring 20s. (lest we forget that the 1920s was also a period of huge economic hardship, not least in Wales).
However, it is the spirit and opportunity of unlimited possibility that policy makers must now grasp at a time when we need a sense of hope.